As similar as Facebook and Twitter are in the sense that they’re both social networks that allow users to communicate between, interact with, and stalk follow one-another online, the fact of the matter is that the two sites are entirely different. While Facebook is meant to serve as a mechanism for more “intimate” connections such as real-life friends and family, the fundamentals of Twitter are built around a much more open concept where users can choose to follow whoever they deem to be interesting or worth keeping up with. While even those classified as “socialites” typically don’t have more than a few hundred friends on Facebook it’s not uncommon at all to see Twitter users that have follower counts up in the thousands. Similarly, it has been my experience that Facebook postings typically are done much more sparingly – giving each post a more significant importance – while some Twitter users have posted tens of thousands of “tweets.”
Being a simple person, I personally do prefer Facebook over Twitter. Even though I am friends with a much larger group of people on Facebook than I follow on Twitter, I still feel somewhat overwhelmed when I look at the hundreds of posts that take up my Twitter feed. On the flip side, my Facebook newsfeed has always seemed far more manageable, and even after “liking” and getting updates from businesses and organizations (pages) on Facebook I still feel that Facebook offers a more “personal” network than what Twitter has, and that’s the key aspect that has always attracted me to Facebook.
But this week Facebook has implemented a new feature that turns the table on social networking and takes a direct jab at Twitter’s non-mutual follower-based system. The new Facebook “Subscribe” service allows for users to create a public feed on Facebook that can be subscribed to by anyone who wants to keep up to date with what your posting. Much like Twitter, this system doesn’t require confirmation or acceptance on the part of the public poster, and users don’t have to “subscribe” to another user’s feed in order to be followed.
My initial reaction to this news was more or less pure disgust, as the last thing that I want Facebook to become like is Twitter. And Facebook already has Facebook pages that more or less allow for users and organizations to let users keep up to date with status updates and content shared explicitly to the public. All of my favorite celebrities, actors, musicians, and writers already have Facebook pages that I have already “liked” and receive updates from in my news feed. So what’s the purpose of yet another feature within Facebook that does more or less the same thing?
Admittedly, there is a bit of a purpose behind this. Because Facebook subscriptions are only part of the user system and do not apply to pages, a user could be “subscribed” to without having to create a Facebook page just for public updates. For example, users could theoretically “subscribe” to me on Facebook and get personal updates and thoughts direct from me without me posting to the official BestTechie Facebook page or opening a lame page titled “Mike from BestTechie.” But at the same time, I just don’t see the need for it; especially for individuals who are members of several different groups.
The one thing that I think that this might make a bit easier would be controlling who can see what on your Facebook profile. But as I’ve discussed in the past, doing so really wasn’t that big of a challenge as it was. Personally, I have always utilized Facebook’s “lists” feature to put my “friends” into categories that I allowed to see updates on a message-by-message basis. If someone really found me to be that interesting, they could simply friend me on Facebook and I’d accept their request without adding them to a group, meaning that they could only see my few “generic” posts, and I’d hide them from my wall so that I wouldn’t be bombarded with their postings.
So really, I just don’t see what this whole subscription implementation brings to the table for Facebook. As I’ve discussed, the use of either Facebook pages or locked-down Facebook profiles has essentially allowed for the same thing for years. If anything, I honestly worry that subscriptions will encourage over-posting (like we already see on Twitter) and spoil the less frequent and more thoughtful status updates that I’ve come to enjoy from Facebook.