By Harry McCracken | Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 12:04 am
If you can’t buy ‘em, become ‘em. That seems to be the philosophy behind the new Facebook home page which the company is in the process of rolling out over the next few days. Facebook may have failed to acquire Twitter, but it’s reinvented itself to look an awful lot like Twitter–on the surface, at least–with a “What’s on your mind?” box and a feed that’s dominated by your friends’ statuses, without all the detail of their other activities around Facebook:
Like just about everybody else who’s ever competed with Twitter, Facebook does more. You can embed images, videos, and links; there’s true threaded commenting; you can organize your friends into groups (family members and/or high school buddies, say) and then filter the feed to view any subset. And all the very un-Twitterlike richness of Facebook is still there–the inbox, the groups, the apps, the photo sharing, and lots more.
We know by now that simply being fancier than Twitter is not a recipe for beating Twitter: If it were, Pownce would be eating Twitter’s lunch rather than being…defunct. But Facebook has multiple assets that most Twitterkillers don’t: an existing gigantic and loyal user base, plenty of technical resources, and more smart, agile minds than most tech companies. I don’t see anyone who loves Twitter dumping it in favor of the new Facebook, but the new look does fold some of what’s good about Twitter into the Facebook mix.
But the new more Twitterlike incarnation of Facebook got me thinking: In some ways, the most striking difference between Facebook and Twitter has nothing to do with user interfaces or the fact that Twitter has very few features and Facebook is bursting at the seams with them. It’s that Twitter places no limitations on who I can interact with, and Facebook is still very much about limiting interactions. (I can’t be friends with someone until we both agree to the relationship, and there are tons of precise options for cutting back on what information about me my friends can see.)
With Twitter, I feel like I’m interacting with the world–or at least a few million folks who inhabit it. And I kind of like the bustling, fast-moving anything-can-happen feel. Facebook, by contrast, is a quieter, more mundane, more predictable place. Generally speaking, I know who I’ll run into there.
So here’s an unanswered question: Will Facebook ever open up more, in the sense of encouraging looser, more far-flung interaction between members, whether they’ve friended each other or not?
Facebook does have public profiles (here’s mine). But what I wish it had was an option to let anyone and everyone see everything I do on Facebook–with the exception of private messages–even if they’re not Facebook members. That’s the default option on Twitter, and it works for me…