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Monday, September 14, 2009

Facebook Takes on Twitter with Facebook Lite, Tagging

Facebook is challenging Twitter with Facebook Lite and Tagging to keep friends linked. Facebook Lite was meant for developing countries but is available first in the U.S. and India. An analyst noted that the stripped-down Facebook Lite is easier for mobile users to access. Tagging lets users tell friends what they're up to.

Facebook is going on the offensive against the rising Twitter star with new initiatives aimed at streamlining social networking. Facebook launched Facebook Lite and Tagging on Thursday to make updating simpler and more social.
As its name suggests, Facebook Lite is a lighter version of Facebook. It was designed for people with slower connections. The stripped-down version loads faster.

Facebook Lite is available in the U.S. and India, and the company plans to roll it out in China, Russia and other countries. That makes Facebook's intentions suspect, since most users in the U.S. have good connections.

However, Facebook issued a statement about the U.S. launch: "We decided to roll out Facebook Lite in the U.S. to give users a simple, expedient alternative to facebook.com, and hope that it will fill this need."

Lite Enough for Mobile

Facebook Lite focuses on events, inbox messages, wall messages, video and photos, and, of course, status updates. The difference between Facebook and Facebook Lite is most obvious in applications. You won't find support for applications on the Lite version, which reminds some observers of Facebook's original version.

"Facebook Lite was intended to be something for developing countries and places where high-speed connections were sparse or entirely nonexistent," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "However, the company is making it available in the U.S., and thus it now represents a total alternative for people who use or want to use Facebook but don't like all the 'noise' and clutter of the regular site."

Sterling's guess is that most U.S. and Western users won't access Facebook via the Lite version. But he noted that Facebook Lite is easier for mobile users to access with a browser.

Tagging, Tagging Everywhere

Facebook is also offering a new way to tag people and other things Facebook users are connected to in status updates and other posts. Facebook is positioning the amped-up tagging capabilities as a way for its members to let people know who they are and what they are talking about.

"People often update their status to reflect their thoughts and feelings, or to mention things they feel like sharing. Sometimes that includes referencing friends, groups or even events they are attending -- for instance, posting 'Grabbing lunch with Meredith Chin' or 'I'm heading to Starbucks Coffee Company -- anyone want some coffee?'," said Facebook engineer Tom Occhino.

Facebook tagging will soon let users that want to add a friend's name to a status update do so by including the "@" symbol beforehand. As a user types the name of something to reference, a drop-down menu appears to choose from friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications and pages. Occhino said that soon, members will be able to tag friends from applications as well. The "@" symbol will not be displayed in the published status update or post.

"Friends you tag in your status updates will receive a notification and a Wall post linking them to your post. They also will have the option to remove tags of themselves from your posts," Occhino said. "We hope that tagging your status updates and other posts from the publisher will enable you to share in a more meaningful and engaging way, and connect with even more people."

Facebook is rolling out this feature over the course of the next few weeks.

By Jennifer LeClaire

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