Sep 18, 2014 · 2 minutes

As anybody who manages a brand page on Facebook knows, the company is constantly tweaking its News Feed algorithm, the little robot that decides which posts each users see and which ones are lost forever in the social media ether. It's what differentiates Facebook most from Twitter's raw feed, where the mere suggestion of algorithmic tinkering is enough for power users to throw a fit and proclaim that "Twitter is dead."

One reason people get so up-in-arms about the threat Facebook-style algorithmic filtering poses to Twitter is that on Facebook, no matter who you follow, silly quizzes and lists and other eminently clickable -- but often not very substantial -- content seems to dominate News Feeds. On Twitter, on the other hand, there's a more predictable form of chaos. If I follow people who share serious news and analysis, that's exactly what I'll see. I summed up this social schism in the post, "If Twitter implements a Facebook-style algorithm, you may not hear about the next Ferguson."

Now, Facebook's latest algorithmic shuffle may put it in better competition with Twitter when it comes to breaking news. Starting today, Facebook will place stories related to "Trending Topics" higher in its News Feeds. Facebook also says it will be more aware of highlighting posts about live events, whether it's a television show a football game or maybe even a breaking news story, while they're still going on. Furthermore, if a post gets a ton of likes and comments right away before tapering off, Facebook will sense that the update is no longer relevant.

All of this is to make Facebook feel more like a "live" experience, instead of a disconnected sea of posts that, while perhaps well-liked or heavily commented-on, lack timeliness. In this way, Facebook is stealing a bit of Twitter's mojo, where the atmosphere, while often chaotic and a bit dizzying, is always live and dynamic.

It's also a sign of a growing trend where all social apps are converging in function. Twitter's inching (ever so slowly) closer to Facebook by considering adding an algorithmic component. Facebook is trying to embrace Twitter's "we'll-do-it-live" vibe and its celebrity cachet, while also chasing after the ephemerality of Snapchat.

Maybe in the future you'll only need one app to find a person to hook up with (Tinder), send them a scandalous disappearing photo (Snapchat), tell them happy birthday (Facebook), and argue with them over the freshest outrage (Twitter). But I doubt it.

As I wrote previously on the topic of social convergence, while these apps may converge in functionality, they remain separate in the communities they serve. Tinder is for people who don't know each other but might want to hookup. Twitter is for people who don't know each other but might grab coffee. Facebook is for family and acquaintances. Snapchat is for the closest of friends. And even if Facebook becomes as efficient a breaking news machine as Twitter, for my part and I suspect for other newshounds, I'd rather get my news and analysis from the journalists I follow on Twitter than my friends and family who, while I love them, can't compete with the crowdsourced expertise of the Twittersphere. (Sorry mom.)

[illustration by Brad Jonas]