Is Facebook vs. Twitter the next epic battle?

With the recent design changes at Facebook, the media is buzzing about the “epic” battle for status update supremacy.  If you are looking for an informative article about the growing rivalry, check out a great post by Brian Solis on his PR 2.0 Blog entitled The Social OS, The Battle Between Facebook and Twitter is the New Mac vs. PC.

Both Facebook and Twitter do provide simple ways to enable our oversharing of every little detail of our otherwise mundane lives but in my opinion, this is where the comparison ends. Facebook has realized that status is important and redesigned their site to put status front and center, but there’s still a heckuva lot more to FB than status.  In fact, I bet that many Facebook users don’t use status much compared to everything else they can do.   The key difference between these sites seems more about openness than functionality.  For example, I can get an RSS feed of my tweets but so far as I know, not of my FB updates.  And as many of you know, I can then push that drivelstream into untold crevices of the Internet from Twitter.

I understand how both Twitter and Facebook would want to see themselves as our next operating system but I don’t feel like it is the right analogy. Perhaps better comparison is cell phone vs PC or Blackberry vs Mac.  Besides features, these sites are quite difference in relation to demographics, user behavior and technology.  Here are my reasons why I think that this won’t be the next “Mac vs. PC battle” as Brian Solis suggests:

  • Size:  Facebook is about 20-40 times bigger than Twitter at the moment.  I know Oprah tweeted last week but Twitter is still a niche application (albeit one with a crazy growth rate). When Twitter starts taking users from FB or vice versa, then we’ll have a real battle.
  • Demographics:  Facebook is more about students and young professionals. I know, I know Gen X’ers and boomers are the fastest growing segments on Facebook but they are not likely the heaviest users.  Twitter by comparison is more about obsessive 30+ professional (don’t trust anyone over 30, right) with a bias towards marketing, social media and consulting.
  • Openness: Twitter has been all about their open API and third party innovation.  Facebook has historically had some issues with embedded apps and is still less open than Twitter.
  • Exclusivity:  Despite recent conspiracy theories about Facebook and Twitter apps not communicating with each other, it is pretty easy to use both concurrently.  TweetDeck recently added Facebook updates so I can push my microdrivel to both places with one button.  I just need to leave out the Twitter hashtags and other gibberish but otherwise the same status often works for both.
  • Business models:  I think it is cute that Twitter is clinging to its “we’re building business value” message and not worrying about revenue or business models. They have plenty of cash and a long runway to figure it out so who am I to criticize them?  Ignoring the fact that the clickthroughs on Facebook ads are grim (~0.03% in some of my tests), they will continue to be a media company driven by advertising dollars.  So come talk to me when Twitter and Facebook start fighting for the same ad budget and CMO’s begin making “either or” decisions.
  • Potential adoption: This isn’t the most rigorous market research, but I often use the “would my mom use this” test with new media. I could see her sharing photos and anecdotes on Facebook but I struggle to see where Twitter fits into her life.  As a compulsive Twitterer, I hope that a killer app will emerges that makes it a must have for everyone but today it doesn’t exist.  With all the innovation around the Twitter API, there is a good chance this will happen but until then it is hard to see them getting more than 10-20% penetration.

I know it is easy to compare these application but they are fundamentally different animals and in the long run I believe they will evolve to take different roles in our lives.  Then again both could be fads (remember how fun AOL was back in the 90’s).  I can see it now… poking fun at Twitter on VH1’s “I love the 00’s”.

Author: Frank Days

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