Mike Isaac

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Fame On: Facebook Testing VIP-Only App

Channing Tatum and his wife released the first public photo of their baby on Facebook

Channing Tatum and his wife released the first public photo of their baby on Facebook instead of through the tabloids.

Facebook is working on a new app you can’t use — unless you’re a celebrity.

The VIP app, which sources say that Facebook is currently testing with a small group of famous people, essentially lets celebs (or their handlers) easily monitor Facebook fan chatter about themselves from a mobile device. From there, stars can quickly respond to fans on the fly, and can become a part of the conversation.

The project, which is in its early days, is another part of Facebook’s push to encourage celebrities to share more stuff on the site. And that’s part of Facebook’s larger push to compete more directly with Twitter for “public” sharing.

The idea: If a star pushed out a status update to fans that caused a rather large amount of chatter — like, say, Kobe Bryant’s late-night torrent of scattered thoughts from a few months ago — the new app would make it easier to see the swirling commentary from fans, and mix it up with them.

That’s important for Facebook, which could stand to see more user/celeb engagement. Twitter, by contrast, makes it far easier for celebs to monitor their fans’ chatter, with the ability to quickly scan down a column of @replies from fans, and to respond in kind.

“We are currently testing some mobile features designed to help public figures interact with their fans,” a Facebook spokesperson told AllThingsD. “We are testing these features with a small group of partners and will share more details should we roll it out more widely.”

It’s worth noting that there are apps out there trying to make it easier for celebs to share across all networks — not just Facebook. WhoSay, in particular, is a sort of “HootSuite to the Stars,” managing content across platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, as well as Facebook.

In that vein, Facebook has bulked up its talent team over the past year to work with celebs on “best practices” for using Facebook, including posting candid thoughts and pictures, as my colleague Peter Kafka wrote recently. The test app, ostensibly, will make that sort of activity easier.

Historically, this has been an area in which Twitter has excelled, and it has initiated much of the same game plan Facebook is currently instituting. Twitter also distributes early, “VIP” versions of apps to celebrity partners it’s working with. And Twitter’s media division has long since had many employees working on recruiting celebrities to use the platform across multiple industries, including film, music, TV, politics, sports and journalism.

Facebook is to some degree playing catch-up in this area on the consumer side. The company released a number of Twitter-esque features over the past few months — Hashtags, Trending Topics, Embedded Posts — in an attempt to surface more public-facing Facebook activity.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik