Four reasons why public Facebook status updates won't kill Twitter

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Here’s a short post on why I think Facebook allowing you to make your status updates public won’t affect Twitter as much as some might think. (In order to get Facebook statuses, you no longer need to use a session ID to access statuses).

1. Twitter totally changed the model in social networks. Previously the model had been “friend” someone. Facebook requires consent for “following”. Twitter totally switched it to “Follow”. The model was now – at least if your updates were public – opt in, not opt out. That meant that public Twitter accounts could spread much faster than Facebook ones, since Facebook accounts are set to default to closed.

2. Twitter is “mainstreaming” the Follow model faster than Facebook. Facebook’s users are not used to this at all. They may well find Twitter easier to understand than changing the way they use Facebook already. What you do on Facebook is often quite different. Twitter is much more about communication/conversation.

3. Facebook’s business model is predicated on them owning your social graph. You might think you own it, but they do, in effect. Twitter has flourished by giving life to an eco-system of other services which can tell you lots of interesting things about your social graph, via their API. (One of the coolest ones lately is Twittersheep).

4. @replies on Twitter are almost always public. That’s powerful. @replies on Facebook won’t be because so much of your social graph will probably stay closed (that’s my view at least).

  • Niall Larkin

    Some described twitter to me recently as ‘facebook, but without all the crap. ‘

    As you rightly said “Twitter is much more about communication/conversation.”

    I think the only way facebook could kill off twitter is to have the same lightweight appeal.

  • Andy Young

    good analysis/summary, mike.

  • Paul Golding

    Yes, but:

    FB can easily implement the follow model on just this part of the FB experience – it then becomes a potential on-ramp into the FB ecosystem.

    A lot of Twitter uses cross-post into the status updates and get FB replies, which is clunky.

    Unless there are terms forbidding it – it’s easy to implement a mashable UI that combines FB and Twitter timelines – then it doesn’t matter.

    Given that a lot of Twitter users are in the FB ecosystem and can get value from it – shifting the timeline into FB makes a lot of sense – don’t have to keep off-ramping to external sites.

    @Niall – decoupling the status updates means you can follow them ‘without all the crap.’

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  • Josh Russell

    point 1. is the key, the default behavior of twitter being open rather than closed. flickr showed us that lesson. if photos were private by default, then flickr would be a much quieter place. user not only go along with the default option the majority of the time, but will most likely make a choice about using the service at all based on default patterns like that.

  • Josh Russell

    i’ll add to that by saying that facebook can not switch all users status to public without their consent, making it an opt-out, without alienating and scaring them. that would cause facebook a lot of trouble. the initial default setting is what twitter got right with this. this is also why facebook doesn’t appear much in google. because if they flicked that switch there would be widespread daily-mail-style fear and panic over privacy. facebook will continue to have their own, closed, little version of the internet. bless.

  • Alex MacGregor

    Great post Mike.

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  • almost witty

    While Facebook opening up status updates won’t kill Twitter, if they decide to allow people to comment back easily, then that’s not going to help Twitter.

    I’ve been a Twitter use for 18 months, but I only figured out how to spot @replies in the last month. and even then I had to use a seperate application or constantly remember to visit a certain weblink. Facebook makes that aspect of it all so much easier.

    So either Twitter need to open up an easily spottable commenting system (or just say “alert me when someone sends a public reply!”, or Facebook just needs to open up that little bit more.

  • Jose A. Del Moral

    The picture you used is extremely funny ;-)

  • simonbaptist

    Mike, I think you’ve made a good stab here.

    I would add that in general, the use of FB and Twitter is quite different and expectations of one’s network on each aligns with that difference.


    By definition my FB friends have a larger interest spread and I’ve had comments about why I am telling them so much about digital advertsing, search and social media and if I keep doing it, I’ll be tuned out.

    Yet, the opposite of Twitter. I get negative feedback if I post too many personal tweets.

  • Daniel Gergès

    Very interesting post.

    I think the situation is different outside of the US.

    The Tech Savy + geek niche in which Twitter is prospering is much much smaller in other countries than in the US.

    If that won’t kill Twitter in the US, I think that it’s going to give them a very hard job to grow outside of the niche in which they’re born in other countries.

    In the US I think that the public vs private positioning still leaves plenty of room for Twitter.



  • somedork

    Another item is Facebook forces you to use your real name. Some of us like to enjoy our internet anonymously, and Twitter allows you to do that. Until Facebook lets up on this, there will be plenty out there that won’t sign up.

  • Soyapi Mumba

    Facebook *can* kill Twitter esp. for those of us outside Silicon Valley.

    I have 280 Twitter followers vs 170 real-life friends on Facebook. I usually update my FB status via Twitter yet get more comments on Facebook than Twitter.

    To do that they’ll need to:
    1. set up an International number for SMS status updates
    2. allow permanent bots (app accounts?), just like unix’s system accounts, with limited social privileges to preventing diluting authenticity of user accounts
    3. allow anyone to ‘follow’ *public* users without authorisation. Users will have to choose to be public, of course.

    With Facebook’s > 150 million users vs Twitter’s, what, < 5 million? They can massacre Twitter anytime!

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  • Jeff Harmon

    I completely agree with you, unless I can call my friends by first name on the street, I will never befriend them on facebook. Twitter, on the other hand, I will follow anyone who has good content, just like a blog (hence microblog).

    That being said, I wonder how long it will take a crowd of facebookers to turn facebook status updates into microblogs. It is facebook and the masses are there to give the incentive to me as long as I can separate the account from my personal facebook status updates.

    For example: My brothers and I created a facebook app Status King. It is based completely around clever Status Updates and we are the first facebook app to turn facebook status updates into t-shirts. If Facebook gives us the ability to create a Status Update microblog for our app, I would use it in a heartbeat—just don’t make it so my friends have to see it without following.

    If status updates become the microblogs and customer service and communication for apps, groups, fan pages, and even any website hooked to facebook connect, then I can see why people think this might just be Twitter’s death. Too bad “status update” does not have the wordplay of “twitter”—Twitter still has the most perfectly brandable name I have ever seen.

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  • Tom Nocera

    Twitter’s got the “here and now” factor going for it. Its been de-bugged and has proven its value to the growing multitude of people, organizations including government agencies. Twitter is open and free and like a party where you invite the guests and engage in the kind of conversations that you find to be the most interesting. In short, Twitter satisfies.

  • David Miller

    Be relatively new to the social media sites, I have to say I prefer Twitter hands down. Its simple, quick, and allows you to see what others are doing right now. Another plus to Twitter is you can post from a cell phone & receive a text when members you have selected make a post.

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  • Alberto

    Great post!

    Agree with it all round.

    I think while points 1-3, about different networks and uses, are subjective, true today, but could always sway in time, point 4 really nails it on the head as for Facebook to open up comments would mean a deep shift in what it’s about, and could actually dent where it’s most powerful: connecting and sharing with the people we know.

  • Dave Nattriss

    The two services clearly complement each other – there is little point trying to claim one is better than the other when they do very different things.

    The fundamental difference is that your Facebook is a private network of people you trust (or at least, it is if you’re using the site as intended), whereas your Twitter is your window to a load of people/bots/’SEO specialists’ (aka spammers?) who you both do and don’t know. Facebook has achieved mainstream adoption in a lot of countries, Twitter is nowhere near that yet, and unless they significantly enhance the default service and UI, it never will be. My mum won’t bother with Twitter if she has to download a third party application to actually make it useful.

    Also, not everyone wants to share everything they do publicly anyway, which is why Facebook gives you the greatest amount of privacy control of any site I’ve seen on the web and most people (in the UK at least) who are online are now using it. It’s virtually ubiquitous.

    And with Twitter’s service being used for @replies so much more now than actual status updates (i.e communication/commenting), it’s really starting to creak in terms of its 140 character and API access limits.

    Can I also highlight that I’m using Facebook Connect to post this comment. Twitter’s equivalent API mechanism of allowing you to use your credentials on other sites, is nowhere near as safe (as the external sites get to see your password) – another big hurdle Biz Stone et al need to overcome.

    As for the ‘without the crap’ comment, BOTH services are user-configurable, so if you keep getting crap coming up, you need to stop following the crap-producers on Twitter, or have words with your Facebook friends to tell them they’re pissing you around. At least Facebook lets you block specific applications if they get on your nerves, whereas with Twitter you can’t filter out certain tweets without using a third party app.

    P.S. David Miller, the SMS/text thing is only available in certain countries – it was disabled in the UK last year for instance, due to cost. Though Twitter could bring it back as a premium service. However, anyone with a mobile phone that’s less than a few years old should have a browser on it that lets them access Facebook/Twitter/any other site with a mobile version.

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