The Impact Of Apple And Twitter On Facebook

iPhones will now have Twitter for identity, but is that what developers really want?

Yesterday Apple made a huge announcement that Twitter would be deeply integrated into the company’s new operating system. How does this impact Facebook?

Apple says w that third party developers can quickly implement Twitter application programming interfaces for user authentication, a feature that Facebook has offered for a long time now.

The result is that Twitter will probably become the most dominant identity provider on the world’s best known smartphone. However this will not kill Facebook for websites. Instead, Facebook’s identity authentication service will continue to thrive despite this new pact.

There’s no doubt that the new partnership between Apple and Twitter was a major blow to Facebook. As Marshall Kirkpatrick put it, “iOS apps will look like, feel like, read from and publish to Twitter like never before. And they’ll do that in many cases instead of using Facebook.” My summary: Twitter may be used to authenticate iPhone apps, but they still don’t know who my friends are.

The Context Graph And Identity

Over the past couple years, much of the Internet industry has been focused on identity. With the rise in privacy-related news stories and new services like Facebook for websites (previously Facebook Connect), the attention on identity is not surprising.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear tthat identity is not the end game. Yes, identity helps identity providers like Facebook and Twitter know the activities of its users. The more each company knows about its users, the better their advertising can become.

But let’s break down for a second the type of information that Facebook really has about me, the user:

  • My Facebook friends: For each user this is different. My mom, for example, tends to friend people she has become friends with in the past few years and her family members. I, on the other hand, have befriended people I’ve known since high school as well as people who have friended me because they read this site (something most users don’t do). Does Facebook know how I met those friends? No, but the site definitely has plenty of clues in the form of profile data (schools I attended, etc.).
  • My status updates: My status updates range from posts about Facebook news, to stock analysis, to random questions on my mind at any given time.
  • My Facebook messages: I simply don’t use Facebook messaging as a primary form of communication with friends because it’s not easy to manage. While there are reports that millions of younger users use Facebook messages as their primary messaging system, most people I know use it as a secondary communication channel. Facebook chat also serves as a great way to get in touch with people you might not typically be able to.
  • Photos I’m tagged in: I’ll be honest here: I’ve used Facebook to document the past six years of my life.
  • Applications I install: I’ve stopped using Facebook applications, but for the hundreds of millions of users playing games on the social network, the apps provide valuable information.
  • Sites I visit: If a site has the Facebook Like button, Facebook knows whether or not you’ve been there. While they may not publicly state your interests on your profile based on the sites you visit, they definitely collect this data. Once you click a like button, that interest is then made public.
  • The articles I like: This is combined with the previous item.
  • The pages I like: This information is used to assist Facebook in creating targeted advertising. This happens to be a limited selection of my interests however as I do not spend a lot of time carefully crafting my list of interests. While I’m sure there are plenty of people who do, this is not typically the most accurate picture of my interests.

After listing everything out, it’s definitely difficult to argue that Facebook doesn’t have a lot of information about me, or that they have a poor perspective of who I am. If a random person viewed my Facebook profile, they could definitely learn a lot about me. Compare this information with the volume of information that Twitter has about me:

  • Who I follow: From Twitter’s perspective, who I follow means who I’m interested in. What they write about is supposed to be what I’m interested.
  • Who follows me back: These people are my friends.
  • Who I reply to: If I send a reply via a message beginning with @,there’s a good chance that I’m interested in you in some regard.
  • Who I direct message: If I send a direct message to someone on Twitter, there’s a good chance I’m interested in them.

I think it’s pretty clear that there’s no comparison between the two in the type of information held about each of their respective users.

Context Is Key

Despite Facebook’s impressive volume of information about who I am, for most developers, picking a primary identity provider is dependent upon the relevance of the information provided by each identity provider in relation to the information that I’m looking to store.

If I’m a game developer, I’m going to want to know which of your friends you are most likely to play games with. Facebook can’t provide me with that information, although I could try to collect as much information about your friends in an effort to determine those friends who you are most likely to play with.

As a developer, if neither identity provider provides me with information that’s relevant to my core value proposition, I’m going to go with whichever one is easiest to implement and/or assists me in growing my user base.

For Apple’s iOS, Twitter will become the de facto identity provider for such developers. For Facebook, such a move won’t have as dramatic an impact as you’d expect.

Facebook would argue that knowing who a person’s friends are is a critical first step for a developer, and as such, the social network should be the identity provider any developer selects. If you choose to implement Twitter in your app, great.

While it’s hard to argue that Facebook’s impact on the app ecosystem isn’t significant, the unanswered question is whether or not all the future large applications will be built on top of Facebook’s social graph.

Watching how the Twitter partnership with Apple plays out will help determine the true impact that Facebook will have on the global app ecosystem. In the mean time, I’d have to argue that the fact that Twitter doesn’t know who my friends are is a pretty gaping void.

Readers, how do you think the new Twitter partnership with Apple will impact Facebook?