Facebook gained pop stardom by allowing college students to create their own little PR campaign: the pictures they wanted seen, the books and films they wanted to boast they loved. It was an orderly, sanitized place where users could be whomever they wanted, and they could "stalk" their peers. So it's ironic that after such meteoric success at image-making, everyone seems ready to talk about Facebook as if it's having an identity crisis.
Below is an image of something called Facebook Lite, a service that will provide a quicker interface for people with slow Internet connections. It's not being released in the U.S. at present, and is undergoing testing in India, China and Russia.
Plenty of tech pundits have called Facebook Lite an "attack" on Twitter, because it reduces the site to its kernel of usefulness: the wall and status, and the profile. It's been discussed as a parcel of the same anti-Twitter strategy that prompted the company to buy FriendFeed earlier this week. But the FriendFeed purchase was about service-unification and real-time search; in other words, it was set up to make sure that people keep Facebook in the loop when they do their microblogging, and that they come back to Facebook to do searches on their friends (instead of heading to Google.) Facebook Lite is the same kind of evolutionary improvement: it's not a crack at Twitter, it's just a service for the growing number of people who have netbooks, tablets, smartphones and third-world Internet connections that can't handle gobs of Ajax erupting on their screens.
Facebook and Twitter, it should be said, address two entirely different usage scenarios. Think about how you and your friends use Facebook: if you spend more than two minutes on the site, it's clicking through someone else's vacation photos, or tweaking your job description, or looking up exes to see if their new significant other is ugly. Facebook "stalking" is the core of their business: profiles are useful because they let you drill deep.
Twitter is, literally and figuratively, exactly the opposite. It gives you one sentence for a bio, and it gives you 140 characters at a time to try to tell the world who you are. Getting a sense of someone's personality on Twitter takes detective work: you have to go back and read thousands of tweets to get to know them. On Facebook, all that is prepackaged for consumption. The status update is just a way for Facebook to keep its user profiles fresh. Twitter, by contrast, is a microblogging destination with a million different inputs: iPhone apps, text-messaging, third-party apps, and so on.
If Facebook's attempts, in fact, were to dethrone Twitter, it'd be lured out of its element—much to its detriment. Twitter has no revenue models on the horizon; the service is all about gaining marketshare. But with 250 million people using it, does Facebook really need to make another push for marketshare by trying to overtake Twitter at Twitter's own game? Especially when there's no money on the line? Doesn't sound right. So go ahead: be yourself, Facebook. We love you for the stalking, lite or heavy.