Facebook has crossed the canyon. If the "chasm" is the leap from early adopters to mainstream, then the "canyon" is the leap from mainstream to mass commercial appeal. Facebook has taken that leap. In the past few months, my dad, uncle, aunt and the mother of
a high school friend have all joined Facebook. Facebook has become, as I explained to a hold-out friend of mine last week, the most fun and efficient way to keep in touch with the people in your life. As recently as five years ago, I reserved most Sunday nights for catching up with people by telephone. That was the way I maintained friendships, particularly with people living in other cities, who I didn't see face-to-face on a regular basis. I'd call them after dinner, speak for 20-30 mins, get an update on the past few weeks (or months in some cases) and then say goodbye, until the next time we called each other. Today, telephone conversations of this sort are passe. Why waste time on the telephone, a communication medium limited to audio, when we can peruse each others' photo streams, see what events our friends have been attending, and most of all, from a single page, get a snapshot of their status'. The feature with which Facebook offers the summary view of our friends' updates is called the News Feed. If we really care, we can review their historical status updates to get a more complete picture of how they're doing. When's the last time you received as complete of an answer to the question "How ya doin?" <insert Joey accent>. Most industry wonks agree, the status update is Facebook's single greatest achievement. It allows people to keep in touch with the absolute minimal amount of effort possible. It's possible that Facebook makes it too easy, contributing to the loose ties effect that sociologists have been preaching, where our networks become less centered around a few close relationships and more around many looser ones. More than any other tool in my universe though, Facebook is having a significant impact on that shift in the social landscape. Their crowning achievement, the status update, is such a good invention that several companies have been formed around it, the most notable of which is Twitter.
Not surprisingly, Twitter's growth trajectory has been similar to Facebook's. Twitter virtually launched two years ago at SXSW in Austin, when it caught fire among a captive audience. Since then, it's consumed the early adopter market and steadily made it's way toward mainstream. In the past few months, several celebrities and consumer-focused orgs have caught on and grabbed ahold of Twitter accounts to communicate with their constituents. According to Compete.com, Twitter traffic measured by unique visitors is up 640% in the past year - though this figure doesn't fully account for Twitter's influence since a big chunk of their traffic flows through one of several messaging apps that feeds the platform. Like Facebook, Twitter is having it's own effect on social behavior. I've recently noticed conversations taking place between groups and individuals that might be unlikely to converse otherwise. One example is GazaNews who has, not surprsingly, attracted a bunch of followers recently and engaged in some compelling back and forth. This is a good thing. Open dialogue and discourse between people that are geographically and/or ideologically far apart can only be healthy, and for a company as nascent as Twitter to be enabling this is a huge accomplishment. Twitter has essentially peeled off and borrowed a piece of Facebook by identifying and unleashing the full potential of this feature...not that there was anything Facebook could have done about it - it's unlikely the status update could have been patented. Still, Facebook should buy Twitter to reclaim ownership of the feature and own the social media landscape that they've helped transform. It would re-establish them as owners of all things status update-related and give them another outlet for their ad sales activities. Better integration with Facebook would also expand Twitter's influence exponentially, making it a far more powerful tool than it already is. The reality of Twitter is that it's a feature that caught fire, but can probably only survive so long by itself. Facebook could likely acquire them for a reasonable price right now and quickly justify it by the further growth they can help fuel on the platform. It would also be a strong defensive move for them. If one of their competitors - in social networking, blogging or sharing - acquired Twitter, they'd essentially be stealing a piece of Facebook and I think that may come back to haunt them down the road.