Ev Williams was quoted recently saying, “The world is big enough for both Facebook and Twitter”, almost as though we were supposed to think Twitter wasn’t trying to be a competitor. Don’t be fooled though, Twitter’s recent lists feature is just one step towards providing the privacy controls Facebook itself is known for. Before we know it you will be able to decide which lists you want to share Tweets with, photo services will be integrated, video, groups, messaging, and more, and Twitter will be head-to-head with the features Facebook currently provides. Twitter wants to go head-to-head with Facebook. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s what Twitter is trying to do – it’s what they have to do in order to continue growing. While Facebook’s weakness is the lack of full openness, Twitter has the greater weakness of lack of control or privacy. Without more than just public status updates their sign ups and traffic will plateau and the service will dwindle and lose value.
Yet, with each update to Twitter comes increased pressure to Facebook to become more open and more public. Just today, in response to Twitter’s partnerships with Bing and Google, Facebook also shared that it was opening up its own public status updates to be indexed by search engines. Don’t forget that Facebook already has an ad deal with Microsoft, along with investment.
Facebook’s Lack of Openness is an Illusion
Despite the criticism against Facebook for not being open don’t be fooled. Not only is your data capable of being open, but you get to control what is, and what isn’t open at the same time. As of today all your status updates set to go to “Everyone” (check your privacy settings) can now be indexed by search engines. Expect this to also open up on Facebook itself, along with Facebook’s own search. Facebook wants to be open – its users have to choose to be open first though.
Facebook’s recent hiring of David Recordon (note that the linked article is by Chris Messina, also a leader in Open Standards technology) is a testament to this I think. Recordon was one of the leading proponents to open standards and data portability before joining Facebook, and he has been put in charge of just that at Facebook. With this hire, Facebook has just become a leader in this space. Notice Facebook’s adoption of the ActivityStrea.ms standard, and open sourcing of the Tornado framework acquired from FriendFeed. Add to that the many other open technologies you can find on their developers site – Facebook is not a follower in this space! Where is Twitter’s Open Source tools page?
Facebook Fan Pages
Let’s add to that Facebook Fan Pages. Each and every Fan Page is indexable by Google. While better integration with personal profiles is still necessary, this is an excellent way to share news and information in the same manner you do Twitter, and build a community at the same time. Each post is threaded so you can build a conversation with your community. Each comment, “Fanning”, and post to the Page gets posted to a user’s friends as well, further encouraging conversation and discussion. This is far from what Twitter offers, and all this is done in a very open fashion – you don’t have to be on Facebook to read the contents of a Fan Page.
I just started building my own Fan Page community (send “fan stay” to 32665 (FBOOK) on your phone), and am already seeing greater interaction there the more I spend using it. The potential is very strong in a very open, and much stronger environment than Twitter.
Facebook’s Terms of Service are Open Too
Now, let’s talk Terms. Earlier this year Facebook instituted a new policy stating that any changes to the Terms of Service will be put up to the users. If enough users disagree, it gets put up for vote by the users. If a majority of those users vote for the changes, they get put in place. If not, they don’t. The current terms are established in such a manner.
Consumerist has a great overview of what these terms changes were. To summarize, you own your content, and give Facebook the right to distribute that content (this is so they can share it with your friends legally) so long as you are a member of Facebook. HOWEVER, the minute you quit the site, the terms state that your information at that point is removed, with exception to the photos, videos, etc. that have already been loaded into your friends’ streams. This is so the stream remains in tact. There’s termination here.
Let’s contrast that with Twitter, whose terms have no termination and are just as strong, if not stronger. With Twitter, when you leave the site your content can remain. There is nothing in Twitter’s terms stating that they have to remove your content when you leave. You give Twitter that license to your content forever. Where’s the outcry about that? Yet Facebook had huge outcry over not having such termination in their agreement. Facebook has remained open and ahead of Twitter even in this regard.
Facebook’s Acquisition of FriendFeed
I think this is the crown jewel we have yet to see. We know the FriendFeed team is working on Facebook as we speak. We also know FriendFeed.com is not going away. Will Facebook have FriendFeed-like real-time features? Will FriendFeed see more Facebook integration? The one weakness of Facebook is the lack of an easy way for those that want to be public by default (which is dangerous) to be public, while integrating that information with the user profile and other integrated parts of Facebook. Search still lacks a public interface. There’s no API to it. Facebook’s stream is still not real-time while Twitter’s and FriendFeeds are.
The FriendFeed team has the potential to change this. I predict a real-time Facebook in the near future, with integrated public interfaces and search enabling users to share the content they want to share with the world. The cool thing is Twitter has already exposed their cards with Lists. Funny thing is Facebook has had lists for over a year now, and you can even filter searches with those lists! Twitter doesn’t have that. The only benefit Twitter’s lists give is the ability to see who other people are subscribing to and subscribe to the same. I don’t see that as being that hard of a problem to tackle for Facebook. They’ve seen Twitter’s cards and no one has seen Facebook’s. Imagine the ability to put Fan Pages into public lists, for instance – I think that would be pretty cool, and pretty easy to implement. Imagine Facebook’s own privacy controls, including the “public option” available for Lists as well as users and Pages. It’s also important to note that FriendFeed also had lists before Twitter did. The combination of both FriendFeed’s and Facebook’s teams means they are the true experts on lists. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
So what’s my point? My point is stop drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid! Yeah, it has its place – I’m NOT saying get off Twitter, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as what Facebook already offers. I want to see more news people and early adopters like Scoble and Louis Gray and Steve Rubel using Facebook and Facebook lists to provide content and news. I want to see more people sharing and discussing content in my own Facebook feeds. I want to see more people utilizing privacy controls, not available in Twitter, to segregate the content they share, reducing the noise. Spend some time in Facebook – learn what you can and can’t do with it. Try to build a community there and see how effective it is, utilizing all these tools at once.
Facebook is not losing this war. With 10 million fans a day and growing on Facebook Pages alone, 300-350 million users and growing, a much more powerful API and developer ecosystem, Twitter doesn’t even make a dent in what Facebook is doing. It’s about time we start giving credit where credit is due. Twitter launching lists is about as effective in fighting Facebook as this video of Ben Parr is in fighting Chad Vader 😉 :
Image courtesy LDS.org