Is Facebook trying to crush Twitter?

5 Mar 2009

If you can’t buy ’em, then beat ’em at their own game instead. Social-networking site Facebook has introduced real-time status streams that could explode the micro-blogging phenomenon started by Twitter into the mainstream.

The service Twitter offers, which allows users to post updates of around 140 words long, has grown to become the world’s third-largest social-networking site after Facebook and MySpace, with six million registered users and 55 million monthly visitors.

The momentum of Twitter at one point attracted the world’s largest social networker Facebook, which is understood to have offered US$500m to buy the service. Twitter declined, instead raising US$35m in venture capital, and it is taking its own sweet time to find a commercialisation model.

Facebook, on the other hand, has 175 million users and a status update application that is similar in respects to Twitter. Facebook, which is recruiting 70 people for its European headquarters in Dublin, is also on a commercialisation drive, and is building an engine that will make it a tour de force in the online advertising stakes.

It emerged last night that Facebook is introducing new features on its homepage that will combine real-time status streams with advanced options for customisation.

The new page design – due to go live mid-next week – will include a Facebook Stream that shows your friends’ activities as they occur.

Facebook’s new publisher technology allows users to control everything that appears in the stream, including status updates, pictures and notes, and allows the user to decide who they want to share the information with.

“The publisher lets you share your thoughts and content like photos and notes into the stream,” the company said. “You have one stream—your Wall—on your profile, and one stream on your homepage that represents the ongoing, flowing conversation between you and your friends.”

Combining micro-blogging with a commercially minded behemoth with close to 200 million users and growing should be a cause for concern for Twitter which, despite an intensely loyal following, is in no apparent hurry to put forward a business case for growth.

Speaking with last week, the director of online operations at Facebook, Colm Long, said that the focus of the social-networking player is to respond to user feedback and develop a strategy around reflecting offline relationships in an online world to keep people connected.

“We are working on new features to make that happen. You mention Twitter as an example; it’s a great product, but it’s just an extension of something we already have. We’re focusing on blending existing services to better serve markets where we already have a presence so that they are meaningful to local cultures too.

“Expect lots more enhancements and features to the site that will make Facebook a much more interactive environment. Facebook is evolving at a phenomenal rate, reflecting a culture of producing new features and putting them out quickly.”

Later today in Dublin, Facebook will be hosting a Developer’s Garage at the Digital Exchange at 4.30pm, sponsored by Intel and organised in collaboration with Web 2.0 Ireland.

“Ireland beats the world because of its innovative and savvy developer community,” Long told “We believe the development community in Dublin will become a huge part of the Facebook ecosystem.”

Twitter may not be the only social-networking competitor that Facebook could take on. The site is ramping up its development capabilities in such a way that it could be a very sticky focal point for many users, from the novice to the zealous.

Yet, Twitter has an intensely loyal following, and it is just now gaining greater popularity.

However, Facebook has the numbers to drive micro-blogging into the mainstream, and a commercial strategy to boot. The game is getting very interesting indeed.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the new face of Facebook