Facebook goes after Twitter and its lock on 'immediacy'

Analysts split on the threat to Twitter from Facebook's move

When something big is happening in the world -- a political coup or a natural disaster -- people turn to Twitter to find out what's being said about it.

Facebook would like to change that. Facebook may be the largest social network in the world, but when it comes to immediacy, Twitter has a lock.

"This is big for Facebook," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "Facebook knows that if it isn't known as the real-time social media property, they will start to lose audience. Look at all the growing media around us -- it's speeding up. Facebook's popularity could be directly correlated to their ability to get that."

To that end, Facebook has been taking some steps.

In June, Facebook began to roll out the use of Twitter-like hashtags to help users find online discussions and compose posts directly in hashtag feeds.

Then last month, Facebook took another page from Twitter by beginning a test run of Trending Topics, which track what topics users are talking about most on the site.

Both hashtags and Trending Topics could boost Facebook in its efforts to dig in to real-time discussions about major events, including the Super Bowl, political campaigns and natural disasters.

When a major event occurs, such as an election, Twitter lights up with comments, rants and information searches. But with hashtags and Trending Topics, Facebook is looking to become the site users immediately turn to instead.

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In another effort to become more immediate, Facebook on Monday took the wraps off two new APIs that enable news organizations to tap into user comments and display them online or on TV in real time. The tools enable news services to use real-time Facebook posts, likes and stats.

Initially, the tool is restricted to a small group of news organizations, including CNN, NBC's Today Show and The Economist, but the group is expected to expand in the coming weeks.

"Facebook wants to steal some Twitter thunder when it comes to hot topics and events," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "The goal is to get users to utilize Facebook just like they do Twitter. The immediacy is key because it gives a real-time view of what people think, what they're doing, and what they're feeling right at that moment."

He noted that some TV shows are inserting live Twitter feeds into the broadcast of the show, giving users a chance to be an active participant. It makes viewers more engaged.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said Facebook realizes that at some point social networking users might limit the networks they use, and Facebook doesn't want to be discarded.

"I think Facebook recognizes that at some point folks are going to cut back on the services they support, and the one that has the best breadth of good services will be the survivor," Enderle said. "It goes to their long-term survival."

Analysts are split on whether Twitter is in danger.

"I don't think Twitter is in danger because I don't believe Facebook can own immediacy," Moorhead said. "Immediacy and depth work against each other. Just as Facebook owns depth, Twitter owns immediacy."

Olds, though, has a different take.

"This is certainly something that Twitter needs to consider in its strategy," he said. "Facebook has a huge user base and has the resources and reach to make their Twitter-like features prominent. They also already have an advertising-based business model that will make it easier for them to monetize this feature. Facebook is definitely a threat to Twitter."

This article, Facebook goes after Twitter and its lock on 'immediacy', was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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