Commentary

Did Twitter Just Get Thrown Under a Bus?

And we thought that Facebook loading up its stream of status updates a few months ago was a sign of its desire to go head-to-head with Twitter. Little did we know.

In this week's edition of my Social Media Insider column, we'll dissect the myriad headlines that Facebook has been pumping out over the last few days, and how they relate to Twitter. (As an added bonus, you'll get an insight into the crackpot fact-finding process that goes into researching my columns. I can't speak for my colleague, David Berkowitz, but this is how things go down at the home office in Westchester.)

So, as you may have read on Monday, Facebook made two moves that are direct assaults on the emergence of Twitter as the current social media darling. (Not that Facebook has fallen out of favor, mind you, but social mediaerati, you know exactly what I mean.) At that point, I thought it was a likely column topic for this week. To recap:

  • First, Facebook acquired Friendfeed, which, as I said in one of my other writing venues, effectively puts Facebook atop the social mediasphere, since Friendfeed aggregates almost 60 social media services -- with one particularly glaring exception. (Not Twitter, silly, but MySpace.) That move shows Facebook isn't just interested in maintaining the stream among its users on its site, but is laying groundwork to own the stream. If Facebook is like the Ohio River, think of it as just staking claim to the Mississippi, as well.

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  • Second, the company unleashed its real-time search function onto the world, allowing people to not only search all of Facebook for certain terms (for fun, the first keyword I searched was Twitter), but also search their own stream of friends, including photos, status updates and so forth over the last 30 days. As some view real-time search as not just a helpful consumer utility but a potential revenue generator for social media, this is big. Twitter's trending topics have quickly become a proxy for what people are talking about online, even though it still has only a small percentage of the users that Facebook does.

But as I pondered writing the column, I kept coming back to one big benefit that Twitter has over Facebook: Twitter requires so little, really, of its users. Follow or don't follow. Tweet or don't tweet. Click on shared links or don't. No tagged photos to sift through. No postings from those groups you wish you'd never joined. No recommendations to add so-called "friends," And, of course, no ads. Bliss.

And then, while searching for something entirely different this morning, I came across the news of Facebook Lite, which Facebook is starting to beta test. (It apparently overshared the email inviting beta-testers, but never mind.) Though details are sketchy (you can see a picture of an alleged screenshot of it here), Facebook Lite looks and sounds lot like Twitter. As Mashable describes it: "From what we can tell, it is almost like a Twitter stream: you can see your most recent status updates and the updates of your friends. There is a left-hand navigation with four main categories: Wall, Info, Friends, and Photos & Videos. It does little more than that."

Yep. That was Twitter just getting thrown under a bus. Don't call an ambulance. Call Google. Tell them it's an emergency.

13 comments about "Did Twitter Just Get Thrown Under a Bus?".
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  1. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., August 12, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.

    Two big caveats on both of your bullet points, however:

    * The FriendFeed acquisition, if actually executed and not just a grab for engineers and some headlines, may quite naturally create channel conflict. There's a reason why native content producers stumble when they also get into the content aggregation space, because then they're set up to be naturally at odds with themselves. Social media is little different other than the networks have changed.

    * Real-time search is only one application of Twitter. Arguably, it's a good one -- but it's not something that, say, Technorati hasn't already done to a degree several years ago. And it's not the primary reason why most people use the service, otherwise the importance of followers and followees would be irrelevant.

    Facebook is obviously reacting. If anything, that says to me that Facebook is doing more looking over their shoulders than leading -- which in a sense gives Twitter an edge on them.

  2. Linda Lopez from Independent, August 12, 2009 at 5:40 p.m.

    My tendency is to stick with the pioneer. That's why I still buy Brown River Rice: back in 1969, it was the only brown rice you could find in the supermarkets. I admire them for having been out there on the whole food frontier when no other rice company was; they've had my loyalty ever since. To everyone else, I say, go find your own good idea.

    Twitter is like the Chinese board game, go: many-layered -- simple to learn but difficult to master. It's an elegant idea.

    With Facebook, I'm always cutting through the junk to get to the two or three things that actually interest me. Not so elegant.

    Facebook needs to find its own good idea.

  3. Allan Hoving from AH Consulting, August 12, 2009 at 5:56 p.m.

    I'll use any of these as the engine but I'm really waiting for more value to be added on top of the stream. Some of the vertical sites you've profiled before are starting to do it. But there needs to be more coherence brought to (or out of) the cacophony. As usual, I have a model (which actually dates back to 1997 and was recently updated): http://www.TheFrequency.tv

  4. Graeme Thickins from GT&A Strategic Marketing inc, August 12, 2009 at 7:58 p.m.

    great piece, Catharine -- and great comments by Linda and Swag... I agree!

    g

  5. Shira Adatto from Zibaba, August 12, 2009 at 8:31 p.m.

    Facebook and Twitter serve two entirely different purposes for me. I don't want Facebook to be more like Twitter. I agree with Linda and Swag, Facebook needs to find its own good idea and stop trying to be Twitter.

  6. Wendy Jameson from ColnaTec, August 12, 2009 at 9:27 p.m.

    I'm with Linda. Totally. Twitter is a way to find new friends, not someone suggested by another friend, but a truly unique way of exploring people's thoughts and what's important to them without the commitment of FB. I use them differently, I want them differently. Keep them different, dammit. =D

  7. Wendy Jameson from ColnaTec, August 12, 2009 at 9:28 p.m.

    Dang...I meant Shira. I'm with Shira on this.

  8. Rick Graf from Digital Communications (Graf Inc.), August 13, 2009 at 7:54 a.m.

    I liked your article, CPT.

  9. S.e. Olson from Why We Watch, August 13, 2009 at 8:41 a.m.

    So who's going to write something like Tweetdeck for Facebook (or Facebook Lite) so users can strip all the BS of Facebook away (the memes, the quizzes, the games, the virtual crap, the ads) and manage their social media contacts better?

    Til then I'm not interested in Facebook...cluttered, loads slow (or not at all), encumbered by too much noise in the form of a lot of time-wasting 3rd party apps & not enough signal from the individual users.

  10. Chris Gleason from Servant Marketing Group, LLC., August 13, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

    Business aside, here is the fomula I use for social net interaction...can it be this easy?

    Linkedin = professional network
    Twitter = blend of friends and professionals
    Facebook = friends, high school reunion

    Thanks for the article Catharine!

  11. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, August 14, 2009 at 12:42 p.m.

    I agree with Catharine. I don't want Facebook to become another Twitter. Really.

    I use Facebook for a variety of reasons, including keeping up with my family, friends and colleagues. I like its many features, including the status reports, the groups, the photo- and link-sharing.

    I use Twitter for different reasons, when I need immediate, real-time communication with friends and family and colleagues. If someone I know is having dinner nearby, maybe I want to go join that person. It's also a good way to pick up on a significant online article I might have missed, when a friend points it out, and to retweet it for others to see. It's valuable as a tool for breaking news events.

    Two services, two different uses, at least as far as I'm concerned.

  12. Laura Betterly from Yada Yada Marketing, Inc., August 15, 2009 at 4:17 p.m.

    This is an interesting prospect. I am reticent to get used to any of the Friend Feed features as there is no way to know what FB is going to do with them.

    As far as giving Twitter a run for the money, I think Twitter has bigger problems--they've been hacked, the technology is not as well thought out as it could be--and has anyone else encounter all the spam...??? Makes me not want to embrace them at all.

    Facebook, on the other hand, is a fast and amazing platform...

    My .02

    Laura

  13. Rowan Kerek robvertson from BBC, August 18, 2009 at 11:46 a.m.

    Nice roundup, thanks Catherine - I've reblogged you here http://rowank.tumblr.com/post/165567122/did-twitter-just-get-thrown-under-a-bus - thanks!

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