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It's no secret in silicon valley that for the past few years there's been a Twitter-size thorn in Facebook's side. The microblog took off when users latched onto its philosophy of immediacy and then demanded more of it from other social networks. (Twitter launched in July 2006. By that September, Facebook had introduced its own early version of the status update.) Zuckerberg liked Twitter early on and even made an offer to buy the company in 2008. But Facebook doesn't like the direction social media have taken since. "It was so frustrating to be in a world where social media had prioritized just the present," says Facebook product manager Sam Lessin. Zuckerberg's base is larger--it's expected to hit the 1 billion mark this summer--but as Twitter grew, Facebook lost some of its archetype status. In the chuckwagon race of social pioneering, it was falling behind.
So Facebook set out to create a more robust network, one that broke its dependency on the status update to create a deeper storytelling tool. "We realized that early Facebook users have been telling stories for seven years on our platform and we were sending them a message that it didn't matter," Lessin says. "So we said, Instead of immediacy, instead of the five most important facts about a person, let's weave a story together about your life."
The more radical move was to cut out the need for manual updates--Twitter's bread and butter--by eliminating the middleman. Open Graph, the developer-friendly arm of Facebook's core social graph that was introduced in 2010, allows outside companies to create apps for the Facebook platform to integrate with their sites. It's working: users are installing more than 20 million apps every day. But new apps made specifically for Timeline will create an even more seamless Facebook experience across the Web through "frictionless sharing," a set of actions that will give third parties the ability, with your permission, to log your activity on outside sites in your Timeline.
Instead of your posting about your musical appetite du jour, music-streaming sites like Spotify, MOG or Rdio will do it for you. Spotify users have shared 5 billion songs on Facebook this way since the F8 announcement four months ago. Updates end up inside Facebook's new Ticker, a feed of your friends' activity streaming in real time, and are another response to Twitter's chaotic but beloved social ecosystem. In turn, your Timeline gobbles up your data and presents it to you later in a set of summarized highlights broken down month by month: most-listened-to albums, books you read or recipes you tried.
Between the frenzy of activity happening in front of you and Timeline's sleeker, more linear storytelling, Facebook is betting that users will find the site a richer place for discovery and engagement, even if they hate it at first. To lessen user apprehension, Facebook held off on a mandatory switch, and it isn't relying on a p.r. push to ease people into the idea of the new design. Instead, it's counting on users to do that for one another and giving the early adopters time to evangelize. "We've been in a mode where users can choose to use Timeline since September," Lessin says. "The way people learn to use social media is from their friends."
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