Back in the day, around age 10, I went door-to-door selling greeting cards, candy, and other random things from a catalog. We’re talking big money here: I probably made $2 for every item sold. Things were going well until the day I got the newest catalog in the mail and then canvassed my neighborhood.
A curious thing happened at the first few houses. At first I thought it might just be an anomaly. It wasn’t. Someone was moving in my territory. People were telling me that “my partner” had already stopped by and/or they had already place an order. From previous years I knew that there were other people selling the same stuff in my development. We seemed to have naturally settled into defacto boundaries to make life easier on all of us. That is, until now.
So what happened? When the next catalog came out, I rushed out to sell way into his territory. With my beloved mother backing me, I had my competitive advantage of no money down (she fronted the cash allowing me to not ask for money up front, reassuring prospective customers that I was not a 10-year old scam artist) allowing me to hustle some new volume. Within a few cycles, detente was reached. This was sort of the G-rated version of people getting popped over corners on The Wire. OK, maybe not.
What the hell am I talking about? Facebook and Twitter, of course. This post is mostly for my friends in the Valley. In the normal world, no one really cares about battles between websites. Here we live for this stuff. But I digress… As many of you have no doubt already experienced, Facebook launched a completely new home page among other things.
Two things spell out the declaration of war:
The adoption of the Twitter stream look:
Naturally, the public (especially social media “experts” and the media) have caught on to the fact that Facebook has jacked Twitter’s flow and incorporated it. There’s not much to say here, as the visual similarities are so clear.
Making Facebook the place where celebrities want to broadcast.
I think that one of the biggest drivers of Twitter’s surge in mainstream adoption has been the influx of celebrity users. I follow Shaq. Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Barack Obama’s campaign, and a ton of other notables have used twitter to broadcast snippets from their “lives.” This kind of direct connection would have once only been possible through watching TV or reading a magazine. It can be powerful stuff. Facebook has, until now, only had extremely limited “Fan Pages.” But now, with these pages becoming much more like regular profiles and allowing public figures to broadcast information in a uni-directional manner similar to Twitter, Facebook has moved to head off one of Twitter’s most popular aspects. With this new page functionality, and vanity URL’s (soon to come?) it’s clear that FB means business. Facebook want to be the platform of choice for public figures, and they want them badly.
Facebook has some of the smartest talent in the Valley. It’s safe to assume that they’ve analyzed how many people are piping their tweets into their facebook statuses. With that number growing, that makes for unhappy Facebook’ers. It’s a strong sign that you’re in danger of being disintermediated. If you’re facebook, that can’t stand. Strike one.
Strike two: Twitter was becoming the service de jour of celebrities. You could practically see it. It seemed like every other day Stewart or Colbert was mentioning them or a new celebrity was signing up. Shaq has even been encouraging interaction with his fellow twitteroni’s. I can hear the conversations now. johnny: “Why would I want to sign up for Twitter?” miguel-ramon: “Because I talk to shaq, diddy, and a bunch of people we know on there.” It’s a dead-simple, pretty cool value proposition.
The Facebook crew watched Friendster get eclipsed by MySpace, and then they, themselves, did the dirty to MySpace. Seeing a near hockey stick growth curve, a lot of twitter action within their own service, and the popular media/celebrities fawning over Twitter is a recipe for higher highs, and so facebook tried to, apparently, buy twitter. No deal. So now facebook has decided to come for that corner.
Battles aren’t fought in one direction though. Can Twitter stand pat and wait for Facebook to bludgeon them with their near 200MM active user advantage? By the way, they’re *adding* 5MM users a week. That means they’re adding a Twitter every week to their user base. So, standing pat probably isn’t the play. So what is? I’ll suggest going after Facebook’s corners. Facebook makes it killer easy to efficiently share information, content, photos, etc (I’ve been a die-hard facebook fanboy/addict for years). Twitter should allow you to link/import your content shared elsewhere on the web. I post photos to flickr and link it to my twitter account and my followers get a tweet. I upload a YouTube video? My followers get a tweet. I comment on a blog using my twitter identity? My followers get a tweet. I buy tickets to a concert and want to tell my friends. All of this is opt-in (so relax!) Tweet. You get the picture. If this clutters up the Twitter stream, why not add a second tab for shared content? Wow, wait a minute, that looks like Facebook! Oh, and while you’re at it, why not auto-create a classification for me of “friends” (people who follow me back) vs me and Shaq who it’s clear that I’m not friends with. Privacy matters to many, and this would allow granularity of who gets to see these updates. Wait a minute, information sharing is starting to look very similar…
Will this happen? I have no idea. But I call tell you what Avon, Stringer or Marlo would have done…OK, maybe not Stringer. I still remember back when he was trying to explain to a recently-returned-from-prison-Avon why they shouldn’t be worried about reclaiming their corners and focus on the bigger picture. But, I digress.
Oh, and if I was twitter, I so would not be stressing monetization right now. The future of communication is at stake! (sic)