Why Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon want to be each other

Suddenly, major tech companies are flipping out, remaking themselves to be more like their competitors

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the corporate campus fence. This week was a loony one for tech news. Four major technology companies announced expensive and risky programs to become less like themselves and more like their competitors.

Twitter wants to be Facebook

One of the reasons Twitter is the favorite social site for influential singers, actors, technology influencers and industry luminaries, is a set of quirky, minimalist attributes.

The most celebrated and obvious is a 140-character limit on the size of tweets. This limitation makes it easy to send a tweet, and super easy to read a stream of tweets.

Speaking of tweets, the use of the word tweet is one of Twitter's charms. Others include endearingly antiquated features like the use of @ replies and hashtags.

Suddenly, however, all this is in peril as Twitter appears to be suffering a fit of Facebook-envy.

Twitter this week unceremoniously made it possible for up to four pictures to be posted in a single tweet, and up to 10 people to be tagged in each photo. That makes both the posting of tweets and the reading of a stream more burdensome and time-consuming than it used to be. It'll be like, you know, reading Facebook. The reason for it is at least partly Facebookian as well. All that tagging sends advertising-enhancing "signals" to Twitter. It also forces interaction -- people tagged will be notified, and essentially lured into an engagement with Twitter to see what the you've-been-tagged-in-a-photo notification is all about.

We also learned this week that Twitter is reportedly experimenting with the elimination of both @ replies and hashtags, and the transformation of the "Tweet" button to say "Share."

If those other changes come to pass, Twitter as we know it will be no more. Instead, we'll have a much more Facebook-like Twitter.

Facebook wants to be Google

Facebook, meanwhile, is suffering from Google envy.

While Mark Zuckerberg has been toiling away trying to prevent a general flight from Facebook to smaller social sites by first creating the Poke app to stem the flow to Snapchat and then spending a fortune on Instagram and Whatsapp, he's no doubt looked with envy at all the fun Sergey Brin and Andy Rubin have been having at Google.

Brin has been loosely in charge of Google's many moonshot projects, from self-driving Priuses to Google Glass to balloons that deliver Internet connectivity to remote areas of the world.

Rubin, meanwhile, was reassigned a year ago. He went from running Google's Android group to being placed in charge of Google's terrifying army of robots, which Google bought in a frenzied binge.

What does a search engine company want with a gas-powered robotic mule?

In Silicon Valley, that's the wrong question. The question is: If a robot mule exists and can be bought -- and you've got billions to spend -- why wouldn't you buy it?

Besides, the future will arrive sooner than you think. The only way to survive as a technology company is to re-invent yourself. You can't wait until the future is clear. You have to buy everything that looks promising and hope for the best.

That's the lesson Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg learned from Google. Suddenly, his company is going nuts with the moonshot projects.

Facebook this week announced the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality products useful mainly for total immersion gaming.

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