Facebook has launched an interesting feature today: the ability to tag friends in status updates and other messages from the publisher. As with Twitter, you use the “@” symbol followed by your friend’s name (or the name of a Facebook Page or Group) to tag something, but the message shows up without the symbol and just a link to the person’s profile.
The ability to “Tag” friends was one that Facebook popularized with its tagging feature in photos years ago. As Facebook notes in its blog post announcing the new “@” feature, tagging is one of the most popular features on the social network. I’d venture to say it’s probably one of the early features that made Facebook’s social technology so distinct.
But Twitter, or at least its users, pioneered the “@” functionality to tag friends, which has long been missing from Facebook’s status updates. That said, there are some key differences both from a UI perspective and in the way tagging on Facebook works. Unlike Twitter, where you have to memorize your friends’ usernames (or use a third party client that features auto-complete), on Facebook when you begin typing in a friend’s name following the “@” symbol, you’ll see a drop-down menu that will let you choose from your list of friends, groups, events and applications.
And while @replies on Twitter are often used for conversations, on Facebook the use-case is a bit different. When you tag someone in a status update, that person will receive a notification and a Wall post, which links the person to your status update. Similar to tagging in photos, the person has the option of removing the tag. Inside Facebook reports that the feature will be rolling slowly over the next few weeks.
Facebook has been steadily growing its social network (at a faster rate that Twitter) and made a recent acquisition that is representative of Facebook’s aggressive tactics in the steady battle with Twitter. While the “@” feature addition to Status Updates maybe small in comparison to the acquisition of FriendFeed, it’s significant when it comes to the bigger picture of the ongoing rivalry between Facebook and Twitter.