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Facebook Takes a Page From Twitter's Playbook

If you can't buy 'em ... beat 'em?

That might not be how the saying goes, but it may sound a lot like Facebook's current line of reasoning. Just months after talks between Facebook and Twitter broke down, the social networking giant is revamping its profile pages based on a new feature that may look very familiar to users of the popular microblogging service.

Called "the stream," Facebook's new feature displays real-time activity updates from users' friends on the site -- in very much the same way that Twitters user's profiles keep a running feed of status updates from people in their network.

At the top of the redesigned Facebook page is a "publisher" text input box in which users can send out status updates, photos, videos and other content. While Twitter's page prompts users to answer "What are you doing?", Facebook's publisher box asks, "What's on your mind?"

The enhanced Facebook pages are due to live within a week, it said.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com that the resemblance between the new Facebook features and Twitter isn't likely to be a coincidence.

"I see a lot [of similarities]," Enderle said. "Facebook is a much richer company than Twitter, but Twitter does its one trick very well. It appears Facebook is trying, as part of this makeover, to improve on Twitter's one trick a lot."

In a blog post introducing the new features, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the stream as the latest step in Facebook's evolution toward real-time communication among friends and contacts.

When the site began, he noted, profile pages were essentially static collections of names and contact information. Gradually, more features like photos, videos and groups began to appear on Facebook, and with the rollout of the News Feed feature a few years ago, people's activities began to show up on their friends' profile pages.

But whereas Facebook's News Feed might update regularly every 10 minutes or so, the new stream feature offers real-time status updates -- just like Twitter.

Microblogging takes center stage

The new streaming feature taps into a growing inclination among Web users to keep the online community apprised of their thoughts and moods. This phenomenon is perhaps most apparent in the quicksilver rise of Twitter, but a recent study from the Pew Internet Project found that while Twitter is the newest, status updates have become a Web-wide trend.

[cob:Special_Report]Facebook is also rolling out new features for its public pages to enable organizations and public figures to broadcast and promote their activities across the widest audience available on Facebook.

"We think that as it becomes easier to connect and share across the social graph, people -- as well as companies, governments and other organizations -- will share more information about what is happening with them," Zuckerberg said. "As this happens, the world will become more open and people will have a better understanding of everything that is going on around them."

Facebook is dropping its previous limit of 5,000 friends for public pages, and with it the separate designation of "Facebook pages" -- from now on Barack Obama, Britney Spears and the rest of them will have profiles like the rest of us.

So via a status update that will show up on people's News Feeds, the president can talk up his policy agenda, and the pop diva can scoop the tabloids about her many, many mood swings. Or promote her tour -- whichever.