Facebook Loses When It Tries To Be Twitter

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's so weird when stuff like this happens ...

Call me a lost cause loser, but -- literally -- the first thought that entered my mind when I woke up Sunday morning was ... Facebook (FB) is failing miserably and will continue to fail miserably at curating its users' news feeds.

Not more than an hour later, I got online and came across two stories that, by some sort of synchronicity, got right at what I was thinking. I could claim original thought and not cite these articles, but I'm not a hack. Plus they're two solid reads well worth your time.

Both moved my noodling along, ultimately leading me to conclude that something I wrote in August 2012 -- Twitter Will Live and Facebook Will Die -- will end up playing itself out.

Facebook has no business competing with Twitter (TWTR). And it's making a grave strategic error trying to do so.

In Business Insider's Blogger Nails A Major Problem With Facebook's Newsfeed, Paul Szoldra cites the experience of a social media star who chides Facebook for keeping content from you. Simply put, if you follow somebody or are friends with them on FB, you only see a fraction of what they post.

On some level, this makes no sense.

But, as Kurt Wagner shows over at Mashable in How to Curate Your Facebook News Feed, you can take control over your news feed and create, for yourself, more relevant personalization.

As the need for a How to Curate Your Facebook News Feed article shows, Facebook is doing an awful job at personalization. Anybody with a Facebook page knows this firsthand. Whose feed isn't littered with irrelevant ads, stories from the same news outlets over and over and over again and political rants from whacked out high school friends you thought you unfollowed during the last election.

The (well-done) Mashable tutorial shouldn't be necessary because Facebook shouldn't even be trying to, in Mark Zuckerberg's words, be "the best personalized newspaper in the world."

As I argued in the above-linked August 2012 piece, why is Facebook emulating Twitter -- the long-established modern day version of the newspaper:

Facebook is a sustainable fad. In other words, it serves a purpose. It has a much brighter future than its bandwagon-jumping critics think. But, it will never be in Twitter's league in any capacity, from being useful to making the smooth transition to an IPO ...
When I claim Facebook will die, I'm talking five, 10, 15, maybe 20 years from now. In our world, that's an eternity. Twitter, meantime, is everything the television news networks wish they could be -- instant, relevant and used heavily by a relatively young audience.

Here's the problem at Facebook ...

It's not serving its purpose well. It's so far from its righteous incarnation, I'm not sure it even truly knows what its purpose is. It doesn't understand what it is or how to best exist.

Facebook is the tabloid newspaper. The place where you share that poll about what city you should live in, the 8-year old who nailed Piano Man on the first try or the business guy who played with the autistic kid he sat next to on an airplane for two hours. That is stuff worthy of distributing and sharing. No question. But it doesn't make Facebook the newspaper it thinks it is or should become.

Mark Zuckerberg has allowed himself to be misled by the Internet meme that news outlets are seeing increasing amounts of traffic from Facebook. That's happening. And It's huge traffic. But it's also very specialized traffic from a relatively small selection of viral publishers. It's not the type of traffic that should lead Facebook on a path it has shown, repeatedly, it doesn't know how to navigate.

Be the tabloid. And be the place where grandparents see pictures of their grandkids, friends "reconnect" and stay "in touch" and people present the lives they like to make their "Facebook friends" think they're living. In other words, don't try to be something you're not. Be the low-brow tabloid rag, the 40 years burning down the road high school yearbook.

There's lots of opportunity there.

Sometimes you have to take what your users give you -- even if they're a bit squirrely. Don't try to be something you're not or something that takes what you are (and should be) and screws it all up.

In this regard, Twitter, clearly, has been observing and learning from Facebook's response to it and subsequent mistakes. It has -- acting pretty much in complete opposition to Facebook's trajectory -- followed its naturally occurring emergence as a social force.

It is the newspaper. It is the second screen. These functions came to Twitter naturally -- not as meme, but as reality -- and, now, Twitter nurtures these functions quietly, but effectively. It's, as my little league baseball coach, Mr. Teaman, liked to say, playing the ball, not letting the ball play it

Sure Twitter has a smaller user base than Facebook. But that doesn't matter, probably because that won't last long, but also because Twitter has a more focused and, if you're an advertiser looking to target certain types of people, sophisticated user base than Facebook.

Intuitively we think Facebook has the edge because it knows more about its users than Twitter does. But not so fast ...

As tech companies get better with data (see Your Social Media Friends Are Idiots But We Can Fix That), that's not going to matter as much.

On the basis of who you follow, who follows you and the things you're Tweeting about (what articles are you reading and retweeting, what TV shows are you watching, what's your favorite sport, what type of music do you listen to), Twitter continues to hone its ability to predict the ads that will most likely resonate with you. Being smaller -- more niche, so to speak -- could actually help convince advertisers that they're making a smart play, not the present throw a bunch of stuff at Facebook's one billion users and see what sticks strategy.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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