Phase 4 Of Facebook's Systematic Attack On Twitter: The Everyone Button

If you were to distill Facebook down to its core magic, you’d have Twitter’s real time news stream with a really expensive-to-maintain photo site bolted on.

And while Twitter isn’t exactly posing much of a current threat, Facebook isn’t taking any chances. Just as Friendster and MySpace tried to buy Facebook in the early days (and nearly did), Facebook is now trying to take Twitter out. First was the acquisition attempt. Then came a focus on real time content streams. Today we saw phase 3 – a search engine for public status updates and other content that a small percentage of users are able to test.

Next week, we hear, phase 4 of Facebook’s systematic attack on Twitter is scheduled for beta testing: the Everyone Button.

Facebook currently has complicated privacy settings to let users control who sees what content they post. There are 27 different settings for most Facebook content, plus another 17 for applications. Most users don’t bother.

If Facebook is going to leapfrog Twitter and become the place for the real time news stream, they need more than a new user interface and a search engine (they must be livid to see things like this – Twitter will forever be associated with the civil unrest in Iran, just the most recent example). They need public content as well. And that means encouraging users to post at least some of their content publicly.

The current privacy settings don’t allow for specific status updates and other messages to be treated differently than other messages. That’s going to change. Users will be presented with a variety of privacy choices every time a message is posted to Facebook – everyone, friends and networks, friends of friends and friends. They’ll also be allowed to customize the settings further.

But the top choice, and the one most people will choose, is “Everyone.” That means you can have an entirely private profile but occasionally choose (or, Facebook hopes, always choose) to have status messages, links, photos, events, etc. be public and findable in that shiny new search engine.

It’s not clear that Facebook will be able to quickly convince its users to make content public. Just a couple of years ago there were revolts over the launch of the news stream itself, and it wasn’t all that long ago that college students were super not happy about all the old people being let in. But none of that matters. Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg’s world, and we just live in it. He’ll bend us all to his will.

Watch your back, Twitter. I hear Phase 5 is a doozy.