Liz Gannes wrote an incredible piece today on the NewTeeVee blog discussing the “Changing Nature of Virality”. She hit the nail on the head in what is an evolving model of sharing on the web. For the past couple years, sites like Digg and Delicious have made it possible to drive a substantial amount of traffic to sites after articles reach the homepage.
The only problem with the existing model is that it can be gamed (take a look at this Los Angeles Times article for more). Contrast that with Facebook in which quality information naturally spreads throughout the social graph. Over the past month I’ve received at least 150,000 visitors from Facebook alone and none of that traffic was under my control. All I did was write an article that a large number of Facebook users were interested in.
While Digg and Delicious are a good measure of what those individual communities are interested in, Facebook is much more effective at determining what is interesting to the masses and then filtering by geographic area and through social graph segmentation.
Twitter Exploits Facebook’s Limitations
There are some inherent flaws with Facebook’s system. For one, I can’t find people who are sharing similar articles, only those that have shared the article within my network. What if I want to find people that are two or three degrees away and are sharing similar items? I can’t and that’s exactly what Twitter helps solve. I can head on over to Twitter search and find people that are sharing similar items or chatting about things I’m interested in.
This doesn’t mean that Twitter will “kill” Facebook because Facebook provides users with granular privacy and the ability to connect on a deeper level with the people they care most about. Facebook definitely is concerned about Twitter for legitimate reasons though. The primary reason is that Twitter is now a central repository for publicly sharing things we’re interested in and that is one of Facebook’s most valuable assets.
Even more concerning is not all of that information is being shared in Facebook since a fraction of Twitter users sync their account with Facebook. Twitter is also aggressively pursuing a social search strategy, something Facebook has been focusing part of their energy on. At this point, both companies are rapidly collecting links and references to relevant information.
Where Does This Leave Us?
O.k. so you probably get the point that there is a social search race taking place (if you don’t read the article I just linked to). What’s most exciting about this is that we are extremely early in the race. I think we are too often distracted by the new gizmos (or “shiny objects“) and take our eye off the ball (even I get distracted given the wide array of content we create on this site).
What is most encouraging about all of these tools is that we are finally arriving to a point where we can truly find relevant information in a system which is much more challenging to game. While I have many theories about what the future will bring, I’ll save those for another post. Do you think Facebook’s future is in search? How does Twitter fit into all of this?