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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.

Both Dorsey and Noto spoke urgently about the need to satisfy investors with user growth and monetization, all based on the need to expand beyond the existing loyal user base.

And this expansion involves re-making Twitter in Facebook's image.

Whether Twitter's user base grows fast or not, the company intends to deliver better financials to Wall Street. That means each user will be increasingly bombarded with advertising, including video ads.

How Twitter could lose it all

Twitter used to be special. It had a unique purpose, look, feel and functionality. As a result, it gained a unique user base and became the default social network for public people like celebrities, politicians, journalists and activists. It's been the network of choice for breaking news as well as important world and entertainment events and commentary.

These qualities are what made Twitter better than Facebook in powerful ways. By copying Facebook and abandoning minimalism in favor of Facebook-like clutter, Twitter risks losing both its uniqueness and its special audience.

If that happens, Twitter won't be better than Facebook in any way. I fear that Twitter has been led astray by both the pressures of going public and by the winner-takes-all culture of Silicon Valley. Every company has to win every user, and at all costs.

The supreme irony in copying Facebook is that, well, it's not what Facebook would do. If Facebook felt fear of missing users, it would build or buy an external service to gain those users. Facebook would never fundamentally change what it is to chase users.

If Twitter wants to copy Facebook, it should copy Facebook's approach to defending itself against rivals. Instead of killing the Twitter that we know and love and re-making it in Facebook's image, Twitter should launch or buy another service and build a separate Facebook.

By transforming Twitter into a Facebook clone, Twitter is essentially saying it doesn't want to be Twitter anymore. All I can say is: Be careful what you wish for.


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