Twitter – the buzzword among the general populace for all things social media and social networking – also appears to be the measuring stick against which all other services are judged. This is not surprising when the likes of Oprah and CNN are extolling your benefits. The why of it has to reside, at least in part, in its novelty among services – a simple interface and easy-to-grasp concept – micro proclamations in 140 characters or less. There are few bells and whistles, practically none developed by Twitter itself. With the help of third party applications, Twitter can be experienced virtually real-time and offers a platform for broadcasting and a tool for fishing for new connections. Love it or hate it, Twitter has all the goods for expanding your on-line kingdom, in both a professional and personal sense.
Readers of the Studio will know how I feel about rival Friendfeed – a much smarter, better-equipped pipeline for aggregating in one space the social content developed elsewhere (as well as on Friendfeed itself). The news of Friendfeed’s sale to a bigger fish in the proverbial ocean brought to my mind images of Darwinism and feelings of cautious pessimism . Who was going to replace Friendfeed and offer a viable, attractive alternative to the rabble-ous din of the Twitter-verse?
Hello Facebook. Twitter-fast interaction and Facebook would not have been my word pair of choice in the association game even a week ago. But developments over the past few months, peaking with Friendfeed’s acquisition a little more than a month ago, and a trio of interesting announcements yesterday have given Facebook a game-changing presence.
Many presumed Facebook’s purchase of Friendfeed was about snaring its all-star team of developers responsible for its smart, real-time experience. Today it is clear that Facebook is rolling out changes that herald the duel and draw the line between the two giants of the on-line social world.
Facebook is the brainchild of Harvard alum Mark Zuckerberg. It started as student network, with a walled garden approach and invitation-only mechanism for connecting. In the early days, you had to be a member of a recognized school, with a valid e-mail ID associated with the institution. Facebook garnered impressive numbers nonetheless: in 2005, studies showed 85% of students had accounts with 60% of them logging in daily.
Fast-forward to 2009. Now, anyone age 13 and older can create a profile and join the fun and there are more than 250 million users doing just that, with more than a billion monthly visits across users.
So what is it that you do do on Facebook? You can join, connect with friends and peers and create groups. You can maintain your profile with information-building questions and ongoing content development, such as notes, photos, videos, and many other applications. You can join networks defined by school, geographic region, business, non-profit organizations, etc. There are plenty of places for interaction on Facebook, including the Wall (a bulletin board for posting notes, either by the user or others), photo albums, status updates, an email-like inbox and chat. The News Feed offers a rolling, real-time highlights reel of friends’ status updates, important events, profile changes and other information and often serves as the site’s main hang-out. Add to this gifts, games, quizzes, bizarre applications, the Marketplace, advertising, and the experience becomes quite jarring.
Facebook has been sensitive to this impression and, over the past year, has been making changes to the interface to clean up the look. The consolidation of feeds and Wall on a user’s profile, the introduction of real-time flow in the News Feed, the offering of URLs incorporating your user name have all improved the Facebook experience.
Facebook has quietly become a venue for business networking and development over the past year. A social media report I prepared for a client discussing the business applications and tools hosted on Facebook incorporates a healthy list of on-site features for improving relations and getting it done. A recent influx of legal professionals on Facebook extending invitations to connect tells me that people are noticing these changes.
Yesterday, Facebook started to roll out changes that give voice to its rationale for acquiring Friendfeed and its direction for the future. The most visible change is the introduction of Facebook Lite (www.lite.facebook.com), which streamlines the user experience immensely. Right now, it is only available in India and the United States. Apps and extras are gone from the page. The navigation and information along the left column of the News Feed are gone and the status box has been replaced with buttons. The new interface works on your profile page too. The only other options along the top are Events and Inbox. Four tabs along the left allow the user to select Wall, Info, Friends and Photos & Video.
The other announcements include a more obvious move: users can now “status-tag” other users with the familiar “@” symbol found on Twitter. Status tagging will allow you to link to a friend’s profile. From the Facebook blog:
Now, when you are writing a status update and want to add a friend’s name to something you are posting, just include the “@” symbol beforehand. As you type the name of what you would like to reference, a drop-down menu will appear that allows you to choose from your list of friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications, and (fan) pages.
The third change is Facebook’s announcement yesterday that it was open-sourcing Friendfeed’s real-time technology, called Tornado, bringing its stellar tech to the world in an open-sourcing move. In a geeky, but fascinating read, Bret Taylor, one of the main Friendfeed developers, describes Tornado and the move to open source in a post found here.
They can’t help it: the tech writers are throwing the Twitter comparisons around like so many feathers in the wind from an exploding pillow. Obviously, use of the “@” symbol is a direct shot across the bow. And Facebook Lite’s interface does resemble Twitter’s appearance, with its faster, cleaner, leaner, meaner look. Early reviewers seem to be positively embracing the new style and I count myself among them.
Tastes great? Less filling? More attractive to business networkers who cringed every time they were invited to take a quiz, quaff an imaginary beverage or don a “button”?
I think Twitter has much to think about in the wake of yesterday’s news.