Is Facebook trying too hard to be Twitter?

Ronny Kerr · July 31, 2009 · Short URL:

Latest deletion of regional network usability shows Facebook getting rid of the wrong things

Facebook vs TwitterHaving seen the incredible rise of Twitter as one of the most popular social networking sites on the Web, Facebook has over the past couple months been aggressively implementing, to limited groups of users, a range of updates that mimic the functionality of the Twitter’s incredibly basic site.

Facebook continues its trot towards becoming very much like the public and global community Twitter with the removal of the ability to search for friends by regional network, a change first spotted by All Facebook last night. Though Facebook announced over a month ago that changes of this kind would be taking place, the updates, like this latest one, are still affecting the site day-to-day.

The real question is whether Facebook is crippling itself by trying so hard to be just like Twitter.

In one of the many executive documents famously leaked by the hacker who acquired them a few weeks ago, Twitter asks the painful question, “How could Facebook kill us?” And topping the list of answers are the phrases “Real-time Search” and “Opt-in to make status public.”

Theoretically, all Facebook has to do is make status updates public and add an engine to search for these updates in real-time. That is Twitter’s entire service right there and Facebook is already working on adding these services. But they might be going further, in a bad way.

The same executive Twitter document does not go on to say Facebook should eliminate their regional communities.

Twitter’s executives didn’t think Facebook could kill their service by becoming their service. That makes no sense. Rather, they feared that if it chose to add the full capabilities of Twitter to its already vast arsenal of services, Facebook could vastly improve what it already does best by making its community more Twitter-like.

no regions
As a concrete example, consider the power of regional networks. While it’s interesting to see what the whole world thinks of a trending topic, imagine the usefulness of comparing those results with tweets on the same topic by region. Facebook had an entire platform built with hundreds of million users plugged in and regional networks assigned to each. When they finally make the transition to a site with fully implemented public statuses and real-time search, they could have (with the addition of a few lines of code) allowed users to search by region.

And this is just one piece of useful information that Facebook used to store from its users.

Facebook has an excellent platform with bountiful loads of information about each of its users. Sending any of that information to the recycle bin is just a mistake, plain and simple.

(image sources: JESS3 Blog & Mashable)

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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, 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, 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 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.