When I started using social media about 8-9 years ago, Facebook and Twitter were largely equal in their cool factor. In fact, while it was not obvious what Facebook was (a more intrusive form of Orkut, anyone?), the possibilities of Twitter seemed as limitless as the places where your ‘contacts’ lived.
Over the next nine years, Facebook evolved rapidly, moving from the a intrusive form of Orkut to my primary source of news, my primary way of organizing contacts and of late, my primary method of remaining in touch with people who share my interests. It also tried, without much success in my case, to be my primary messaging platform too.
Meanwhile, Twitter — which started out as the best way to keep in touch with what’s happening around the world — became too overpowering as the number of accounts I followed increased. While Facebook used algorithms to ensure that I’m not overwhelmed by posts, Twitter retained the unadulterated, chronological feed system far longer.
Besides, Twitter remained a place for political discussions, news and ideological battles, while Facebook evolved from a space for personal conversations to one that encompassed both the personal and the political, especially after the popularization of groups.
With Facebook’s focus on algorithmic filtration of my timeline to bring up only the most popular, most appreciated posts, I started spending more and more time on Mark Zuckerberg’s product and less on.. wait, who owns Twitter did you say?
This is not to lower the importance of Twitter, or to suggest that it should try to get my uncles and aunties and cousins and nephews on it.
It’s just to point out a simple fact — if you’re staying still, you’re falling behind.
Twitter, thankfully, has started making changes on its platform — allowing for photo sharing, showing excerpts, multimedia and summaries of links, and of course, using software to ‘bring up’ posts that are driving more engagement and push down those that are not.
WHAT IS TWITTER’S PLACE?
All this leads us to a crucial question. If Facebook can do everything Twitter can, and then some, does Twitter need to exist?
The answer is Yes, because Facebook cannot do everything that Twitter can.
At a fundamental level, Facebook cannot provide anonymity or protection to its users from online and offline abuse.
On the other hand, Twitter has a history of being used by those who are afraid of political persecution, or of simply rubbing their relatives and friends the wrong way with their political posts.
Secondly, Facebook is a closed platform. It is not indexed very well by Google, and Facebook’s own search reminds you of the 1990s. And it cannot change this overnight, because people expect a certain privacy as far as their posts and activities on Facebook are concerned.
Twitter has been public from day one, and Twitter users are fully okay with, (in fact, they crave) full publicity.
In that sense, Twitter and Google are made for each other. While one provides an unnvervingly vast ocean of thoughts, comments and human sentiment, the other has built a reputation for taming the unwieldy and extracting order out of chaos.
While users of Facebook are unlikely to appreciate Google’s indexation of their posts, the vast majority of those on Twitter would appreciate it.
MAKING GOOGLE HUMAN
On its part, Google could use the human element of Twitter to bolster its machine-led search process.
One of the reasons why I read a lot of news on Facebook is because those posts are filtered by my friends (and people who think like me) as being of potential interest to me. It’s easy, and most of the time, it works.
And while Google does do a good job of static or algorithm-based prioritization, the human element is nowhere close to what a Facebook feed provides.
With Twitter, Google can tailor its search results based on the kind of posts and content that is popular in the person’s Twitter circles. It can give a higher weightage to an article that has been shared by someone the searcher follows on Twitter. It can also give greater weightage to articles or results that are starting to go viral (though this part can be done without taking over Twitter as well.)
BENEFIT TO TWITTER
And let’s face it — Twitter needs the infusion of some sophisticated software talent if it is break out of its rather set service, and staid image.
What it needs to do is not become another Facebook — that slot is already taken. But it needs to capitalize on its key strength — a public network whose virality and reach is unconstrained by privacy concerns.
Another important reason for a merger with Google is that Twitter, by itself, cannot stand up to the Facebook juggernaut.
Of course, the Twitter management is unlikely to accept such a conclusion. But it’s only a matter of time before Facebook cracks manages to find the secret formula to providing perfect searchability and its accompanying higher virality without violating people’s privacy.
And at that point, both Google and Twitter will have a lot to worry about. By any yardstick, it’s better to worry about it now, than when its fait accompli.