Villanovan time capsule: how Twitter’s emergence forced Facebook’s evolution

Anna Hadjitheodosiou, Class of 2010

Facebook controls our lives. It’s a sad fact. Want to know who is going out to the bars tonight? Check your friends’ statuses. Want to see pictures from a recent Habitat trip? They’re on Facebook. Has your ex been talking to that cute girl in his physics class? If he has, Facebook will tell you.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you’re probably very aware of the controversial changes Facebook has made to its layout. Instantaneous status updates in a live stream on the home page have rendered Facebook strikingly similar to its main competitor, Twitter. These status updates also appear on a person’s Wall, along with comments from friends and photo and video updates, blending it all together in what some say is a confusing and arbitrary way.

“There’s basically no Wall anymore,” says junior Tiffany Boluarte, who is still getting used to the changes. “It’s all just meshed together on your page. It’s annoying.”

Another big change, and the thing that likens Facebook most to Twitter, is that the question on the top of the home page, previously “What are you doing?” has been replaced by “What’s on your mind?” This broadens the status field quite a bit. Your status no longer has to be about yourself—it can be about Obama’s faux pas or Scottie’s winning shot or your roommate’s new car.

Facebook and Twitter are essentially quite different—Facebook is a social networking site, meant to link people to one another through photos, videos, and comments, while Twitter is strictly a micro-blogging site on which people can “follow” one another. But after talks of a merger with Twitter fell through last year, Facebook has been trying to edge out the competition by, ironically, morphing into an eerily similar website.

This tactic seems to be working, at least among college students. Of the 200 Villanova students informally polled for this article, just five have a Twitter account. Some have never even heard of it, responding with blank stares and honest shrugs.

“I made a Twitter, but I deleted it after a day or two,” junior Jennifer Streaser says. “It just seemed pointless and just like the new Facebook. Plus, none of my friends are on it.”

To the untrained eye, Facebook’s membership of 175 million dwarfs Twitter’s six million. But the reality is that those six million people seem to be the right ones—Twitter is quickly gaining popularity among the rich and famous as more and more companies and celebrities—like Ellen DeGeneres and Tina Fey—are using Twitter to connect with their fans. The people at Facebook wanted in on the action, and, not to be outshined, quickly launched a new, more Twitter-y version this month, complete with the instant status feed and more user-friendly fan pages. Not surprisingly, it is even more unpopular than the new version launched last summer.

“I liked the old, old version,” says sophomore Isabel Sarriera, referring to the layout prior to the first major change last summer. “This new one is so stalker-ish.”

Her friend Nicholas Rouzier, also a sophomore, agrees. “It really is. You can find out anything about a person, and all you have to do is click ‘Friend.’”

So why don’t people just stop using Facebook? It’s such a big part of our lives that this can be nearly impossible. Just ask the dozens of Villanova students who gave Facebook up for Lent, a sacrifice reserved for that which means the most to you.

Perhaps this prevalence stems from Facebook’s extraordinary versatility. Students are now using Facebook for more than just socializing with peers—you can sell things or look for a roommate in the Marketplace, write on your mom or your professor’s Wall (the number of members over the age of twenty-five has increased exponentially in the past few months) or invite people to your club’s meeting through an Event.

Like it or not, it seems as though Facebook is here to stay. Its popularity and pervasiveness is only increasing, and it seems as though it will be successful (at least among college students) in edging out Twitter.

“It’s always the same thing,” says junior Corey Marine, shaking his head. “People hate the new Facebook and threaten to stop using it. But you know they won’t. And Facebook knows they won’t, so they basically do whatever they want.”

But junior Jon Rivera might have the best attitude of all.

“It’s okay. It’s not a big deal,” he says calmly about the recent changes. “After all, it’s just Facebook.”