A ray of light is beginning to shine from Facebook’s black hole of information. The site has just released a feature that will allow Facebook Page owners to syndicate their updates from Facebook to Twitter — something that users have been asking for for ages.
It may not sound like much, but this is a big deal. Up until now, it’s been quite easy to import Twitter updates into Facebook, as there are a variety of Facebook apps that let you do it with varying degrees of control. But it’s always been a one-way road — there was no easy way to transfer Facebook updates over to Twitter. Today that changes. Page managers will be able to share all updates to come from their Pages, or they can pick and choose which types of content they’d like to share over Twitter.
Of course, there’s one major omission from the new feature: you can’t syndicate updates from your personal Facebook profile to Twitter. In effect, the only people to benefit from this are celebrities, brands, and other users that maintain Facebook Pages — something that your average Facebook member doesn’t do. So why not open this to everyone?
Facebook has said a lot about its “openness”, but advocates for openness and data portability have long criticized the site for being something of a black hole of information. Sure, you can import some data into third party sites using Facebook Connect, but these connections are fleeting and limited.
There are a few reasons why Facebook might hold out on opening this to all users. One of these is the real-time search race that’s currently dominated by Twitter. Facebook is also looking to get a piece of this action — it recently revamped its search functionality, and will soon encourage users to share their updates with ‘Everyone‘, meaning that updates won’t be restricted to users in your social graph. Twitter may have the head start in this race, but even if a fraction of Facebook’s 250+ million users begins sharing with “Everyone” they may well be able to overtake Twitter as the de facto site for real-time search. However, if Facebook users are also syndicating their status updates to Twitter, some of this advantage will be lost.
On the other hand, if Facebook does eventually allow users to export their status updates to Twitter, it would actually increase the number of visitors to Facebook — every time you shared a new photo album or video, it would be hosted on Facebook rather than sites like TwitPic. Going further, if Facebook did allow for users to syndicate updates while making it easier to import their friends’ Twitter updates, as FriendFeed did, Facebook could itself become an extremely popular Twitter client — a client that allowed for inline commenting, ‘Likes’, and the other niceties, which could help it actually steal the conversation from Twitter. For more on this idea, see this post by MG Siegler.