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Will Facebook envy wreck Twitter?

Mike Elgan | Aug. 4, 2015
There's never been anything quite like Facebook. As a company, Facebook specializes in collecting, hoarding, keeping and engaging users. As a social network, it dominates the market with the largest user base. Facebook has a monopoly as the social network of choice for friends and families.

Twitter is the peace-of-mind social network. You can trust Twitter -- what you see is what you get. When you follow someone, you get all their tweets -- you don't have to wonder what you were missing. Facebook, on the other hand delivers by default only a tiny minority of the status updates posted by your friends.

When you're away from Twitter for a few hours, no worries! There's no anxiety to find out what you missed. Twitter is all about the now.

Every new tweet from every person you follow appears instantly and reliably at the top of your stream. When it appears, you know that "this is the most recent tweet from everyone I follow." It feels honest. Users feel in control because there is no secret modifications to their streams. Twitter feels good.

Because of all these attributes, Twitter gained extremely influential users. Nearly every journalist, politician, singer, actor, scholar, scientist and public intellectual seems active on Twitter.

Sure, they're only as big as Instagram. But the "quality" of the Twitter user base from a fame and influence perspective is second to none. And that's what sets Twitter apart and makes it unique.

Twitter's got a good thing. But it looks like they're getting ready to ruin it.

Twitter will be the worst Facebook

The most unsettling comment during Twitter's call was from Dorsey. He said that in order to appeal to "mainstream" users, Twitter needs to be more like Facebook and stop serving up tweets in reverse-chronological order. This, he said, would be part of a broader "questioning of our fundamentals" and would "balance recency with relevance."

Twitter's "Project Lightning" will use human editors and curators to cobble together cherry-picked content from Twitter accounts you're not following.

Twitter has already started dabbling in the algorithmic arts. When you're away for awhile, Twitter now serves up a software-determined subset of the tweets you missed based on a variety of invisible "signals." The new homepage design went into widespread release Thursday and shows "greatest hits" like tweets from users you don't follow.

They're also emphasizing pictures, Vines and videos and even auto-playing videos. They've gotten rid of the 140-character limit for direct messages. They've packed streams with advertising, promotional design elements (for example, constantly suggesting new people to follow), and Periscope invitations.

The mobile version has a "card" interface, which Twitter copied from Facebook and Facebook copied from Google. It's also got a new "Twitter ads" button for managing advertising. Many external articles now "auto-expand" to show pictures and part of the article right in your feed.

Twitter last month got a new Facebook-like "birthdays" feature, so you can tweet "Happy Birthday" to people without having known what their birthday was. And you'll feel obligated to do so.


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