Features & Identity

Recently, I was reading the Wall Street Journal’s article about Facebook working to incorporate a Twitter-style hashtag in its platform (Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323393304578360651345373308.html). The article has comparably little to say. Like most mainstream treatments of technology, it is mostly a fluff piece, but one thing caught my eye.

The writer, and, most likely, Facebook itself have lost sight of vision while staring at features. Twitter’s hashtag concept works because Twitter is built as a broadcast system. What I say to anyone, I say to the world. So, cross-referencing user posts by tag gives me an idea as to what everyone on Twitter has to say about a specific topic.

Facebook is not, by design, a broadcast system. It really does aim to be more of a social network. When I use Facebook, the focus is on the set of people that I know. The cross-referencing idea has very limited usefulness in the echo chambers of our own friends, family and acquaintances. For better or worse, we probably already know what they think.

Both Twitter and Facebook need to concentrate on vision, especially the latter, which seems to have the larger share of feature envy. The focus is not on hashtags. It is on whether I want to communicate with a circle of friends or broadcast to the whole world. In all honesty, there is room for both provided that they can find a way to monetize the affair. This has actually been the sticking point for all social networks so far. They get big, they get popular and they do so with venture capital. Then they collapse when their growth can no longer be maintained. Therein lies the sticking point: coming up with a social networking concept that accomplishes the members’ goals in a sustainable way (and, yes, that means making money).