Penguin FB: A truce offering or Trojan Horse from Facebook to Twitter?

Now this is interesting. Facebook, which at one point a few months ago seemed set on becoming Twitter, might now be experimenting with a way of making its service work rather smoothly with the microblogging service. Earlier today, Inside Facebook spotted a tweet from Facebook developer Blake Ross, who said “test” from a service called “penguin fb” (he’s since taken it down).

Facebook has gone around saying that it sees itself and Twitter as two distinct services — so that point at least seems to be bearing out.

The company isn’t commenting at this point, so we’re left to speculate. Inside Facebook suggests that Facebook could be working on a new way of sending status updates to Twitter from Facebook, thereby making itself the overnight single largest site for sending out tweets. Right now, you can only send tweets into Facebook using Twitter’s sometimes-broken Twitter application for Facebook, or another third party app like TweetPo.st (which displays the name of Twitter users within tweets on Facebook, instead of just your @username Twitter handle.)

What does it mean if Facebook is making itself a sort of third-party Twitter client? One is that it is acknowledging Twitter’s current centrality on the web. The second is that it might hope to slough off the users who are using Facebook in lieu of Twitter for the kind of microblogging that Twitter excels at. Anecdotal evidence suggests Facebook users who are not already Twitter users are relying on Facebook for sending and receiving status updates. For many people, Facebook is the main way they communicate things like photos with family and friends. Even many very serious Twitter users (like Twitter investor Fred Wilson) prefer to use Twitter for broadcasting and talking with the public, but still use Facebook for their personal lives. Other Twitter-focused clients, like desktop client Tweetdeck, are beginning to acknowledge this half-overlap between the two services by letting you post messages to both Twitter and Facebook, and letting you read friends’ status updates from both services.

Meanwhile, Facebook is letting people send status updates to “everyone” on the web, not just their friends. It seems to want to be more open, while at the same time retaining the value it has in connecting real friends.

What is not clear — because this is an unlaunched product and because Facebook and Twitter are both constantly changing — is how users would actually react to Facebook as a Twitter client. Would more Facebook users discover Twitter, and maybe one day switch? Will Facebook absorb more tweets, and so position itself to realize any value that Twitter might find from such things as public, real-time searches (and the ads that might run next to them)?

We don’t know if this is a truce offering, or a Trojan Horse. Here’s what Facebook told me when I asked if they had any further comment: “Correct, we don’t have anything to share about Blake’s tweet.”


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