Are Facebook and Twitter forgetting what it means to be social?

This week both Facebook and Twitter have announced the roll out of new services and guidelines to boost their appeal to advertisers, which could come at the cost of alienating their users.

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Facebook is currently testing a new ad format to appear in the newsfeed that will see brands’ page posts appear regardless of whether that user or their friends are fans of the advertiser’s page or not.

Meanwhile, Twitter is clamping down on third party developer use of its API as it looks to encourage users to use its official apps rather than services like Echofon and Tweetbot. Twitter wants developers to focus on creating analytics apps instead as it looks to boost its appeal to advertisers.

Both moves have caused somewhat of an uproar amongst users, analysts, developers and the press. The New Statesman even went as far to publish the headline “Twitter goes full douchebag”.

Unfortunately, it was as inevitable as sweet little Tom Daley signing up a sponsor roster the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool as soon as he’d come of age, or Innocent being consumed by Coke once it became a household name, or Green Day switching from three chord songs about masturbation to trite stadium rock operas with questionable political references. Once the darlings of the internet, social networks are being accused of selling out.

The latest moves from Facebook and Twitter appear to be inherently unsocial for the end user.

Facebook’s new ad format doesn’t appear to be adding to the global conversation by helping brands tell its much trumpeted “stories”; instead the ads will disrupt the newsfeed – which until now was personalised for each user – with ads they never signed up for.

Twitter, on the other hand, could potentially leave users with less choice over how they experience the platform. One developer, Instapaper, has advised Twitter clients to “start working on another product” adding that it would not even build any “nontrivial features on it anymore”.

Given both companies’ business models, it is almost unavoidable for Twitter and Facebook to have to take the risk of upsetting some users by introducing new (or restricting) features in order to serve better ads and provide better performance data to ensure they get more advertisers on board.

Creating myriad long term revenue options appears from the outside to have overtaken the importance of the user experience and allowing developers to be innovative with social media platforms. The goal posts keep being moved.

With Twitter scaling down the possibilities of interaction with its platform and Facebook adding more intrusive ways for advertisers to pay to appear on its site, the social media space is becoming very complicated indeed. And this was a sector that initially thrived due to its simplicity – just 140 characters in Twitter’s case.

Every successful digital business must inevitably adapt in order to monetise the original idea that made it so popular in the first place. Facebook and Twitter musn’t lose sight of the fact that making and keeping touch with friends was at the core of their early foundations as they continue on their hunt for revenue.

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