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Wake up, Twitter! Facebook badly needs some competition

Facebook could do with some real competition but does not really have any. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in his return as CEO is making changes but they seem more like tweaks so far

columns Updated: Jun 03, 2016 16:05 IST
Narayanan Madhavan, Hindustan Times
Twitter is no longer bigger than Instagram. YouTube has competition now from Amazon, but no social network comes close to Facebook (AFP)

After the BJP made inroads into Assam in state assembly elections, and seeing Twitter fumble in the same month, I think that both the Congress party and Twitter need major surgery if they are to be as big as they were considered to be or want to be.

Politics aside, just look at the basic data that shows the game. Of the world’s top 10 social media sites classified by numbers of active users , Facebook actually controls four: Facebook, WhatsApp, FB Messenger and Instagram. Facebook alone has close to 1.6 billion users, followed by WhatsApp at 1 billion, FB Messenger at 900 million and Instagram at 400 million.

Twitter, at 300 million, is behind Instagram and even Yahoo-owned short-form blog site Tumblr has 555 million. The other four sites in the top 10 are all Chinese or China-centric.

You get the picture.

Last week, Twitter announced some changes among which the most important is that it will no longer count images and videos attached to the microblogging site’s 140-character limit rule. That is a small step but a significant one as this means you can add videos and pictures at least for Twitter to challenge Instagram.

But frankly, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook as a consortium is miles ahead in everything from user numbers to advertising support. Fact is that Facebook in social reach and Google in search both could do with some real competition but neither really have any. Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey in his return as CEO is making changes but they seem more like tweaks so far.

Read| Zuckerberg to call ISS astronauts via Facebook Live

It is true that Twitter is a more of an open platform in which people move in freely than Facebook, and is for that reason also popular with public figures including administrators, academicians, journalists and political leaders but the flip side is that there is also a lot of trolling and abuse on Twitter that need to be fixed.

Even YouTube, owned by Google’s parent Alphabet, is facing some serious competition in video sharing. Early in May, Amazon rolled out a new video service called Amazon Video Direct that will rely on user generated content. Given the passion of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the company’s big push in technological innovation, I should think that is something that should keep Google awake.

Amazon is said to be courting partners to make sure Video Direct becomes a platform that has great content, and given that Amazon has its own movie production platform , I would find that exciting.

You could now say that Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video Direct are hotting up competition in video streaming, but we are yet to see Facebook get some real competition.  Meanwhile, Facebook is jumping into the fray with its own plan to boost video ads across its audience network beyond its own sites into other partner sites.

Read | Facebook ads creep into other apps and sites

Facebook, like Google, seems to be getting more trouble from regulators and political watchdogs. In the US, its CEO Zuckerberg moved to rectify the situation after criticism that its editorial team that guides “trending topics” on the social site had a liberal bias. However, in business matters, Facebook is surging ahead.

That leaves Twitter like the only possible competitor in the non-Chinese universe for Facebook. And nothing so far suggests it is serious enough to see the opportunity. It needs to wake up.

First Published: May 30, 2016 13:02 IST