SAN FRANCISCO--Like a balding hipster who imitates a young trendsetter's style, Facebook is updating itself to look a lot more like Twitter.
Unlike Facebook, where friends mutually agree to let one another into their online lives, Twitter lets people share updates and links with anyone who cares to read them.
That has turned Twitter into a tool for people to peer into the collective mind and see what people are talking about in real time. It is also a tool for businesses to reach customers and monitor what their customers are saying about them.
Facebook seems to be very interested in those features. Since last fall, when Facebook tried and failed to acquire Twitter, it has been slowly introducing features that mimic Twitter.
Last week, Facebook added two new, Twitter-like features.
Meredith Chin, a Facebook spokeswoman, played down the changes. "We've been making iterations to our product over time to reflect the rapid evolution of how people share information online," she said.
But others see another force at work. "Twitter envy: Facebook has it, absolutely," said Jeremiah Owyang, a social media consultant at the Altimeter Group, which advises businesses on using new technologies. "Facebook absolutely recognizes that Twitter is a threat, and they're doing what they can to replicate the features before Twitter gets mainstream adoption."
To tag another Facebook member in a status update, users type the @ symbol before the friend's name. The @ symbol is a convention that Twitter users started. In response, Twitter added a section on its site where people can see any tweets that mention them. The mentions are hyperlinked so others could click on them to see the subject's profile page.
Andrew Huang, a product manager at Facebook, said it is "a common Internet mechanism," and he expects Facebook members to use it more for storytelling than Twitter users do.
Facebook has long allowed people to tag friends in pictures, but until now, not in status updates. When people are tagged, they get notified by e-mail, the update appears on their profile pages and their names are hyperlinked to their pages.
Huang, who developed the new tagging feature, said it would enable users "to talk about their real-world connections" and "interact with each other more." It will also enable people and businesses to monitor what others are saying about them on the site, which was previously much harder to do. That has been one of Twitter's vital selling points to businesses.
Adoption by businesses is a revenue-generating opportunity for both companies. Twitter, which does not yet have any significant revenue, has said that it will soon introduce features that help businesses interact with customers. Facebook offers businesses special pages and the option to buy ads to show to users who like similar companies.
Luna Park, a chain of three restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, uses both Facebook and Twitter to send out promotions. Chuck Meyer, Luna Park's general manager in San Francisco, said Facebook is more useful because the restaurant can post photos and longer updates. But he said customers use Twitter more because they think of it as a place to follow businesses and Facebook as a place to chat with friends. Luna Park has about 1,580 fans on Facebook and 2,350 followers on Twitter.
Meyer is pleased that Facebook added a tagging feature similar to Twitter's because when people mention Luna Park, their friends can go to Luna Park's profile page with a single click and Luna Park will get an alert. The new feature will also lure people to the site with e-mail notifications that they have been tagged.
"A lot of companies are envious of Twitter because people spend a lot more time there, and this allows Facebook to do the same thing--it gives them another opportunity to get people to come back to the site," said Jason Keath, a social media consultant in Charlotte, N.C.
The second new feature, Facebook Lite, is meant for people with very slow Internet connections or new users who want an introduction to the core features of the site, Chin said. But it might also appeal to veteran Facebook users who like the simplicity of Twitter.
Facebook Lite is essentially a stream of updates, like Twitter. It includes photos and comments, which are not available on Twitter, but disposes of other distracting sections that clutter the traditional Facebook homepage.
Facebook has made other Twitter-like changes. In March, it updated users' homepages to show the full stream of updates from all friends in real time, instead of just the updates selected by an algorithm. And last month, Facebook allowed brands and celebrities to send status updates directly to Twitter without visiting Twitter's site. Twitter users can send tweets to Facebook.
Twitter says it is happy to share with Facebook. "Twitter continues to reduce friction between many services," said Biz Stone, a founder. "Our services are complementary to mobile networks, social networks, search engines, software platforms, television networks and maybe a few other areas we haven't thought of yet."
No matter how many features they share, it is unlikely that Facebook will make Twitter unnecessary for its users--or vice versa, Keath said. "I don't think that divide is going to close soon. There's going to be certain aspects where Facebook can compete or maybe take over Twitter, but over all, they are safe in their niches."