Facebook made a number of announcements today about changes to its home page, profile pages, and activity streams. Taken together, these represent a concerted response to the rise of Twitter as a real-time message broadcasting system that goes beyond members’ personal circle of friends.
One of the biggest changes is that Facebook is getting rid of the distinction between private profiles and public pages. The 5,000-friend limit will be dropped from the public pages. Facebook doesn’t want Twitter to become the way large companies and public figures connect to fans. Up until now, Facebook Pages haven’t really been the place fans go to connect with their favorite celebrities or brands. For that, they’ve started going to Twitter, where they can get updates in real time.
Facebook is also speeding up the updates that populate the news feeds on everyone’s personal page. Before, these would be updated every 10 minutes or so. Facebook’s introduction of real-time updates and a one-sided follow system mimics Twitter’s functionality. While it may be a little late to this part of the game, its user base of 175 million dwarf’s Twitter’s. Explains CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
What we’re talking about today, is that there’s a philosophical change in that we want to converge these public figures (which are one way) and friends (two way connections).
Throughout the press conference Facebook emphasized the importance of the activity stream along with the social graph (which is the map of social connections between members). Chris Cox, Facebook’s director of product development, put it this way:
The stream is what is happening. We think it is as core as the graph. The graph is the connections, the stream is what is happening.
These changes will become evident front-and-center on the homepage. Says Zuckerberg:
With the new homepage, that will reflect a much faster flow of information.
The redesigned homepage will allow users to sort through and filter their feed more easily. Updates will be able to be filtered by groups, specific friends, family, or by applications. A new publishing box for sharing updates will incorporate the ability to add not just status notes, but also links, photos, and videos. A new widget will highlight items from friends and other connections members interact with the most. In this way, Facebook is trying to strike a balance between its traditional strength as a private communication system and the increasingly public connections being made on the service as well.
On the surface these may seem like evolutionary changes, but the stakes are high. Facebook is trying to shore itself up as the foundation for a living, rapid-fire Web where the line between private messages and public content is blurred. Under no cisrcumstances does it want to cede the thought stream of its users to Twitter. Instead of asking, “What are you doing right now?”, the new status update box asks, “What’s on your mind?” Mix in Facebook Connect, and these thought streams can be collected from all over the Web.
Despite its already considerable size, Facebook is showing how adept it can be in responding to new threats. If Facebook cannot buy Twitter, it will try to beat it instead.