Why Facebook Can't Become Twitter: Its Closed Nature
from the what-happened-to-openness dept
There’s been plenty of talk about how Facebook has been trying to morph more into being like Twitter, to avoid being “last year’s model” when it comes to the “social networking hype focus.” Last week, the company got some news for supposedly “opening up” newsfeeds for outside developers to build into their apps, with many people saying that this is how the site becomes more “Twitter-like.” The NY Times had a big writeup over the weekend, talking about what a crazy idea it is that Facebook would just let anyone come in and “take” its content and put into other apps — even though, there are tons of services that do exactly that and have found it to be quite useful. Except, it appears that Facebook isn’t quite as open as the press coverage and press releases would lead you to believe — and a big part of it is the foundation on which Facebook is built. One developer (full disclosure: the guy in question is a close friend/former housemate) recently created a rather useful app that turned the Facebook feed into an RSS file. A review of the app at Read Write Web discussed how incredibly useful the app is, listing out five things it makes possible that were impossible before — partly in making the app more Twitter-like. This is great. Hurray for openness making things possible, right?
Well, not exactly. It seems that Facebook is hamstrung due to its own setup. Because the initial purpose of Facebook was for private updates between friends, making that data public is a huge no-no, and so it took just a couple days before the useful app was shut down, noting that it could violate user privacy. Since Facebook has been a punching bag over privacy issues for a while, this is no surprise. If you had a friend’s status updates in your news feed, and he or she had set them to be viewable only by certain people, converting them into a public RSS feed does have potential privacy implications.
That makes sense from a privacy standpoint, but it shows why it will be quite difficult for Facebook to “become Twitter.” Its entire setup is in many ways the anti-Twitter. Twitter was designed, on purpose, to be extremely public and open, and that’s how people use it. Facebook, however, with its fine-grained privacy controls and focus on personal communication only between people who agree to communicate with each other is pretty limited in how much it can open up. The more it tries to become like Twitter, the more its own setup gets in the way. The app to make your Facebook news feed into an RSS feed is quite useful… but it can’t work with Facebook’s privacy settings the way things are set up today. Of course, some might point out that an individual could just as easily take their own Facebook news feed and republish it publicly using the time-tested method known as “cut-and-paste.” Realistically speaking, creating an RSS feed is really not all that different than just cutting and pasting the info directly. The issue isn’t so much privacy policies, as the user’s individual decision over what to do with the info, though, Facebook would probably note that the automated push-button nature of the Newsfeed RSS app is the problem.
Either way, beyond just demonstrating the general differences between Twitter and Facebook, this also shows how legacy decisions, which make all the sense in the world at one point in a service’s development, can significantly hinder certain changes later on.