Social media like Twitter, Facebook, digg and co. are all about the conversation. They are more fun and actually more useful when you have people to interact with. After all it’s called social media, right?
Now people have discussed why Twitter is better than identi.ca and the other way around. So Twitter obviously has the advantage of being comparatively big and mainstream at the moment. And this certainly has its advantages like being able to interact with a lot more people who so far have not (and maybe never will) discovered identi.ca.
Identi.ca on the other hand has the advantage of being Free Software and connecting a lot of Free Software people. However that is not the only and maybe not even the biggest advantage of it. No, actually its biggest advantage is enabling communication. Let me explain.
Twitter has @-replies. You use them to address people in the messages you send (like this: @foo I don’t agree with what you just said). Not too long ago Twitter decided to not show those @-replies your contacts send to other people in your main timeline but only when you visit their pages. So when one of the people I follow addresses someone else but me I will generally not see this. There are a few good reasons for Twitter to do this which I will not go into right now. However the problem with this is that you are missing big parts of very interesting message exchanges. The even bigger problem is however that it is close to impossible to find the @-replies someone got. Why is this a problem? Say someone asks his Twitter followers how they like a movie that just came out to decide if it is worth going to the cinema or not. You are about to go as well and would like to read what people answer him? Well tough luck. You’ll need to jump trough hoops and use the twitter search to search for his nickname and will probably get a lot of useless stuff there mixed in the useful things. Identi.ca on the other hand gives a tab to view all replies a user received so you can easily see what people replied to an interesting question or comment. Identi.ca goes even further. You get a “show in context”-link that tries to thread the whole conversation around a certain topic. It is pretty awesome and accurate. You can see who replied what to whom. Check it out!
One feature Twitter is lacking completely is groups. They are addressed with !groupname. Groups are an awesome way to communicate with a larger group of people you do not know but share a common interest with. There is no good way in Twitter to do this (no, hashtags don’t count). Groups can for example be used to make announcements or to get feedback from people also interested in topic X. They are probably the most powerful microblogging mechanism out there because they easily enable communication in large groups without much hassle. You simply join the group and then put !groupname in the message whenever you have something to share with the group. On Twitter (unless you are one of those people followed by a lot of people) your best chance of getting an important message read by a lot of people is to have it reposted (retweeted) by one of the influential people who are followed by a huge crowd. And then you still can’t be sure to reach the people you actually want to reach. One could say identi.ca’s groups make this whole process more democratic.
Summary: Twitter is a simple tool and being simple is a big part of the things that made it popular and successful. It however encourages communication from one to a few selected people who are following you. Identi.ca on the other hand encourages communication between a lot of people who don’t necessarily need to follow each other and thereby empowers people if they choose to use it that way. This makes it slightly more complicated for someone who starts using it though. So the question is: How does one explain groups in an easy and comprehensible way?
(In case you have no idea what this is all about check out my Social Media Guide For Free Software Projects for an introduction.)