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Should Twitter, Facebook and Google+ Be Getting More Alike?

Twitter appears to be testing a new version of its timeline, which lets the user expand tweets to show various pieces of information or media associated with that tweet. For example, you might be able...
Should Twitter, Facebook and Google+ Be Getting More Alike?
Written by Chris Crum
  • Twitter appears to be testing a new version of its timeline, which lets the user expand tweets to show various pieces of information or media associated with that tweet. For example, you might be able to see an image that’s linked to or a video. You can see retweets, and threaded conversation as it happens.

    Sound familiar? That’s because this is basically the standard way information is presented on social networks at this point in time. One can’t help but draw parallels among Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t get me wrong, there have been parallels all along, but in some ways, the three services seem to keep getting a little more like one another.

    Here’s a video shared by Patrick Bisch of Pinglio, which shows the new timeline in action:

    Would this new timeline approach make Twitter better? Tell us what you think.

    We keep hearing about these “Facebook alternatives”. This week, we posted an interview with Dmitry Shapiro, CEO of AnyBeat, a “Facebook alternative” from a former MySpace exec. Then there’s Unthink, which is getting a bit of press this week. It’s billed as the “anti-Facebook”. Google+ is an alternative to Facebook. So is Twitter, and it is becoming more so.

    The truth is that there is room for multiple dominant players in social networking. How many of us use Facebook, Twitter and Google+? Not to mention other various social sites.

    What it really boils down to is whether or not you have reason to use a service. I use Facebook because that’s the one place that has the most of my real life friends and family. For that reason, if nothing else, I have no compelling reason to delete my Facebook account, and I’m sure plenty of you are in similar boats. I have a few true friends and family members here and there on Twitter and Google+, but neither has the majority of the people that I know personally. There are probably some I don’t even realize are on these networks, but as long as we’re not connected on them, it’s irrelevant. I’m not using Twitter or Google+ primarily to connect with true friends and family a whole lot. This could always change, but right now it’s not the case.

    Yet, I continue to use both. You know why? Content. It’s the same reason I use Facebook. It’s just different content. While I may get more content about and shared by people from my home town on Facebook, there is a lot of other interesting content being shared by others on Twitter and Google+.

    While there are redundancies in the content I see across all three networks from time to time, I still see plenty of different stuff from network to network to make it worth using all three. Even if I follow all of the exact same people on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, there is still a very good chance I am going to gain access to very different content. A lot of people refrain from posting the same things on every network they belong to. Hopefully that continues.

    So, all three networks can coexist. But that doesn’t mean one can’t become a more dominant player than another. As far as the companies themselves are concerned, it’s about getting users. There is only so much time in the day for a person to spend social networking. There can still be winners in market share, time on site, daily active users, etc. Right now Facebook dominates on the social networking front, although it’s a much more complicated picture than that when you talk about Google+, because it’s really just an extension of Google itself, which also consists of search, Gmail, Blogger, Picasa, Google Reader, Google Docs, YouTube, and numerous other products and services.

    We’ve certainly seen Facebook get into more and more areas as well. Facebook now operates as a payment platform, for example. Remember when Facebook introduced email addresses? Messaging is a perfect example of where all of these companies compete on a feature-by-feature basis. Pictures are another example.

    So the whole thing becomes more and more about which service users find themselves using more, and for what functions.

    It’s interesting that Twitter would be testing something like this expanded timeline, considering the big deal CEO Dick Costolo recently made about Twitter’s simplicity being its strength. It’s not that these changes really makes Twitter complex, but it does take away from the traditional simplicity of the Twitter timeline full of 140-characters-or-less tweets and nothing else. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just worth pointing out.

    To me, as Facebook and Google engage in their “feature race,” it’s going to be very interesting to see how far Twitter goes in competing on a feature-by-feature basis. In terms of the stream/news feed/or in Twitter’s case “Timeline”, things are looking more and more similar.

    I know, it gets confusing when Twitter’s timeline is essentially its equivalent of the Facebook news feed, and Facebook has a separate feature called the Timeline, which is really just the profile. As long as all of these products are going to look more and more like one another, I wish they could agree on some standard terminology.

    But anyway, here are a few screen caps to illustrate the point about the similarity:

    Sharing an image with this new timeline Twitter is testing (screen cap from the video):

    Twitter sharing  

    Here’s an image being shared on Facebook:

    Facebook sharing  

    And on Google+:

    Gplus sharing  

    So what’s the big deal? It’s a simple thing. Maybe a comment, and a photo underneath (or potentially video, comments, etc.). All of this going down the timeline/stream/news feed. It’s not a big deal. This has basically just become the standard social network functionality. And that’s kind of the point.

    They’re all getting more and more alike. That’s not how Twitter has been historically. Hell, they didn’t even have native photo sharing until a few months ago. Twitter has been much more aggressive in adding features this year, and Google+, of course, just launched this year. And if you’ll recall, when it came out, everybody was making a big deal about how they ripped of Facebook.

    Google has not presented Google+ as being about simplicity. Instead they’ve touted the fact that they added 100 features in 90 days, and they continue to add more features, integrations, and functionality. But Twitter is supposed to be all about simplicity, and that to me is what makes their continued addition of features somewhat compelling.

    Many users have long thought that Twitter and Facebook were simply too different to really be considered competitors. But how different are they really? How much more alike will they continue to become? And that’s not to say Twitter is just ripping off Facebook, because Facebook has borrowed plenty from Twitter over the years as well. Google+ borrowed from both.

    But do these services risk alienating their most loyal users by moving away from their roots? I don’t know the answer to that. I’m asking you. So far, all three seem to be growing just fine. Google+ is still too new to even move away from its roots.

    I do know one thing. Mobile phone usage, and smartphone usage is bigger than ever, and that helps all of these services tremendously. It’s often easier to consume more quick hits of info on the go (or at your convenience rather – with the convenience of having a small computer in your pocket at all times), than it is waiting for whenever you happen to sit down at a desktop, or even with a laptop or tablet.

    And as long as people are still finding content that interests them on any given service, that service will continue to attract eyeballs (even MySpace had over 25 million unique visitors in September in the U.S. alone, according to Compete).

    That’s a great thing for content producers, because it just means more channels for people to discover the content that you create. Even if you’re not actively participating on that particular network, others are, and may find your content worth sharing with their network. Just make it easy for people to share that content through these channels.

    Which social network is on the right path: Twitter, Facebook or Google+? All of the above? Tell us what you think.

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