Twitter imitates Facebook with header photos

The Twitter profile, complete with header photo, of BuzzFeed social media editor Mike Hayes. Photo from Twitter.

Twitter began offering a new feature Tuesday called the header photo.

Visually it’s very nice, and some people have already started using header photos on their accounts. BuzzFeed has demonstrated that there are a lot of cool things Twitter users can do with their header photos, if they have some time and imagination.

But there’s one problem. It’s most likely a big problem, too. Facebook unveiled close to the exact same feature almost a year ago with its cover photo.

The similarities are hard to miss. The header photo and the cover photo each provide users with an opportunity to have their thumbnail-sized profile pictures set against a larger background photo. With the Twitter header photo, text is set against the background image, but the features are mostly identical.

Many observers noted the similarities Tuesday, and Ben Parr wrote a particularly direct piece on the subject for CNET. In his analysis, titled “The Facebookification of Twitter,” Parr wrote that Twitter is likely hoping header photos help increase the company’s revenue. He describes the feature as a clear offering for businesses seeking bold promotional methods.

Twitter and Facebook are natural competitors, vying for users and ad revenue as the two largest social media platforms in the world, so it’s probably true that the concept of header photos is business-driven. Twitter, however, is unsurprisingly billing the feature as a chance for enhanced self-expression.

At this point, it’s hard to tell if header photos will catch on. They are arguably more visually appealing than Facebook cover photos and probably would have been a sure bet to succeed had they emerged a little more than a year ago before cover photos.

But Twitter is second to the party with its header photo, and it appears like the company is just following Facebook. People tend to disdain things that are unoriginal, so I expect some backlash towards the offering.

With all social media platforms, including both Facebook and Twitter, there is always an initial resistance to change too. A few weeks or months after the company updates its platform, however, users generally acquiesce to the new options.

So it may take some time, but one, maybe three months from now it will be interesting to see if just about every Twitter user has a header photo or if the feature is all but abandoned.

The reception of the header photo, one of Twitter’s most obvious imitations of a Facebook feature, could have significant implications for the directions of both companies and how they grow either more similar or more distinct.

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