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Facebook mimics Google's 'poor man's email'

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Facebook has launched a shameless attempt to make itself more like Twitter, the web-darling-of-the-moment among Silicon Valley's digital elite (Eric Schmidt excepted).

Yesterday, Facebook tweaked its social networking extravaganza with the addition of so-called public profiles, a way for the world's "most popular influencers" to bombard everyone else with an endless stream of self-serving mini-messages. These most popular influencers include Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Famously, May-Decemberists Kutcher and Moore are inveterate Twitter users. Twitter is a way of, well, bombarding everyone else with an endless stream of self-serving mini-messages. And it's often used by people Facebook might include in its list of the world's most popular influencers.

Facebook has also updated existing, um, non-public profiles, making each user's real-time "status" feed more Twitter-like. Mark Zuckerberg and company are living by the motto, "If you can't join 'em, beat 'em".

As venture capital man Peter Thiel told BusinessWeek earlier this week, Facebook attempted to swallow Twitter last fall. But talks broke down after the company's failed to agree on the value of Facebook stock - the currency laid down in the proposed deal. Microsoft thinks it's worth a lot, after its onanistic $240m (£170m) splurge on a 1.6 per cent stake in the social networking timewaster. But not everyone agrees.

Word is that Facebook offered $500m (£354m) for the micro-blogging service.

Twitter is still an independent and private operation, and as the popularity of the Web2.0rhea outfit continues to escalate, so does speculation over when the company will be bought - and who will do the buying.

Naturally, Google is at the center of this speculation storm. But earlier this week, during a Q&A session at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in downtown San Francisco, Google CEO Eric Schmidt downplayed Twitter's usefulness, calling it a "poor man's email system".

"Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these [micro-blogging services] as sort of poor man's email systems," Schmidt said. "In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don't have a full offering.

"To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?"

Some have wondered whether this was Schmidt's roundabout attempt at a negotiating ploy. But when the Google Willy Wonka appeared on CNBC earlier today, he wouldn't discuss a possible buy. He insisted his "poor man's" comment wasn't a knock on Twitter.

"We [Google] admire Twitter. We think Twitter did a very good job of exposing a whole new way to communicate. In context, if you read what I said, I was talking about the fact that communication systems are not going to be separate. They're all going to become intermixed in various ways. People will use email. They will want to use Twitter, Facebook. They will want to use the other forms."

In recent days, many have argued that Twitter, like YouTube, is a new breed of search engine Google can't afford to pass up. You can instantly the search the micro-blogging service in an effort to determine what the digerati are saying at any given moment. But Schmidt wouldn't be drawn on that either.

During the Morgan Stanley Q&A, Schmidt indicated that although Twitter's Web2.0rhea interested some, he had faith in good old-fashioned one-to-one Google Chat. "In Google's case, we have a very successful instant messaging product, and that's what most people end up using," he said. But back in the fall of 2007, Google paid $12m (£8.5m) for Twitter knockoff Jaiku.

The Mountain View Chocolate Factory has since buried the service - which may or may not shed light on Google's Twitter thoughts. Facebook certainly believes in the future of Web2.0rhea. But this should be taken with more than a little skepticism. Facebook also believes in the future of Facebook. ®

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