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3/5/2009
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Facebook Makeover Mimics Twitter

The social networking site introduced a redesigned user home page, new public profiles for celebrities and organizations, and a change to status updates.

Facebook on Wednesday introduced a redesigned user home page and new public profiles for celebrities and organizations in a move widely seen as an attempt to compete with the real-time social messaging offered by Twitter.

In a blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that the changes were necessary because as Facebook has become a conduit for more and more information, the need to find relevant and recent information has grown.

"The new home page will let you see everything that's shared by your friends and connections as it happens," Zuckerberg wrote. "It will also provide you more control by letting you choose exactly who you see among the people and things you are connected to."

The need to access up-to-the-minute information is a problem that Google has wrestled with, too, and it has been tweaking its search algorithm to make fresh information, such as stories from Google News, float to the top of search results lists.

While timely information has always been valued at Facebook, Google, and other online services, it has only been recently, with the surging popularity of Twitter, that search engines and social networks have recognized that real-time communication services pose a threat.

Among the most telling aspects of the changes at Facebook is the grammatical restructuring of Facebook status messages. Previously, Facebook user status messages had to begin with the user's name. Users had no choice but to make themselves the subject of their messages, a stricture that encouraged fatuous navel gazing and contributed to the site's association with frivolous activities.

The new design imposes no such limits on the structure of status messages and allows users the same compositional freedom enjoyed by Twitter users. Instead of asking, "What are you doing right now?" and soliciting an answer in an input box that begins with the user's name, Facebook now asks, "What's on your mind?" The door has thus been opened for people to talk about something other than themselves.

A distinction remains, however. Facebook still imposes a bidirectional friendship model, where both parties need to agree to be friends. Twitter users can follow what other Twitter users say without forcing the followed person to reciprocate.

Facebook has revised Facebook Pages, public profiles designed for famous people and organizations, making them more like individual profiles, with a comment Wall and status updates. These new public profiles allow for an unlimited number of friends and allow Facebook users to connect with the famous and interact in the same way that they would with other Facebook friends.

Among the public figures with Facebook Pages are U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, singer Britney Spears, and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Facebook has posted a preview of the redesign and expects to deploy it live next week.


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