To Beat Twitter In Status Update Wars, How About Facebook Lite?

I’ve been bemused watching Facebook over the past few months try to get some of the Twitter mojo by focusing more on “status updates.” I tend to be with John Battelle that “Twitter is a pencil.” IE — Twitter works because it does one thing well. Facebook is complicated — it’s Photoshop, as John put it. But perhaps Facebook could succeed in the “status update wars” if it lets go, offers “Facebook Lite,” a status-only version of the service.

I put “status updates” in quotes, because no one really seems to know what to call what we do on Twitter. I guess “status update” came from the old school messages people would put into their internet messaging clients (I’m away; I wish I weren’t at work; I wish I were you, etc). With the explosion of Twitter, I’ve heard various people talk about the “status update” space and who will or can challenge Twitter there.

Status updates. Bleech. I much prefer “micro-blogging” as a name for what Twitter is. That how I use it — here’s a thing I want to post to the world, just like I might do with a regular blog post, but I can do it fast and easy using Twitter.

Back in March, Facebook decided it should be more Twitter-like by changing its status box to ask “What’s on your mind?” Bleech again. I can’t remember what it said before that, only that the required “is” had been dropped sometime after late 2007. But the goal is clear. Rather than this being a box designed to quickly say where you are or perhaps how you’re feeling, it’s encouraging you to say anything — you know, whatever’s on your mind. Just like Twitter.

Yesterday, there was much excitement that your status updates — along with other Facebook actions — now can flow outside of Facebook. Got a client that takes in Twitter activity? Now you can get your “stream” anywhere, as Facebook proclaimed.

Well, anywhere you want to run a software app, that is. If you don’t log-in, you don’t get your stream. And if you want to share that stream with others outside Facebook, unlike with Twitter, no dice, no luck.

For example, want to see my Twitter stream? It’s here, for anyone to access. No logging-in is necessary. And if I want to use that data in some way, such as in a widget on my blog? I can get the public RSS feed for it.

Over at Facebook, there is no RSS feed of your stream. Not that I can find, and I did plenty of looking yesterday. At best, there’s a Facebook badge you can get. That only shows your last status update, and it’s an image of it, at that.

If Facebook really wants to compete with Twitter — and Twitter could use some competition — I think it needs to open up much more and simplify, as well. Let people start a Facebook account solely to post status updates to anyone who is interested, via a fully public page and RSS feed. Let people follow anyone else just as Twitter allows. Down the line, let people transform those followers into “friends” and make use of Facebook’s deeper social networking tools IF THEY WANT. Plenty won’t want, but they can still be valuable as pure status update users.

One of Facebook’s biggest challenges in allowing “off-platform” sharing seems to be its supposed great “granular” privacy settings. People can control who sees what in a variety of ways at Facebook, and those settings have to be maintained if information flows out of the Facebook walled garden. But that’s also its weakness. It’s overwhelming just how much you can do within Facebook, much less trying to keep track of where all that information flows.

Twitter is the essence of simplicity. It’s either all public or not. And you only post one thing, a status message. If Facebook really wants to compete, a Facebook light version — come up with a clever name for it — seems like it would stand a greater chance of success. And maybe it could help Facebook move away from its walled garden origins more fully. AOL’s walled garden came down in the end; there was no reason to think AOL 2.0 was going to be more successful.

Postscript: Just came across Keep It Simple Stupid from MG Siegler over at TechCrunch that also came out today. Hadn’t seen it before writing this; guess we’re all thinking the same thing. Why’s Facebook got to be so complex? Especially look at his picture illustrating how complicated those various settings are.

Postscript (Sept. 11, 2009): Look at that! A new Facebook Lite has been launched. It’s still not as “light” as Twitter, but so far, I like how much more simple it is. More on Techmeme.


Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Danny.

    It definitely looks like Facebook took at least a step or two in the right direction with yesterday’s announcement. Their walled garden is still intact, but it seems like some streams of information can come in and out with the right software configuration (note: that seems like a heck of a biz opp moving forward).

    I’m not sure that they will ever launch a Facebook Lite or create RSS feeds, but as you mentioned, if the stream of information can’t be easily accessed and mashed up by the masses, then Facebook will likely end up as an AOL 2.0 (and just be another link in the social network chain just like Friendster and MySpace).

    Marketing P.S. Until folks develop methods to generate more robust analytics data/insights, Facebook will continue to be a black box for marketers (wish it was as is easy as dropping Google Analytics code on fan page, etc…).

  2. says

    Great post Danny.

    If you want to keep up on what is going on with your Facebook updates there is a level of commitment you have to make. I think a lot of people don’t have the time or patience to be checking it several times a day.

    That’s why Twitter wins this battle.

  3. says

    The contrast reminds me of the Palm Pilot vs. the Apple Newton. The Pilot was just so much simpler, did a few jobs and did them well. Of course, an iPhone would have kicked its ass, but that’s after about 15 years of hardware and interface work.

    I like Twitter a lot, and am a bit surprised to say it.

  4. says

    That is a perfect analogy! I’m not sure how FaceBook has gotten so popular…I guess everyone was tired of MySpace. I find that Facebook is one of the most user-unfriendly sites that I’ve come across…not to mention the security hazards you open yourself up to with all those Apps…you can’t do anything without adding an App…seems like everyone is enjoying the # 2 Dixon Ticonderoga that Twitter is…especially the Spammers!
    My # 2 Pencil Page

  5. says

    Hey Danny,

    Thanks for this. I spent hours trying to find my status feed on fb to no prevail. I wanted to use it in friendfeed, but I guess fb doesn’t want that to happen. Trying to exercise too much control over what happens on a social site seems to be a little like cutting of your nose to spite your face. If they keep it up it could cost them.

  6. says

    I personally hate the fact that FB feels it needs to compete with Twitter….I like that FB allows me to be selective and control the privacy of my information (to a point, as we all know anything posted on the net is potentially public). Twitter would be a waste of my time, because Facebook does what I want a social network to do…keep me in touch with my friends at level that is higher than the rambling thoughts of tweets.

    I was very disappointed in the last few months that FB has changed to be more Twitter-like…I don’t need to know the second by second plays of everyone’s days, I want to see their photos and read their notes and events…..actually see what they are up to, not just see a two line message about how the car in front of them just pissed them off.

    I have actually hidden any of my friends that feed their tweets into their FB status updates…including my cousin because all it does is clog up the system that was great before it started to try to be Twitter-like.

    I hope that at some point, FB will realize that they have their own market/niche of users that is very happy with FB being how it is, and that many of us will drop it like a hot potato if it starts to get any more like Twitter. If I wanted to join Twitter, I would have.

  7. says

    Re: “no one really seems to know what to call what we do on Twitter.” The noun may be “micro-blogging,” but that doesn’t help with the verb. Is “posting” too generic or “tweeting” too twee?

  8. says

    Facebook is complicated!?!? Wha, wha, what? Maybe compared to Twitter. Although I think Twitter is an awesome marketing tool, I find myself (and my wife, friends and family) spending far more time on Facebook. Facebook has more of an online community feel to it.

    I hope FB doesn’t continue to Twitterize itself because I like it the way it is. Can’t wait to see the impact the open API is going to have on things – particularly on the business side of things.

  9. says

    Hi Danny,

    nice to see you talk about other domains than Google.COM! ;D

    Twitter means: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=twitter (you could also check with urbandictionary.com, but I generally find keyword domains (such as twitter or dictionary or pizza) have more reliable information than non-keyword domains (especially when they keyword is commercially valuable – e.g. “hotels”).

    Microblogging is a style of implementing technology that will, I believe become increasingly widespread. I am using it on many of my domains for water-cooler type discussion.

    Note, however, that I am not quite as constraining in my implementations as twitter. Therefore, I allow tagging, editing, etc.

    I think the management style of the people who are running sites is a very important factor. Looking at twitter’s + facebook’s management, I will note that I find facebook’s apparent openness to incorporate user feedback in such issues as changing the TOS admirable. However, I’m not a FB know-it-all, so I don’t even know what issues were controversial and/or exactly how they were resolved.
    :) nmw

  10. says

    I agree with danny. Facebook complicated. Twitter is simple. Though i can’t understand why people in my country like facebook better than twitter. I hate the fact that this condition push me to have account in facebook, because my friends and family are there. Damn!