This afternoon Twitter announced that geolocation data would now be added to users’ tweets. It’s something that Facebook has actually been discussing for some time off and on but adding such a feature to all feed stories isn’t the easiest process. In the meantime Facebook is still trying to adjust their platform to provide greater access to information. It’s essentially the “out opening” of Twitter, a similar strategy that Google attempted, starting with OpenSocial.
Interestingly enough, the model appears to be working for Facebook. The latest data from comScore suggests that Twitter’s growth took a break for July and the latest Alexa data suggests growth has been stagnant for most of August. While a couple of months of flat growth is not that big of deal, Twitter is most definitely wearing some big shoes. With Evan Williams as a co-Founder (previously founded Blogger) and multiple rejected acquisition offers, the company is experiencing the classic storybook social networking success story.
Mark Zuckerberg also rejected multiple acquisition offers and also continues to experience explosive growth however it’s clear that Twitter is a thorn in their side. After an unsuccessful bid for Twitter the company ended up with FriendFeed which may not be as large but has a powerhouse team of developers. FriendFeed so far has been the only site to avoid any measurable downtime despite continued growth. Twitter in contrast has had numerous instances of extended downtime.
Openness Always Wins
Despite the hiccups, Twitter has been innovating quicker than Facebook in a number of ways. Firstly, Twitter was created with openness in mind which meant that developers could create all types of innovative tools for aggregating and analyzing information. Facebook Open Stream in conjunction with deprecating the session requirement for accessing a Facebook Page’s stream has duplicated Twitter’s API functionality.
Twitter has also opened up their search platform for developers which is extremely powerful. Unfortunately for Facebook, opening up search is not as easy as flipping a switch. Despite challenges, the company has now rolled out a new search system and is even encouraging people to search for themselves and their company to monitor what people are saying about them. It’s nothing short of a clear signal that the company has been forced to open up even more.
The irony here is that Facebook was the originator of openness for social platforms. They not only created it but they defined the concept of social platforms. Now some annoying company that’s getting all the buzz is trying to steal the title from them with open search methods, an open API, and now open location data. If you want to think of it in a more general sense, Twitter has forced Facebook to open up quicker than they ever wanted.
Traditional business logic would suggest that it doesn’t make much sense to open your company’s data for access to developers. However internet businesses are not traditional.
The Battle Rages On, But Who Will Win?
If last year was about Facebook’s platform dominance, this entire year has been about the battle to become the leader of the real-time web. Twitter, the current underdog, has been leading the innovation but Facebook continues to dominate where it really counts: traffic and usage. Facebook is now in an all out race to open as much as possible and Twitter is looking to add features that Facebook can’t quickly integrate. While I’m not sure that the optional addition of location data is the “killer” feature, it’s clear that Twitter wants to stick it to Facebook just as bad as Facebook would like to remove this pesky thorn in their side.