5 Ways Twitter Can Crush The Facebook Empire

Could we witness a retelling of David versus Goliath with an epic battle between the two largest social networking networking competitors? You have Facebook, which continually grows amidst its privacy woes. Then you have Twitter, which faces scalability issues with increasing usage. As big as they both are, Twitter is tiny compared to Facebook’s massive user base, but maybe not for long.

These two services were, at a time, very different from each other. They both had separate methods to their madness: one focusing on a tight-knit network of close friends and the other offering massive community with plenty of networking opportunities. But now they grow more alike with each passing day. Facebook is constantly urging its users to share more personal information as the site opens itself up to the world, a move which has been met with some dismay. Twitter keeps adding functionality that makes the sites more powerful yet more complex.

Who knows what these services will look like a few years from now?

But the one thing that keeps these services separated from each other at present is the statistics. Facebook’s estimated 500 million users, which is equivalent to the combined populations of the United States and Brazil, are core to one of the most prominent social networks in existence. Facebook has also become a household name around the world.

Yet Twitter’s 125 million users, while not as impressive as a figure as Facebook’s, has enabled all of its users to be connected with each other either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, Twitter offers developers, advertisers, marketers, and users a goldmine of data that is open to the world. And its growth is promising.

So will Twitter be able to keep up with Facebook’s growth and, perhaps, surpass it? A few things might allow that to happen.


1. Openness

One of the biggest ways that Twitter differentiates itself from Facebook is with openness. Facebook is a closed system that locks people to its platform in numerous ways. Twitter, on the other hand, thrives on its open platform, which invites third-parties and users to share their data with everyone. Facebook’s closed-down tendencies with regards to the exporting and sharing of information could ultimately give Twitter’s users and developers the edge — it’s just a matter of what users and developers will prefer in the grand scheme of things.


2. Privacy Blunders

Privacy is always a hot topic, and it is one of the biggest problems that Facebook faces. Twitter was established as a public service — you join Twitter knowing that everyone is going to see what you write. With Facebook, that isn’t necessarily true, and that causes conflict, especially as Facebook continues to shift away from the privacy wall that it once provided. Facebook has already had several privacy blunders, but there is still much more room for error, where Twitter has far less to worry about.


3. Hollywood

Celebrities tend to be leaders, with thousands — if not millions — following in their footsteps. From superstar athletes to A-list actors, Twitter is loaded with this celebrity appeal. This is a very good thing for Twitter. While Facebook allows people to “Like” celebrities, managing these interactions is quite difficult and unintuitive. Twitter presents these interactions in a simpler manner, which allows for better interaction. So as Hollywood continues to establish its presence on social media, Twitter will continue to benefit.


4. Third-Party Support

Facebook and Twitter are stacked nicely in the third-party support department, but Twitter has the edge in experience. Whereas developers typically create platform-specific applications for Facebook, developers for Twitter are much more free in this regard. The freedom that Twitter provides could prove more appealing to developers. You could liken this to the iPhone (which is simple and closed) versus Android (which is chaotic and complex). That said, Twitter needs to stop stepping on its third-parties’ turf.


5. Simplicity

And one of the last things Twitter can do to steal the throne away from Facebook is to remain simple. Facebook has become a complex experience, with complicated privacy controls, hundreds of thousands of applications, dozens of buttons on its homepage, and information overload. With Twitter, you have a timeline with information from people you follow — that is all there is to it. If Facebook can present users with a simple option, while Facebook becomes far more complex to manage, it could bring in some converts.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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  • I think Facebook’s plethora of privacy controls are what is going to kill it, in the long run. They have a bad habit of rolling things out without really testing them, seemingly at random, thus confusing users and sending everyone into a panic. I have tons of people asking me about regular Pages and Community Pages, as well as those new Interest Pages. When we just had Pages, it was simple and more intuitive. For someone new to social media and Facebook, this can be daunting. It’s this exact reason why I love Twitter so much more. It’s much simpler and easier for people to get a handle on. That’s not to say that Facebook can’t be conquered, but if even I have trouble navigating their new menus and home page setup they roll out every few months, how can I expect my clients to?

  • I’m wondering how many times today that you’ve seen the Fail Whale that has become so characteristic of Twitter for so long now? :-/

  • how that could be? :O

  • Ben

    apples and pears.

  • realistically, the only reason i keep facebook is bc 140 characters is not enough for me to share my life with my 900+ friends :p

  • Sara

    I did a Twitter profile and a Facebook too at the same time . Twitter is so simple, easy, doesn’t take your time doing. I am from Brazil, here Orkut is a sucess. Evebody has Orkut, some people I know has facebook. And i think will take some time for brazilians move to facebook. I don’t know why facebook is a sucess, it’s complicated, boring, take some time doing. And I don’t like that layout, it’s so formal.

    sorry my english

  • Randy

    I think this is a very well written article, great comparisons between the two VERY DIFFERENT platforms. I think as facebook keeps listening to their users and keep improving their site at the speed they’ve been doing it so, by the end of 2010 the privacy issue will no longer be one, in fact since the release of easier to manage “privacy settings” http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=98499677130 it stopped being an issue already.

    To a social level, the relationships in facebook are way stronger between users, and as marketing 101 tells us, emotional connection not only take a long time to develop, but it is the strongest link achievable and facebook already has that going, while twitter is more informal, in fact twitter is closer to the old days of chat room, where everyone yelled and nobody listened.

    But no matter how we like to speculate, no one knows what the future will bring, I do think facebook will eventually be gone and something else will take it’s place, but twitter won’t be it (unless they expand to fit a more attractive model). In the meantime, its like comparing sport cars with produce.

  • I think #4 (third-party support) is the point of leverage that will save Twitter and eventually crush Facebook, if they each keep to their current paths. Twitter has everything to gain by helping third-party developers integrate it as a messaging mechanism. It could easily improve the nature of many of the games that have overrun Facebook. Twitter also has great opportunities for being a real-time business communications tool for ad-hoc experiences in the business world. There are many ways to create a significant revenue stream for Twitter following these (and more business-oriented) developers. If they are smart, they will avoid the draconian cash grab that is the Facebook approach, opting instead for a more balanced and innovative approach.

    Facebook had the keys to the kingdom when they started leveraging their API. They could have used open approach to catapult them into a position as a de facto platform for long term development. Instead, they have settled for short-term gains and manipulating their developer relationships by coercion rather than choice. My hope is that their talk about openness is more than just that – talk. If not, they will have condemned themselves to a future of mediocre experiences akin to the fate that Microsoft is beginning to experience – king for a period until the true ruler emerges.

  • Ben G.

    Is that a SKWAK image? I like that image a lot. If not, where did you find it?

  • Squally

    Can’t we keep both?? I love fb and twitter each for what they bring to the table – does it HAVE to be one or the other?

  • I don’t know if Twitter can take over FaceBook. Only friends and family see my FB, and on Twitter anyone is welcome to follow me. On twitter I feel like I am everyone’s friend, on facebook only in the flesh friends are welcome. A lot of people are the same way, they use FB to keep up with fam. Like my friend says “Facebook is my GF, and Twitter is my sidechick”.

  • Interesting article, but I dont think I agree. People want the functionality of Facebook, twitter just doesnt offer that. I reckon they will both stay, they’re different enough to not compete too directly.

    Also, the last sentence, dont you mean “If Twitter can present users…”

  • Randy

    it looks like, not only does Twitter needs to fight to keep his current position, but an article published today on CNN says that Facebook has now officially 500 million users, with a incredible growth of more than double it’s size only 15 months ago (twitter is only 75 million, just a bit behind Linkedin at 82million, and not even close to the now “dying”, myspace with 200 million).

    Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) stated last week that they have a plan to double 500 million in under 1 year, thanks to new improvements on an innovative advertising concept, that has Google worried. And will most likely set the difference between both platforms further than they have ever been before.

    I do agree with most readers here, there is a place for both, Twitter and Facebook, because they are so different and target such different demographics.

  • There one BIG item that seems to be missing from your list: Social Games.

    My impression is that what a lot of people do on Facebook is play Social Games. (Not everyone of course. And it’s not the only thing they do on there. But it is a part of the current attraction of Facebook.)

    I think that Twitter could do things to make Social Games less annoying. For example, perhaps dividing up a person’s tweet stream into “channels”, so that people could more easily ignore game related tweets if they aren’t interested. Or, perhaps removing the 20 list limit, so people could create a list of “fellow players” for each game.

  • GREAT article. Please everyone — show this to the next Social Media “expert” who doesn’t have a Twitter handle (I’ve met several recently). The more we all play in each environment and understand their inherent differences, the more we can push each platform to be what we want it to be.

    Discussions like this will help Facebook to see where the value of openness is and how they fit into that realm. I totally agree on the complexity path — the more they try to build an intricate system, the more Twitter will be the most attractive platform for conversation.

  • I find Facebook and Twitter to be completely different in my use. Because you have to be accepted or invited, Facebook feels much more like real friends communicating and sharing and I feel like I have more control of the information flow.
    With Twitter, it’s much harder to find real friends’ accounts, and if you start following a few random people, you can get lost in the “Twitterverse” very quickly and suddenly realize you’ve been reading a bunch a crap sandwiched in between a million tweets by people who are telling you how to make money in social media, even though they only make money in social media by telling people how! Even though I still flock to it on occasion, rarely have I read anything via Twitter that I couldn’t have found with less hassle on a major news website or RSS feed. After trying several different third party programs (TwitBird, TweetDeck, etc.), I see the potential in Twitter but only if the search and filtering abilities become more user friendly.

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