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Facebook wants you to do it live

Site adds new bells and whistles into the "stream"--extra privacy controls and embeddable streaming status-update widgets for developers and site owners.

When Facebook launched its latest redesign, it became evident that the company was putting a lot of emphasis on real-time information--inspired, undoubtedly, by the runaway success of Twitter. Now the company's rolled out two small but crucial new features that put instant updates even more front and center.

First, Facebook is aiming to use the "publisher" tool--formerly known as the status update box--as members' gateway to the Web at large. Starting Wednesday and rolling out gradually, according to a post on the company blog, a beta version of the new content-sharing box will allow members to select exactly how public or private to make each piece of content that they share. The post by Facebook engineer Ola Okelola explained that something shared on a profile can be visible by friends, friends of friends, friends and networks (school, region, or company), user-created custom friends groups--or everyone on the Web.

Facebook's probably hoping that this will spur people to share more content: if members know that sharing a video, a photo, or even a status message won't by default go out to everyone who can see their profile, they might be more likely to share things along the lines of party photos and videos of their kids.

But, wait. There's more.

In addition, a post on the Facebook developer blog Wednesday explained that developers can now take advantage of live-streaming status update boxes much like the one that CNN used during President Obama's inauguration this January. "With the Live Stream Box on your website, users log in using Facebook Connect and share updates that appear both within the Live Stream Box and on their Facebook profiles and in their friends' home page Streams," the post by Tom Whitnah explained. "Each post includes a link back to the Live Stream Box on your site so users can discover the live event and immediately join based on their friends' recommendations."

It's intended so that people watching an event simultaneously can comment in sync on Facebook. And it's also supposed to be a no-brainer to create your own, meaning that Facebook is hoping a lot of developers and site owners will jump on this bandwagon.

"The Live Stream Box is easy to install and takes just a minute to set up," the post added. "To get the Live Stream Box on your website, get a Facebook API key, upload a small file to your website, and then embed a few lines of code into your Web page."

This is a move clearly aiming in the direction of Twitter, where real-time updates and discussions around events have become so commonplace that members regularly agree on a "hashtag" to flag related posts in advance of the event. (For the inauguration, for example, it was #inaug09.) The question is whether Twitter use has already become the standard for chronicling and commenting on events in real time--will enough people be willing to use Facebook widgets rather than apps built on Twitter?