Yesterday tons of people wrote that my description of Facebook’s new status API as a “Twitter killer” was absolutely ludicrous. They claim that I don’t understand the difference between Facebook and Twitter and how Twitter is much more than just status updates. Trust me, I fully understand the difference between the two services. I would argue that the ability to “follow” people you aren’t connected to and the ability to @ reply (“at reply”) to other users is just a feature.
Since the majority of people think that Nick’s smoking crack for calling Facebook’s new API a “Twitter Killer”, I’ve decided to outline the blueprint of a product that duplicates Twitter’s features yet uses Facebook as a backbone for each of these status updates. I’m going to call this product “FB Tweet” but you can call it whatever you want. I began programming it but decided that I was only putting my existing projects aside and ultimately it’s not worth the time for me personally.
Whoever decided to take the day or two to make this product will be rewarded for taking the time as it will surely generate a ton of buzz.
Is There A Need for “FB Tweet”?
Any good product must satisfy the needs of the user and the first question to ask is if there is a need for a Twitter replacement. I’ve made some fundamental assumptions that suggests there is a need but feel free to argue otherwise. The average user probably wouldn’t switch products because they are fine using products that they’ve spent the time to learn how to use.
I don’t think Twitter users are average though. I think Twitter is still used by mostly early adopters. If Twitter has in fact become mainstream then the odds of a “Twitter Killer” is much less likely. The need for a “twitter-like” product is clear but ultimately I would argue that much of what is provided by Twitter is simply a set of core features that can be easily replicated:
FB Tweet Features
- Public status updates – As one commenter put it yesterday, “FB = inner circle; Twitter = public party”. That’s no longer the case because status updates are now accessible to those outside your inner circle.
- Ability to reply via user aliases – Twitter’s identification system is one of user aliases. This is easy to duplicate in that you simply assign each Facebook user an alias through the FB Tweet product. I would force Facebook users to use their Twitter username (via basic Twitter authentication) or pick a username that hasn’t already been selected on Twitter.
- Open protocol for status update access – One of the most powerful components of Twitter is their open API. Developing an API isn’t very complicated if you are using a good development framework. For example RESTful APIs are native to Ruby on Rails, the development framework which Twitter was built on. Django, a powerful Python framework, also has a great module for building a RESTful APIs. If you want to develop a RESTful API in PHP (which is the language most Facebook developers use) then I recommend checking out this article.
- Unidirectional follow capabilities – This is was sets Twitter apart from Facebook. It’s the ability to follow somebody’s status updates without them confirming. FB Tweet resolves this issue by letting people use their existing Twitter user names but when the status is published in Facebook it will say “@Full Name, text of status update”.
- SMS Functionality – This is where FB Tweet will have some issues initially. While Facebook currently has SMS functionality within their API it’s not documented well and doesn’t work with all mobile phone carriers. If Facebook truly wanted a “Twitter Killer” to exist, they would have to improve their SMS API significantly.
While Facebook’s new status API will bring in a wave of new applications, the death of Twitter still requires the rapid development of a new product that is distributed through Facebook. Not all Facebook users understand why Twitter is so powerful, yet provided with a public timeline of their friends’ statuses, I believe they would rapidly begin to see the value.
Will Twitter disappear tomorrow? Probably not, but there’s a huge opportunity to duplicate the majority of the functionality provided to Twitter users directly to Facebook users. I would argue that this product would make it easier for Facebook users to understand what the power of a twitter-like product provides and help bring such a service to the mainstream.
Twitter clearly has an opportunity here though. They already have many of the features I’ve outlined but they don’t yet have the full Facebook integration that I described. At this point though, I still fervently believe that the status wars are not yet over and a new company could come into power.