Facebook is expected to announce today that it is opening up its news feed to third party application developers. Twitter has benefitted for some time from the unfettered access of application developers to the Tweatstream, and with this move Facebook continues the move to embrace more Twitter-like functionality that began with the recent interface redesign that made status updates much more prominent.
On the one hand, this is the right move for Facebook to make and will only serve to increase the value users derive from the Facebook platform. I have a folder of over 40 Twitter applications that enhance the core value of the platform. Without these third party applications, Twitter’s value would be severely compromised and its growth stunted. However, in this rush to Twitterization, I believe Facebook has fundamentally failed to appreciate the messaging taxonomy in which it operates. In so doing, they will compromise their value to users, perhaps the first real chink in Facebook’s inexorable growth. (Yes, there has been the occasional terms of condition firestorm but that was ultimately much ado about nothing, as evidenced by the small voter turnout in the recent terms of condition affair.)
So where’s the confusion? While many people use third party tools to automatically post their Twitter posts directly to their Facebook status, I think the two play fundamentally different roles. I use my Facebook status to reflect big picture events or thoughts. As such, I expect the status to remain relatively static, at least as compared with the Twitter feed. I may only change my Facebook status a few times a day and on occasion, I leave it the same for several days at a time. By contrast, my Twitter feed may include multiple updates a minute, reflecting minute changes in what I’m doing, what I’m thinking or what I’m looking for. The Facebook status is for seeing the forest through the trees; the Twitter feed is the very root system of that forest and those trees.
By confusing those two, Facebook risks devaluing the status feed, increasingly its triviality and decreasing my likelihood of perusing it. I rarely browse the Twitter feed any more, instead relying on a variety of search and filter mechanisms to make sense of the vast stream from the almost 2,000 people I now follow. By contrast, even with over 1,000 friends on Facebook, I regularly browse the status updates because their high level information is sufficiently valuable for me to devote that level of effort and attention.
For Facebook to retain its level of value to and attention from me — critical if it hopes to increasingly monetize the platform through advertising — it’s essential that they understand the messaging taxonomy in which they play. At the lowest level, there’s Twitter. High up on the hierarchy is the Facebook status update. In between are some of the other elements of the Facebook feed (posts, events, etc.). Unless Facebook makes steps to embrace this taxonomy, it is at risk of decreasing its user value, something it can ill afford to do.
So the expected announcement today of the opening of the platform to third party developers is a great thing, but if Facebook fails to embrace the messaging taxonomy outlined above, in a few years we may well view today’s announcement as the day Facebook “jumped the shark.” To date, Facebook has responded quickly and appropriately to major platform gaffes (e.g., Beacon). This, however, is a much more subtle and insidious “gaffe.” Let’s see how quickly Facebook reacts…or whether this is a huge and deleterious mistake.
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