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Summary:

Facebook today announced several (and somewhat big) changes to their homepage/newsfeed, as well as the removal of most distinctions between public pages and profiles. These changes are an attempt to take on Twitter, which Facebook failed to acquire late last year. Facebook has always been the […]

Facebook today announced several (and somewhat big) changes to their homepage/newsfeed, as well as the removal of most distinctions between public pages and profiles. These changes are an attempt to take on Twitter, which Facebook failed to acquire late last year. Facebook has always been the proponent of a more interactive web, but the growing popularity of Twitter has shifted the focus from mere interactivity to a more real-time web.

Real-time web, as we’ve argued in the past, is the next logical step in the Internet’s evolution. Twitter currently leads this move to a “now web,” but today Facebook took steps to becoming a real-time web company, though it has a ways to go. For starters, Facebook announced changes to its home page that would allow streaming of “posts from your friends in real-time.” Facebook also changed the status prompt from “What are you doing right now?” to “What’s on your mind?” — a blatant attempt to prompt a more real-time interaction, and bringing it one step further than Twitter’s “What are you doing?”

In another move that mimics the Twitter functionality, Facebook announced that from now on there will no longer be a limit to the number of friends a user can have (the previous limit was 5,000). There will also no longer be Facebook “Pages;” everyone will have profiles instead. In the past, Facebook avoided this type of interaction, opting to classify users as fans, and hampering the levels of interaction.

Twitter, however, has one type of profile for everyone, and has broken down these barriers, as people (famous and non-famous alike) and organizations have adapted to engage in two-way dialogues. A great example of this difference is in Shaq’s Facebook page, where interaction is one-sided and his Twitter, where he and fans speak to each other directly. Undoubtedly, Facebook does not want organizations, especially those with large ad dollars, to move over to Twitter to build their audiences.

While we don’t necessarily believe that Twitter and Facebook are competitors as of today, the future is uncertain for both, and Facebook is smart to be addressing the Twitter question.

Twitter’s growth has been astounding; it has managed to capture the hearts and minds of users and developers alike: In 2008, Twitter grew by 752 percent. Twitter has also fostered a somewhat more democratic ecosystem, one that has allowed apps on the platform to see huge growth in traffic. That has sparked a gold rush for app developers, many of whom have been frustrated by the restrictions handed down to them by Facebook.

We wonder if these attempts by Facebook may be a case of too little too late. With exponential growth, a new round of capital, and developers creating innovative apps on the platform, Twitter is well positioned to ride out the roadblocks Facebook is putting in its way. Furthermore, as Facebook adapts its platform to stave off the Twitter threat, it will be interesting to see how the community reacts, as they’ve been notably resistant to change.

Brendan Gahan is a research assistant at GigaOM.

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  1. Sachin Balagopalan Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    At the end of the day FB will still be a social networking site and not a microblogging service … http://tinyurl.com/anlo5f

  2. Om’s comment on Twitter about FB being AOL is apt – FB tries to be a lot of things at the same time, which could eventually be its undoing. Twitter, however, does one thing, and does it well. And in the end, that’s probably what matters.

  3. What Twitter and Facebook are doing is NOT real time. This is real time: http://post.ly/5Mq

    We need to push for the creation of a true real time twitter, or we need to build it ourselves!

    I believe this is web 3.0. This is the true real time web where semantic data representation is integrated with the ability to subscribe to an infinite number of data sources meshed in parallel using a pub/sub model.

  4. That’s a really great point Atul.

  5. it’s not that there are so many people out there whose lives are so pathetic they have to tell everyone about whatever trivial bit of garbage is happening to them at that moment; it’s that there are so many people out there without lives as interesting as the ones they’re reading about. As with all emerging technologies, this, too, shall pass and stand as an excellent example of the old adage, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Fortunately, I’m too busy LIVING my life to bother having to stop to tell everyone else about it every five minutes. Would that others were so fortunate.

  6. FriendFace -> FriendFaceter

  7. When are these Facebook changes supposed to kick in? I’m looking at it right now and I see no difference.

  8. “Real time” is faster than most people actually want.

  9. Brendan, I know you’re a research assistant, but you may want to have someone look at your piece. A copy-editor. There aren’t spelling errors or anything but parts of it are unclear and poorly worded.

    For example, “Facebook today announced several (and somewhat big) changes to their homepage/newsfeed.”

    This is your first line. Don’t hedge. How about:

    “Facebook today announced several major changes to their homepage and newsfeed.”

    Do you see what I mean? I’d be happy to assist you further, either publicly or privately.

    All the best,

    BD

  10. Arleen Anderson Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Not surprising to see Facebook want to be more real time interactive. Though, Facebook is growing much more rapidly than Twitter, it’s not about to “crush” it. Twitter is mainstream now, with momentum only beginning to go into full swing.

    There’s still a huge difference between the two communities.
    Twitter is where people meet others and get connected.
    Facebook is where you can go to then learn more about someone in depth.
    Then you go back to Twitter to hold a conversation.

    Though many people will spend more time in one or the other,
    Twitter and Facebook are a beautiful compliment to each other.

    Mahahlo! Yes, feel free to “friend” me on Facebook: Arleen Anderson
    And DO TWEET ME! on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com AlohaArleen

    Aloha!
    Arleen AKA @AlohaArleen

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