Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell claimed, based on an interview that Fred Wilson (whom I much respect, especially when I disagree), that Twitter almost had what it takes to kill Facebook. In this theory, Facebook is, at its core, “a photo sharing company.” This may be true, it may not. Personally, I think Facebook has much more than that. But Twitter will not easily kill Facebook by just adding images, in addition to its native text and Vine video. There are two key types of reasons.
Essentially, both Facebook and Twitter have independent (at times overlapping) networks. The people you follow on Twitter are not likely to be the same as the ones you friend on Facebook. Many people use Facebook for personal friends, Twitter for personal + business, and LinkedIn for business. The two spheres are different. Either way, people will not easily, if at all, give up their specific network that exists in one platform for the other, even if Twitter adds photo sharing.
This is more fundamental. Facebook and Twitter follow different relationships, and thus have different ways of using those relationships. The heart of the difference can be summed up in the difference between the respective verbs, “friend” and “tweet”.
- Friend: When I “friend” someone, I am sharing part of my life with them, and they with me. It requires mutual agreement, and each of us can, by default, see everything written by the other. We write/post, whether text or picture of video, with the assumption that all of our friends, and no one but our friends, will see it. We can write more in depth, because we assume those who are our friends will often have interest in reading more of what we write than others. Facebook has become a major platform for political discussion (and fierce debate), precisely because that is what we do with friends, whose opinions we are interested in hearing and sharing with.
- Tweet: When I “tweet”, I send it out into the wild. By default, anyone can see it; actually, it is impossible for me to stop others from seeing it, even without being logged into Twitter. I encourage others, even non-friends, to follow and read my postings. The relationship is largely one-way, as someone can “follow” me without my approval, and I can do the same to him or her. The posts are limited to 140 characters, length of a traditional SMS message, unless I use an outside service (e.g. WordPress) to write something longer, but then I need to summarize very briefly for my tweet.
Twitter and Facebook serve different, complementary purposes, with different relationship dynamics and different networks even for the same individuals. By all means, Twitter should have a better platform for posting pictures to complete its “trifecta”, in Alyson’s words; it might think about a platform for extended posts (acquire/create a wordpress.com competitor?). These will help grow its business… but that business, despite being a “social network”, is fundamentally different than Facebook’s.