Facebook Tries Another Twitter-Like Move

Published on September 9, 2013
by Peter Kafka

matrixHere’s the latest Twitter-like move from Facebook: Two new data feeds that are supposed to make it easy for outsiders to tell what people are talking about on Facebook.

The idea: If, say, CNN wants to tell its viewers what people are saying on Facebook about Syria or Miley Cyrus, it can easily pop up data points and/or interesting “public” Facebook commentary on the screen.

Facebook has previously worked with TV programmers and others to do this sort of stuff as one-offs (like during the last presidential election). Now it’s dedicating two APIs for that purpose, so its partners can grab this stuff quickly.

For now, Facebook is only opening up the APIs to a handful of TV networks and programmers, including CNN, BuzzFeed, NBC and Slate. Mass Relevance, which makes a living sorting through social media data streams, will do the sorting on this one.

The big picture is that this is part of Facebook’s ongoing push to grab some of the “real-time conversation” market away from Twitter, which has had a lot of success convincing TV programmers and others that it’s the place to go to see what people are saying right now, about whatever.

Facebook won’t come out and say that in those words, of course. It prefers to talk about “surfacing conversations that are already happening” on the site, which isn’t incorrect. But, for various reasons, it hasn’t concentrated on that very much in the past.

That has started changing in the last few months, both in private conversations with media partners, and via public moves.

Some of the stuff in the latter category: Chest-beating about all the TV chatter that happens on Facebook — supposedly at a higher volume than it does on Twitter — and a series of new tools that ape stuff that Twitter already has, like hashtags and “trending topics” call-outs on the site.

All of this is is very much top of mind at Twitter, which is both sensitive about the fact that Facebook is headed its way, and dismissive of its efforts to date.

One big mantra you hear from Twitter people is that the company does a much better job of creating conversation about a thing that is happening at this very moment; conversations on Facebook, it argues, are much more diffuse, and hard to follow.

Facebook’s counter to Twitter’s counter is that its conversations mean more because people sign on to Facebook using their real names, and the site knows a lot about who they are and who they like.

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