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.