By Scott Beed, Staff Contributor
Popular culture is sprinkled with stories of 20-something’s in their basements or dorm rooms, or slacking off at work, dreaming up the next big Internet sensation. Facebook and Twitter are two of the more influential layers recently added to the Internet mosaic. Yet they are simultaneously loved and hated by all. Those quick news headlines and constant status updates give us hours of enjoyment and procrastination. Facebook This site has become as common on university campuses as exams and mid-terms. The fascination with Facebook grows daily and is fuelled by ever-accessible Wi-Fi networks. On any university campus in North America, it’s hard to find a student who has never heard of the social networking site. Mark Stoddart, an instructor in the sociology department at Dal, says Facebook’s appeal stems from the familiarity it brings to users. “For the most part, it’s almost a virtual high school reunion,” he says. “You can connect with people who you haven’t talked to in many years. All it takes is a couple messages and you’re completely caught up.” For 15- to 25-year-olds, Facebook will be a permanent fixture, he says. “I know when I walk through my classes both here at Dal, and when I was teaching at the University of Victoria, the people who have laptops are most likely surfing Facebook.” This type of distraction is new to university classes. Stoddart says it’s surprising how many students are on Facebook during his lectures. “There are many more modes of distraction in class, and maybe it seems more prevalent and persistent because it is more readily available,” he says. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s it took more effort for kids to slack off. So distracted students are nothing new. But Twitter and Facebook give students new ways of being distracted.” Twitter This social networking website has also become more popular recently. According to Twitter’s website, the word “micro-blog” was coined to describe short “tweets”. Originally, Twitter’s main function was for company use because the maximum 140-character tweets are less formal then e-mails. The program eventually expanded for greater public use. Alex Brodsky, an instructor in the computer science department, says Twitter and Facebook may share common functionality, but Facebook has a more general application. “Twitter has pretty much one specific functionality, which is publishing short snippets of information, and Facebook is almost an entire platform in itself, which allows users not only to publish short updates but also photos or movies.” Multi-purpose v. single use Though both sites have useful aspects, Brodsky says Facebook’s ability to facilitate social networking goes way beyond Twitter’s capabilities. According to Brodsky, Twitter is a focused one-purpose application while Facebook is a very general multi-purpose application. Brodsky says the nature of the Internet allows people to build and add layers themselves. But Facebook, as Brodsky sees it, adds its own layers on top of the heap with its own third-party applications. “For example, one could argue it would be reasonably simple to implement a Twitter plug-in or a Twitter (application) on top off the Facebook infrastructure,” he says. Brodsky is reluctant to make any predictions on the fate of either site but says Twitter’s Achilles heel may be that it only has one purpose. Jeremy Bishop, a first-year Dal student, says he uses both sites on a daily basis. On Twitter, he observes rather than tweets. He logs on to follow celebrity Tweets. If he has something to say, he uses the Facebook status toolbar. Brodsky is quick to warn that the success of one site doesn’t necessarily mean the failure of the other. They both perform completely different functions and have different uses. For all he knows both could fail miserably within the next four months, he says. That’s the Internet’s unpredictable nature.