Facebook on Thursday announced that members can now link to other members' profiles in their status messages by using the @ symbol. The move is clearly inspired by the popularity of Twitter's "@-replies."
This new feature basically means that you can link to the profiles of your friends and other pages on Facebook, and that your friends will be informed when they've been tagged. It's currently rolling out to members' profiles.
Engineer Tom Occhino explains it in a post on the Facebook blog:
Now, when you are writing a status update and want to add a friend's name to something you are posting, just include the "@" symbol beforehand. As you type the name of what you would like to reference, a drop-down menu will appear that allows you to choose from your list of friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications, and (fan) pages.
The feature will soon expand to third-party services that let you update your Facebook status, presumably including status message aggregators such as TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop.
The development prompted some of my industry competitors to use the word "BREAKING" in their headlines (Really? Can we please leave this term for things on the level of earthquakes, election results, and stampedes at Jonas Brothers concerts?) because it's yet another big sign that Facebook is gradually but aggressively encroaching upon Twitter's territory in its attempt to own the Web's trove of real-time conversation. Twitter is nowhere near the size of Facebook, nor is it anywhere near as feature-rich, but it's enough of a disruption in the space to make Facebook keep trying to get the upper hand.
As you may recall, this back-and-forth has included Facebook's failed attempt to buy Twitter, the "real-time stream" upgrades to the social network's home page, and its acquisition of FriendFeed, a streaming feed aggregator.
On an unrelated note, for brands using Facebook's fan pages, this could result in an interesting analytics product. The company hasn't yet said whether or how the managers of fan pages will be notified that they have been tagged--for a brand with a lot of fans, this could be a lot--and you might imagine that some of the demographics regarding who's talking about them and how often could be packaged into a nice marketing tool.
It'd also be a formidable rival to the "analytics dashboard" that Twitter plans to start selling to businesses later this year, which would be the San Francisco-based company's first concrete revenue model.