Twitter enables the sort of chitchat impossible among strangers on email or instant messaging, and outside the scope of Facebook. Facebook’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, often describes his service as a way to connect with friends you already have. Facebook creates circles upon circles of acquaintance, but most conversation is among those already known to each other.
Twitter, however, is a different beast. The asymmetry of follower and followee creates a different rhythm, allowing the possibility of falling into conversation with an unknown someone without invading his or her space. It is a simple matter to ignore or block those who you find uninteresting. And people you know and trust outside the electronic realm lead you to their friends, colleagues and family. Likewise, you may be on the receiving end of tendrils of acquaintance. The shared set of relationships and communication among those you know vets new people for you and you for them.
Tweaks made to Twitter a few months ago that make a real-time stream generally available—instead of the retrieval of periodic updates—have blurred the lines between synchronous communications like chat and asynchronous methods such as email and forum commenting. Direct messaging on Twitter, a one-to-one method that may take place only between two parties who mutually follow each other, provides a trimmed-down email analogue without the weightiness and effort associated with handling yet more messages. Continuous speech is more or less possible without the overhead and commitment of a chat room or an instant-message session.