Recently, it's become clear that Twitter and Facebook have big ambitions: Twitter wants to be Facebook and Facebook wants to be Twitter.
Twitter, essentially a news site, wants to be more friendly. Facebook, essentially a place to hang out with friends, wants to be more newsy. Will either succeed?
All The News You Don't Want To Read
Facebook, from its inception, has been social. It's where we hang out with old high school classmates (literally). It's where we congregate with family and neighbors online. If we mix with work colleagues, we only connect on Facebook with those we really like—or pretend to.
In fact, more than 85% of U.S. adults turn to social media for connecting with friends or family, according to Pew Research. News is not the primary reason we turn to Facebook.
At least, not work-related news. In my case, I mostly don't care about news being shared by friends because, no offense to them, but my good friends are not consumed by technology as I am. The news I most crave directly relates to my work (except, of course, for my obsession with Arsenal—I'll read anything related to Arsenal, even though none of my friends share this obsession).
As such, I can't see myself using Facebook's new Paper app, which delivers a personalized news feed based in large part on what my friends are reading, liking and posting. Exactly the news I don't want to read.
I'm not alone in this. According to Digimind, 62.5% of companies use Twitter to glean market intelligence, surpassed only by LinkedIn (69.4%). Facebook? Less than 50%.
Pew Research finds just 4% of people list Facebook as the primary way they get news, even though a whopping 78% stumble upon news while on Facebook despite not looking for it. Newsy information, in other words, is not Facebook's raison d'être. Friendship and personal communication are.
Broadcasting Friendship To The Twitterverse
Twitter is busy with its own growing pains. As revealed in the company's first earnings call, Twitter's user growth is steady but slow. The reason, in large part, is that Twitter is somewhat unapproachable to the casual user. It's unclear what one should do on Twitter.
Twitter recognizes this problem and has been trying to make signing up easier, offering suggestions as to whom to follow and making it clear that Twitter offers plenty of value even if you don't have anything to tweet out yourself, necessarily.
This is one of Twitter's greatest strengths and weaknesses: It's primarily useful as a news broadcast and consumption site. While Twitter has been trying to make its service friendlier by elevating direct messages to first-class status, among other things, it's still primarily a news aggregation service, even if it's not necessarily "friendly."
That's fine if you, like I, use Twitter as a work tool. Sure, I'm friends with some of the people I interact with on Twitter, but Twitter doesn't seem to be the ideal place for friends to congregate online.
Different Kinds Of Friends
It strikes me that both services would do better to improve their own services rather than attempt to ape the other's.
See more: How To Remove Yourself From The Internet
Could Facebook become my news hub for all-things-tech and Arsenal? I suppose. But then it wouldn't be the place I spend time with friends, who largely don't share these interests.
Could Twitter become more approachable so my parents and neighbors could chat with me? Perhaps. But I don't really want our interaction confined to 140-character bursts and hyperlinks.
Instead, I'd argue Twitter has far more potential were it to truly embrace its mission of being the world's real-time information hub. It's still hard to find information, which is why I turn to Google for search. It's also too hard to pare down the noise of my Twitter stream to only glean the tweets that I really care about.
In similar fashion, Facebook needs to ensure it remains relevant to a broader set of demographics. My kids have turned to Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook owns the former, yet hardly ties the two services together and has no relationship with Snapchat, making it harder for me to connect with my kids wherever they happen to be.
Facebook also needs to offer better control over what I see in my Facebook feed. Its algorithms don't give me what I actually want to see, forcing me to constantly reset the news feed to "most recent news" because I discover Facebook is hiding all the good stuff.
In short, neither Facebook nor Twitter has yet delivered a truly exceptional experience in the areas for which people love them. They should focus on being themselves before they bother cross-dressing as the other.
Lead image by lioman123 on Flickr