The Facebookification of Twitter

Three years ago, Facebook did everything it could to copy Twitter. Now, Twitter is doing the same to Facebook in its quest to monetize.

Ben Parr
Ben Parr is co-founder of #DominateFund, an early-stage venture capital fund; a CNET commentator; and the former co-editor of Mashable.
Ben Parr
2 min read
Facebook (left) and Twitter (right) don't look so different anymore. Screenshot by Ben Parr/CNET

Three years ago (an eternity in the social media world), Facebook was trying to become more like Twitter. Facebook, while big, wasn't the dominant force it is today, and Twitter was growing at record speeds.

This scared Facebook, of course, so Zuckerberg and his team set out to counter the Twitter threat with updates of their own. Facebook added public status updates and a real-time search engine. It even released Facebook Lite, a simplified Facebook interface that drew a lot fo comparisons to Twitter's sparse and simplistic design.

Fast-forward to today. Facebook has grown to 950+ million users and billions in revenue, while Twitter has changed CEOs and put a very strong focus on improving its advertising platform. Twitter's struggle to monetize is well-known, but what people may not realize is that the company seems to be taking cues from Facebook on how to attract more advertisers.

Take Twitter Headers, for example. The new feature, which lets users add a cover photo to their profile pages, just screams Facebook Timeline. It's a feature clearly meant to benefit businesses, who can promote themselves in a bolder, more attention-getting way.

Twitter is also making a big bet on Cards, which let third parties bulk out their 140-character messages with logos, images and additional text, all within the stream. "Rich tweets give brands more bang for their buck when buying Twitter ads," AllThingsD reporter Mike Isaac recently argued.

All of this results in a Twitter that looks and feels more like Facebook. Twitter.com now has a greater emphasis on photos and other media elements, and it is trying to make the experience of using Twitter consistent across-the-board. Which has caused serious friction with third-party developers -- not that Twitter much seems to care, as CNET's Daniel Terdiman pointed out earlier today.

As CNET's Andrew Nusca points out, Twitter and Facebook have been influencing each other for years. While I think Facebook seems to hold the advantage now, there's no guarantee that will last.

For instance, consider what OnSwipe founder Jason L. Baptiste recently told me:

Twitter was originally designed as a mobile-first product where the ads were thought of as part of the product instead of just a bolt-on like Facebook.... The real opportunity is putting ads on 3rd party sites where Twitter replaces Adsense. Publishers are more used to putting Tweets as part of their content on their site than Facebook generated content, providing a much larger opportunity for Twitter.

Tweetsense, anyone?