The Cage vs the Door: A Facebook-Twitter Story

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Every business wants to lock in its users. Even businesses built around openness, easy-in/easy-out, would far prefer that their users stay inside their services. It is often just a question of how the company goes about attempting to keep users in, and the philosophy that drives it.

The mobile experience on Twitter and Facebook is a perfect example of the difference in philosophy.

Open Facebook on your mobile app. Find a link to a story you like and click on it. Once the story has loaded in the embedded browser, click the button that allows you to send it to someone else. You have three options: Share (in Facebook, i.e. post to your timeline); Copy Link; Open in Browser.

Now do the same think on Twitter, and of course you have Tweet instead of Share, but you also see one more option: Mail Link.

Twitter allows you to directly email a link, while Facebook does not.

It isn't about technical difficulty; both iOS and Android offer a simple way of sending an embedded browser link to the default mail client. This is about choice.

  • Facebook: Facebook wants you in their ecosystem entirely. Note the launch of Facebook messaging apps, voice calling as well as others that are constantly being released. Facebook operates a cage. Quite simply, Facebook says, "you got content within us, you keep it within us." Granted, they can only go so far in locking you down, and so provide the Open in Browser and Copy Link options - although I suspect if and when they get their own Facebook Clipboard and Facebook Evernote service, those options, too, will go away - but their philosophy is one of conquering the world and keeping you in it.
  • Twitter: Twitter, on the other hand, is about connecting content, not controlling it. At the same time, of course, they want you inside their ecosystem, they just want you there voluntarily. And so, they provide the Mail Link, and conveniently fill in the subject as "Link from Twitter", and provide a footer with a link to download the Twitter client. Facebook provides a door, they let you through it, they just offer you some well-branded souvenirs on the way out.

Facebook views outside messages as a threat to their closed ecosystem; Twitter views them as free marketing.

While I know which I prefer - I like choice - I do not know which one will win. After all, Apple is as closed as possible, yet dominated the high-end smartphone market for 4-5 years before Android really found its purchase.

"I can only show you the door; you're the one who has to walk through it."