Changing the Paradigm of the Status Update

A while ago, I saw an interesting idea by Brian Solis on Twitter which I didn’t manage to mark as a “favorite” unfortunately, but the principle was rehashed during a panel discussion at TWTRCON in San Francisco last month. That idea was the evolution of the “status update” or more importantly how should Twitter’s trademark “What are you doing?” be changed to in order to reflect how people should be using Twitter to gain more value. I’d like to examine it from a different standpoint and look at how the status update has been diluted to mere “I’m washing my car” in the social media arena.

I’m used to the status update. You know…the one that allows you on social networking sites like Friendster, Myspace and Facebook that lets you share with your friends what you’re up to that very moment? Those should always be the case on social networking sites, but for Twitter, it’s a completely different story. For one, understand that in the beginning, sites like Twitter were basically considered microblogging platforms for a reason. They allowed you to post up small bits of information in random spurts that you could let everyone know what’s on your mind – almost like it’s…well…a blog, but somewhat abbreviated. To put it another way, according to WhatIs.com, microblogging is:

…a web service that allows the subscriber to broadcast short messages to other subscribers of the service…The appeal of microblogging is both its immediacy and portability. Posts are brief (typically 140-200 characters) and can be written or received with a variety of computing devices, including cell phones.

What’s deceiving about Twitter and other microblogging sites is the question being asked: What are you doing? If that question wasn’t being asked, then perhaps people would see the differences between Facebook and Twitter when it comes to status updates.

Still not sure what I’m talking about? Let’s look at your news feed on Facebook. Log into Facebook and check out what people are posting on your news feed. I’ll bet you that a majority of your friends adhere to the “traditional status update” as shown below:

Status Updates on Facebook

But there are also those that you might see on your Facebook news feed of people who feel that it’s prudent for them to write a whole narrative of the status update which is probably an abuse of the system in my opinion. The status update is simply a brief description of what you’re up to so that others will know the latest news about you. It’s not a one-minute speech that you give to the group so that they’ll be caught up on every little detail. If you want to share that information with others and it’s more than 140 characters, there are other avenues available to you.

Here’s the difference between Twitter & social network status updates – it’s pretty much about the dialogue. Your status updates aren’t really things you can go into and have people commenting back and forth – even though Facebook now gives you that option to drop in comments when someone leaves a status update that reads “Kenneth is going to graduate from college.” – I bet you that I would probably get at least a couple of comments to that status update that reads “Congratulations!” But with microblogging, it’s definitely more about “What’s on your mind?” than “What are you doing?” and that’s probably what has people so uncertain about how to use Twitter.

This is probably one of things that has me irked about why Facebook thinks it can compete with Twitter because it allows to an “improved” status update interface a while ago. It’s nothing that will really compete with Twitter because they have their assumptions about it all wrong. Like I said earlier, it’s all about telling a story and engaging in dialogue. With Facebook, this is where you have your “Kenneth is eating doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and enjoying them.” type notes. Facebook is a post-it for random updates while Twitter is more like the IM chat room or notepad that people can leave a more detailed thread and talk.

Over the past couple of years, the paradigm of the status update has dramatically changed from the one where you left a quick update that you’re brushing your teeth or visiting your friend because others would care to much more detailed and relationship-based dialogue that people will find value out of. Social networking sites are banking on status updates to be a big winner for driving more users, but the thing is that there is so much more to these sites that microblogging sites don’t have. Twitter’s new model of the status update has evolved to “What’s on your mind?” – it’s all that there is to the site. Social networking sites like Myspace, Friendster and Facebook can have more discussions with their “wall”, “notes”, photos, chat/IM feature or numerous amounts of plug-in applications. Social networks don’t need to put that much emphasis on their status updates because the focus should be then having people keep checking up the details of what their friends are doing so that they can leave comments on their “wall”. For Twitter users, there’s only one thing that people can do…look at the tweets that others are doing and respond accordingly. There’s the value. Social networking sites have other points of value much more meaningful than the traditional status updates.

Are there any guidelines that should be met to adhere to status update best practices? Of course not. It’s social media. Who am I to tell you how much to include or disclose in a status update. You can put specials, deals or discounts in your updates if you want on Facebook. I would caution you against putting a whole novella or even a lengthy narrative in there because people will gradually get tired of having to read it. Instead, put in a call-to-action that will force people to go to your blog or a website for more information about your issue, deal, special, etc and so you can track it. Don’t make your status update a blog, please. It just doesn’t add much more value and looks like you’re slamming to get as much information as possible.

What do you think about the paradigm of status updates? Has Twitter effectively changed the way we perceive what others are doing online? What is your call to Brian Solis and his quest to seek out a new message for Twitter? Should we get rid of “What are you doing?” and substitute it with another message that effectively tells people how to use Twitter? If so, what is that message?

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."