Maybe Facebook is redesigning itself to be more like fast-growing microblogging service Twitter. But as we’ve said, and as many Twitter users discover when they start feeding their tweets into Facebook as status updates, the two services are still pretty different. Specifically, the sheer number of tweets that the average Twitter user seems to send out overwhelms — if not annoys — their friends on Facebook. The solution is better filtering of those tweets, and two reasonably good options have recently emerged on that front.
But first, here’s the difference between tweets and Facebook status updates: On Facebook, you’re typically friends with people you know in real life, and you use features like the news feed to see what these friends are up to. On Twitter, you may also be trying to send messages back and forth with real friends — but many people are using the service to get as many followers as possible and prove how influential they are. Or to shill various products and services they’re associated with. Or to ask particular questions of groups of people. Or talk about lots of other things that their real friends might not care about.
The result is that when Twitter users feed their tweets into Facebook using the Twitter Facebook app, their friends on Facebook get a sewage stream of tweets fouling up their news feeds. Sometimes, those friends don’t react so well. For an example of that, see the screenshot illustrating the sorts of results this reporter got from his friends on Facebook when he crowdsourced a question to tech folks Twitter.
More generally, Twitter users may be restricted to 140-character messages, but they’re not so into the whole brevity thing when it comes to number of tweets per day. The result on Twitter isn’t such a big deal, since you’re in control of how many people you follow. Follow fewer people, and you’ll see fewer tweets from your friends. Follow more people, and it’s your fault if there are too many updates coming at you. And sure, your friends might be on Twitter, but if you follow more than a couple hundred people on it, the activity stream of tweets from your friends is impossible to keep up with. Personally, I follow nearly 800 people, so I’m used to not reading everything they tweet out (sorry guys! although I know you’re thinking the same thing about my tweets).
The problem has been made worse by Facebook’s recent redesign, which turned the feeds from a slow-moving river of all sorts of content to a fast-updating stream — and will get worse when Facebook makes its feeds real time. Facebook lets you filter what incoming information you want to see in this stream — and a main way to do that is hiding updates from some friends. So, refining one’s tweets for Facebook is probably a good way to not get your friends to hide your updates.
One fix is a Facebook app that I’ve recently been pointed to (thanks, @chrsoz) called, unpoetically but accurately, Selective Twitter Status. Created by Oxford University student Andy Young, it lets you send any tweet to Facebook that you append with the #fb hashtag. Just add the app on Facebook, give it your Twitter handle, and make sure to add that three-character hashtag next time you tweet something you want your real friends to see. Make sure to remove the Twitter app or any other service you’re using to import Twitter into Facebook, or you’ll just be spamming more tweets to your Facebok friends. This way, as the screenshot shows, a Twitter user can make sure funny childhood anecdotes get back to their real friends on Facebook who might want to reminisce.
There’s also a business angle, for people with Facebook public profile pages — social media marketers working to build their brand’s visibility on Facebook and Twitter. You can send direct #fb tweets from your Twitter account directly to specific pages.
Another fix — and this is the one that I’m favoring at the moment — is to use the desktop client TweetDeck to decide which tweets I want to also send Facebook. Tweetdeck is already a great way to filter tweets according to manually created groups of people you specifically want to track, as this feature helps you make sense of Twitter’s aforementioned spammy activity feed.
But a month ago it launched integration with Facebook Connect, so you can read your friends’ status updates from Facebook within Tweetdeck and also send your own status updates to Facebook through Twitter. The key, though, is that you type a status update/tweet into a single message box, then just check or uncheck the box for either Facebook, Twitter or both — Tweetdeck will send the message to either service if its box is checked.
Of course, people use a variety of other interfaces to use Twitter — including mobile apps like Tweetie, news-sharing sites like Ginx, and many more. I expect these services to continue doing what Twitter and Facebook don’t do themselves — make it easier to filter the information you share to either of these sites. Seesmic, for example, has a Facebook desktop client and a new Twitter desktop client, but it hasn’t brought the two together yet.
Expect the Twitter-Facebook status filtering issue to keep coming up. Facebook has quickly grown to more than 200 million monthly active users worldwide, with likely more than a quarter of those in the US. Twitter has an unknown number of monthly active users worldwide — probably in the tens of millions, and growing fast – and with nearly 10 million last month, according to comScore’s latest report. People use both of these services, and for different things, and they want to be sending different status updates to both of them.