Facebook was accused of imitating Twitter when it redesigned its homepage last month, making the news feed, or stream, more “real time,” and encouraging users to update their status more often. Today Facebook followed another one of Twitter’s footsteps.

With the Open Stream API, Facebook will allow third-party developers to create external applications that let users interact with their stream. This means users will be able to enjoy much of the Facebook experience without ever visiting Facebook.com itself.

Third-party clients have become an integral part of Twitter’s success. Fewer than 30 per cent of Twitter users actually use Twitter.com to update and view their accounts. Most use desktop clients such as Tweetdeck or mobile applications like Twitterific.

But allowing its users to interact with Facebook without ever visiting the main site could prove risky for the company, which is still struggling to sell enough ads to support its ballooning infrastructure costs. “We don’t look at this as a monetisation opportunity,” senior platform manager Dave Mr Morin told me.

Facebook says the Open Stream API plans have been in the works for a while now. “It’s always been our plan all along to open up the feed,” Mr Morin said. But the perception left by this announcement is that Facebook, with its 200m users, is still playing catch up with upstart Twitter, which has just 20m users.

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