Facebook buys FriendFeed to fight Twitter

Ronny Kerr · August 11, 2009 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/9e4

In purchase of sharing network, Facebook makes its biggest advance in subtle war on Twitter

Facebook v TwitterAs the Internet exploded yesterday with news of Facebook’s purchase of social-sharing aggregation site FriendFeed, we can safely say that Facebook’s war on Twitter rages on.

Ever since the explosive growth of Twitter in the early months of 2009, Facebook has been doing all it can to assure itself that it will maintain its spot as the number one social networking site on the Web.

We reported at the beginning of last June about the fact that Twitter was the fastest-growing social network in April, with minutes spent online by users increasing by 3700%. No competitor can sit easy when faced with numbers like that.

So, what followed, were a series of periodic updates to Facebook’s site, that consistently casted the site in a certain light as trying to, one step at a time, one-up Twitter. Near the end of June, Facebook announced the launch of its Live Stream Box, which basically looks like an automatically updated Twitter feed (but with Facebook status updates instead), meant to be placed alongside a live video of any sort of event. In early July, the site introduced an easier way to share smaller and timelier events, like going to lunch in the next hour, via a status update on news feeds. Two weeks later, I posted on my firsthand experience using the Live Stream Box for Obama’s country music event at the White House. Finally, less than two weeks ago, Facebook deleted the ability to search by regional networks.

What do all these updates have in common? This is Facebook “Twitterization.”

With the Live Stream Box, Facebook made itself more relevant for exciting current events; with event sharing, it encouraged its users to share more recent updates; and with the deletion of regional networks, it is increasingly trying to present itself as a global network, not a local network.

Even today, instead of actually commenting on the site’s latest purchase, the Facebook Blog posted about a new update to Search that pulls the site one step closer to doing what Twitter does. In addition to being able to search for profiles, Facebook Pages, groups, and applications, users can now search 30-days worth of status updates, photos, links, videos and notes, not only being shared by friends, but also by users who chose to set their privacy settings loosely, sharing with “Everyone.”
Facebook trends
“Earlier today, I used Facebook Search to get the latest about our recent acquisition of FriendFeed, an innovative service for sharing online,” blogs engineering manager Akhil Wable. “When I enter ‘FriendFeed’ in the ‘Search’ field in the upper-right hand corner of any page on Facebook, I get the most recent status updates, reactions and news from my friends who work in technology and people who have chosen to make their content available to everyone.”

Sounds a whole lot like searching trends on Twitter.

Considering all the evidence compiled above that demonstrates repeated and calculated moves on Facebook’s part to encroach on Twitter territory, many cannot find the relevance in Facebook’s purchasing of FriendFeed, a relatively tiny site for sharing updates and pictures like on Twitter.

As a few have proposed, Facebook does not want FriendFeed itself or even the exact technology running the feeds. Facebook wants the FriendFeed team.

While Facebook certainly knows how it seeks to change its site—go real-time, make profiles more public, make everything searchable, and compile trends—and even though it has already made countless steps in that direction, this purchase clearly reveals that Facebook is taking no risks with these changes. They want the best programmers with the best ideas for real-time news feeds to be working on their site. Comprised of a team packed with former Google employees, most of which boasting to have worked on Google Maps, GMail, and Google Search—three top-notch services—the FriendFeed team is not an amateur bunch.

In a FriendFeed Blog postfriendfeed yesterday confirming the purchase, FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor (for the most part) affirmed the fact that this deal is about Facebook getting new and better programmers: “Now we have the opportunity to bring many of the innovations we've developed at FriendFeed to Facebook's 250 million users around the world and to work alongside Facebook's passionate engineers to create even more ways for you to easily share with your friends online.”

If you read in between the lines, you’ll see the death of FriendFeed. But there really was no room for the site anyway, between Facebook and Twitter. Over the next few months, we should see these two social networking titans moving closer and closer together in terms of usability, and the battle will continue to escalate.

As everybody knows from the examples of Friendster and MySpace, social networking sites are hardly the most stable. Who will be the dominating site a year from now? Will people prefer the overall elegance and simplicity of Twitter or will Facebook cement its 250 million users with its inclusion of a hundred more features above and beyond its Twitter-like real-time news feed?

Nobody knows right now, but I can guarantee that there are currently a million guesses scattered across the feeds of both sites.

(image sources: JESS3 Blog)

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from Twitter.com, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within Twitter.com, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on Virginamerica.com that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.