Sep 14 7 Moves Facebook Has Made to Outflank Twitter in the Last 6 Months
Back in July, I predicted that Facebook would eventually kill Twitter. The argument I was making was that Facebook was taking steps to make itself capable of doing everything Twitter does, plus much, much more. When you add in the fact that their user base is roughly 25x 14x Twitter’s (about 250m to 1018m). (UPDATE 9/14: Emarketer reports that Twitter is up to 18m, although Facebook is projected to break 300m in November), it becomes hard to see a compelling long-term strategy for growth for Twitter.
To be clear, I’m talking about the long term. Even if Facebook is wildly successful, Twitter will likely continue to grow for the next 6-8 months at least, before leveling off or beginning to dip (like MySpace is now).
How is Facebook doing it?
Here are the moves Facebook has made in the last 6 months that leave it in excellent shape to make Twitter irrelevant:
- April: Makes the first of its APIs available. For you non-geeks out there, APIs let people pull Facebook data into (or receive data from) other programs, like TweetDeck. Twitter did this a long time ago and that helped it grow even during the year of the Fail Whale. For Facebook, it was the second step in opening their walled garden. This goes well beyond Facebook Connect, which was launched in July 2008.
- June: Facebook adjusts its privacy settings. No big deal, right? Except that now they let you broadcast to “Everyone” including non-friends–just like Twitter.
- June: Added Facebook usernames (a/k/a “vanity URLs”). Many people thought it was no big deal, but all of a sudden you could direct a friend or non-friend alike to your account with a simple URL–just like Twitter.
- August: Bought FriendFeed, part of the process of making them a “stream site” in terms of perception, rather than a slow, steady site. We haven’t seen the full benefit of this integration yet, but I’m sure it’s coming.
- August: Rolled out global search of wall posts. First, they had to make wall posts public by adjusting the privacy settings (see #2). Now you can search those posts, just like you can at search.twitter.com (once Twitter bought Summize in July 2008). This makes trending topics ultimately possible for Facebook, which is a favorite Twitter feature and makes them quite newsworthy.
- September: Announced the roll-out of @replies–just like Twitter. This allows an easy way to make it clear who you’re talking to in a message, and notify that person. Some people think that doesn’t equal Twitter’s same feature, because on Twitter you can @message anyone, not just friends, but with changes 2 and 3, we’re just inches away from a much more open Facebook.
- September: Launches Facebook Lite, which looks (you guessed it), an awful lot like Twitter. (See the pic to the right.) So now the classic Facebook fan has their site, and the Twitter fan can use the simpler esthetic at lite.facebook.com.
What’s it all mean?
A lot of my geekier friends insist that Twitter and Facebook are “totally different.” But at their core, they both allow you to provide status updates on your life or things that are happening. So while the core geek communities (said with the utmost respect) may like having two channels, the average person will not want the hassle of managing both.
That leaves Facebook with the following strengths in their corner:
- The ability to updates your status like Twitter, except you can add pictures, videos or links with summaries to those updates, and people can “like” or comment in line (none of which Twitter does);
- The ability to send or receive updates from your third party tools, as easily as you can on Twitter;
- A mobile platform with 65 million users. This one is shocking. It means Facebook has 6.5 times as many phone users as Twitter has total users.
I’m a Twitter fan… For now
I don’t want this analysis to make me sound like I don’t like Twitter. I do. I use it, I check it, I like it. We’ve run successful campaigns with Twitter as the centerpiece and we’re planning more. But when I look at these seven moves, and try to predict what’s going to happen next in terms of the best place to spend time on social media marketing, Facebook’s future looks brighter than Twitter’s.