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With Twitter Envy, Facebook Adds (Near) Real-time Web Capabilities

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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.

18 Responses to “With Twitter Envy, Facebook Adds (Near) Real-time Web Capabilities”

  1. Twitter has opened up a whole new paradigm and other social networks are sure to take a step toward either replicating the same model or something near to that.

    Facebook had to something to stop the exodus since the new competition-Twitter- was eating into the time spent by Facebook users on Facebook. I think it is a first good step by Facebook and can really see faithful bookers staying there rather than going to Twitter. now the next big challenge has to be to find a way to attract Twitter users to Facebook, which I am sure will ask for all the brainstorming they possibly can do.

    Manish Pahuja

  2. Facebook’s change in the newsfeed is for the newsfeed to comply with its business architecture which promotes businesses behind public profiles and applications, rather than an envy with Twitter.

  3. I have to agree with a lot you said in your article. For marketers this is a big leap and if realized it will expand rapidly between the two popular sites. I would like to be able to fill in my profile page with my own business card or somthing of that nature instead of having a blank center page.
    The Internet eveloution Iam sure will continue more into real time application where people will be instantly talking face to face.
    Carl Romain

  4. The advantage that Twitter has over Facebook is that Twitter doesn’t try to control every little behavior. It left itself open to be innovated by users and it easily adapted to something useful for people and businesses. Facebook has undergone so many renovations, controlling users behavior more and more at each turn, that it really only ends up being for contacts and photo sharing. Their mission is supposedly to make the world more open and connected, but they come across as having a mission to only be the next Microsoft.

    The numbers on Facebook are huge, but it is a company that relies very heavily on itself being a current trend. Unlike Google, which was fundamentally useful, Facebook engineers its stickiness by making it hard to leave all the work you’ve put into it behind. Once they open the doors to that, they are opening doors to competition.

  5. Yeh, I hafta agree FB is not worried about Twitter. Apples & oranges. As for the assertion of the “now web,” God save us from the narcissistic 140-character insights of the technorati, let alone the general(ly annoying mindless) public. I suppose we must be grateful for the 140-character limit which means that LOL can be repeated at most 36 times per tweet.

  6. Are they handing out twitter stock for everyone in silicon valley lately? I am certain that Twitter has a bright future ahead of them, but as of late people (bloggers) have been foreseeing the death of Google and FaceBook at the hand of Twitter. Most of the notions you propose in your post is highly unsubstantiated, and to be honest, factually incorrect.

    “That has sparked a gold rush for app developers, many of whom have been frustrated by the restrictions handed down to them by Facebook.” What developers are leaving FaceBook for the gold at Twitter?
    The developers at twitter are there because they had an idea for an app that would not work on FaceBook. The apps that work on FaceBook does not work on Twitter, as they are based on the social reality that is not present at Twitter.

    The gold rush you mention for twitter developers, am I to assume, that you seriously mean that the gold rush at twitter is larger than on FaceBook? NO! I would actually like you to name a few developers bringing in serious revenue from Twitter?!

    “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.”

    Yes, they have been notably resisant to change, but you seem to hint at possible exodus from FaceBook due to this fact… This is certainly not case. If you believe to have any proof or numbers showing users leaving FaceBook I would like to see them.

    As to your last remarks of FaceBook staving off the Twitter threat, I again, must beg to differ. They are simply picking up on different trends (friendfeed being a major one) and implementing them on their own platform. They are doing the same thing to Digg: does that mean that they are scared of Digg?

    I would actually like to see you reply on some of the things I’ve stated, so I hope you would take the time to answer a few.

    Best regards

    • lindsay

      Benjamin, if you go to the story CNN did on the changes that Facebook has made, you will find that the ratio of people that dislike the changes to people that like them is about 10 to 1. (Approx 700,00 to75,000). I think this is a significant statistic, don’t you?

  7. 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: AlohaArleen

    Arleen AKA @AlohaArleen

  8. Blue Danube

    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,


  9. Carpevis

    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.

  10. Bill Barhydt

    What Twitter and Facebook are doing is NOT real time. This is real time:

    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.

  11. 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.