Much has been made of Facebook’s announcement of the release of the Status API, which will enable web developers to create web applications using the increasingly popular Facebook Status Update. I am sure that web developers are chomping at the bits, hoping to develop the next Twirl or TweetDeck of Facebook. Nick O’Neil of AllFacebook says that Twitter is all but on it’s way to a painful death, and Fred Wilson, VC investor in Twitter, believes that this new update will enlarge the market and opportunities for Twitter.
It’s the weekend, so I’ll keep this post shorter than usual, but Twitter has yet to go mainstream. Yes, it’s had several mainstream use cases such as Rick Sanchez on CNN asking for feedback during his daily show, or Shaquille O’Neal and Brittney Spears using it intermittently, but very few of my non-early adopter friends have yet to see the value in Twitter, and how it’s better than Facebook Status Update. To me, Facebook and Twitter have two different demographics.
Everyone uses Facebook. My mother, my mother’s family friends, my 8th grade teacher, and my friends from high school, college, and grad school. Because of the development platform and monetization opportunities for web developers, they have spawned an exorbitant amount of continued support from the early adopters, especially the technology development community. Twitter has also benefited significantly from the early adopter crowd and techies. It’s easy to use, all the techies are on there, and there are conversations that take place outside of a blog. We all read the same blogs, comment on the same news, and attend the same events. Twitter opened up their platform, enabled people to build their own applications, monetize their applications, and even gain investment from the venture community for Twitter applications. Even Summize, a Twitter search engine, had funding from Betaworks, and was acquired by Twitter.
Up until the past couple of days, Facebook didn’t have this open type of format, which I believe made Twitter more appealing for the early adopter. I use Twitter because it filtered the tech people I enjoy reading and listening to, and it was a major news source. I rarely get breaking news from my Facebook Status Updates. I follow the typical RSS feeds, but information discovery is a huge element of why I use Twitter. I don’t really care about whether someone is grabbing a cup of coffee, getting on the plane, or working at their desk. I do care about someone pushing an undiscovered blog post or breaking news. I’d argue that the mainstream user isn’t as interested in this. They want to know what their friends are up to, and Facebook Status does the job just fine. They aren’t interested in promoting themselves, their product and service, or conversing with people they do not know. Of the almost 200 people that I am following on Twitter, only a handful are Facebook friends of mine as well.
Some people cite the simplicity with Twitter that is a reason why it will go mainstream. For my mother, going to one site is simpler than going to two.
Marc Canter states that Twitter is worth half as much as it was, virtually overnight. The innovation that can come about, leveraging the significant social graph of Facebook, will make it that much harder for someone to adopt Twitter. Facebook can leverage their massive strength, their user base and data, and couple that with an open platform, it is going to force Twitter to immediately innovate and get a solid business model. It would be interesting to study the people who use both Facebook and Twitter, but in any business, where you reduce the amount of use cases because of the 300-pound gorilla doing something like what you’re doing, I think that you’ll see declined growth patterns for Twitter from here on out. The amount of times someone asks me “What is Twitter and why should I use it?” has just lost a couple significant reasons why I’d recommend it. If I were a developer, would I rather create an innovative platform for hundreds of millions of users, or for something much smaller than that? I think you can expect Facebook developers to innovate much more rapidly because they can tie in so many other things that Facebook has to offer, once again, making it that much harder for someone to want to get a Twitter account.