I want to focus on what it means to spend time on an online service like Facebook or Twitter. I was prompted to write about this after listening to an old Gillmor Gang podcast (11.25.2010) during my work out. Steve Gillmor at one point in the conversation mentions that he is spending most of his time on Twitter. My first reaction was of shock: “Holy crap, I am spending most of my time on Twitter too. I spend about 2 hours ours sifting through all sorts of tweets and links. I only go to Facebook to check my notifications or to take a quick gander of my friends’ activities.”
I got home from my work out and quickly started a post questioning semantic value placed on the time spend on Facebook. What I mean by that is that there is a huge value placed on the time spent on Facebook, when in reality it’s just holding a tab on people’s browsers. Then I quickly realized that this was the same with Twitter. Twitter lead me to other content just as Facebook does and I keep it open as a tab. My time spend on on Twitter, actively doing something is small in comparison to the work done reading articles. I can open about 20-30 tabs in a minute’s time going through some 150+ tweets and spend a good 30 minutes to an hour looking through those open tabs. After that round of reading, another 100 or so tweets have emerged and it starts again.
I realized that time spent on a service does not mean time spend on a service. It means time spent looking at content provided or referred by the service. If we had a different method of browsing we could find Facebook and Twitter out by a ditch in terms of time spent on their services, especially in terms of Twitter. Luckily, they push their links to be opened either in-site or in-tab form. Those precious minutes count in this war for time. The eyes might not be on them all the time, but my browser is sipping on their data streams.
It was interesting to find these sorts of semantic problems in technology world, but I take it that when there is a consumer and money to be made, people will fuddle up the language. Who knows, maybe I’m just a n00b and all other high profile tech’s already see it this way. But for your common-household surfer, when they watch the news and hear about Facebook being the number one site in terms of minutes spend on it, there is only one meaning. The meaning is, people are literally spending X amount of time on the site, that is, no referrals or tabbing included.