By Harry McCracken | Monday, April 27, 2009 at 12:35 pm
The race between Twitter and Facebook is starting to look like Tortoise vs. Hare. I don’t mean that as a value judgment, or a prediction that Twitter is headed for victory and Facebook for a fall. It’s just that Twitter’s strategy to to go slow and steady–it’s only just now making search a core feature–and Facebook’s strategy is to pursue change fast and furiously.
The latest news on that front is today’s announcement that Facebook is opening up its stream to outside developers. Just as Twitter’s API has let TweetDeck, Twitterific, Tweetie, and a bevy of other clients for multiple platforms get at Twitter users’ tweets, Facebook will let developers build sites and services that can tap into users’ status updates, shared activities, and more. For the first time, it’s possible for companies other than Facebook to write Facebook clients–Seesmic, for instance, is adding rich Facebook support.
But will anyone write a Facebook client that’s better than Facebook, in the way that the majority of Twitter users have found clients that they prefer to Twitter.com? That’s a tricky one. Facebook is a fundamentally richer and more complicated world than Twitter, and the information that gushes from it may be harder for new clients to process than Twitter’s river of 140-character tweets. And Facebook, unlike Twitter, has an array of privacy options that must be taken into account. The company understandably doesn’t want third-party clients to cheerfully ignore the privacy controls it’s put into place.
It’s going to take awhile to gauge how significant today’s announcement is (although we can start soon–it sounds like an Adobe Air-based Facebook client based on the new developer features will be available later today). But there’s no way this isn’t good news. From now on, if Facebook’s official BlackBerry client isn’t ideal, for instance, it’s way less of an issue–because someone else with the interest and technical chops will be able to come along and build a better one.
I’d also expect some of the folks who have built clients and services for Twitter and other social networks to add Facebook support, as Seesmic is already doing. That’s good news for social networking fans, and also good news for Facebook: The more time I’ve spent in Twitter clients, the less time I’ve spent hanging out at Facebook. One great client that gives me access to both services would be mighty appealing.