Facebook as a Twitter Wannabee

The new Facebook UI has become a stream of Twitter-like updates. The pattern builds on the addictive conversational nature of Twitter, but cripples some of the key ways that Facebook was different than Twitter. What made Facebook better than the earlier generations of YASNs is that it not only let you declare your friends but do things with your friends – share applications with them, share events, create groups, organize. The new Facebook hides the affordances for apps, events, groups.

By hiding the affordances for application functionality, are they making a really big bet on Facebook connect? Are they hoping that 3rd party services with independent web presense will integrate into the stream by delegating their member database to Facebook? This could be. The weakness of this strategy is that 3rd party services have no loyalty to Facebook and would just as well use some other technology. People just want to do things with their friends, with the least barrier to getting started.

Also, Facebook has FriendFeed-like discussion around assets, which is nice. The threaded comment UI is intuitive. It’s very helpful when you’re actually talking about an asset like a bookmark. But it lacks the transparency, discovery, and immediacy of Twitter conversations. With Twitter conversation, you can see someone replying to someone else, and find interesting new people. With Twitter conversation plus search, you can see someone asking a question and then follow the answers.

Also, Twitter conversation is present-focused in a good way. Facebook conversations are anchored to the original remark that happened to start the conversation. So if someone said something interesting 4 hours ago, you have to scroll back to find it. Which you probably won’t. With Twitter, if the conversation is ongoing, you’ll still hear it.

In summary: the Twitter mode for Facebook does give it some of the addictive quality of Twitter but in imitating Twitter, Facebook has sacrificed too much of what makes Facebook valuable. And in attempting to imitate Twitter, Facebook has missed some of the social dynamics that make Twitter good.

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