I’m having trouble getting back into the swing of blogging after taking a nice relaxing vacation. When you spend all day eating and breathing technology, it’s always good to step back and realize what else is out there.
Here at the ‘Lab, we consume New Web all day long, and spend a whole lot of time talking to other people about how it’s great. Therefore, we assume it’s important. Needless to say, not everyone agrees. People at Oracle generally spend all day talking software: selling it, designing it, building it, implementing it. Therefore, they assume it’s important.
Taking time away reminded me how few people in the world actually care about Facebook (65 million users) or Twitter (estimated to be near a million users). For perspective, Thailand and Iran have about 65 million inhabitants, and Fiji and Trindad and Tobago are right around a million. Incidentally, there’s a Google feature that provides these numbers quickly, e.g. for Iran, but I digress.
So, while these represent large populations, when mixed in to any given random sampling, you’re not very likely to find someone totally geeked about Facebook and Twitter. Anyway, this perspective reset coupled with a general burnout I’ve been feeling lately have me grasping for topics.
Not that this is wildly interesting at base, but it interests me for a couple reasons.
- I love FriendFeed’s concept and implementation. Customizable aggregation of information is the silver bullet. However, I’ve struggled to accept it fully. I wrote about it back in October when it was in beta, but I’ve floated in and out, only using it sporadically.
- As an influencer both positively and negatively, Scoble brings a critical mass of people and data to FriendFeed, which will be an excellent test of its utility. His presence will drive features into the product, and he has the same information overload problems that I have. I’m glad he’s made the jump because it will improve the overall product.
FriendFeed is not yet another social network that I’m advocating as the next big thing all the cool kids are doing. One reason I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter less recently is because of the noise levels these networks cause. It’s work to wade through all the vampire invites in my News Feed and the uninteresting tweets to find useful nuggets of information. I’m not a fan of work for work’s sake, so lately I’ve been following the “easier to ignore a problem than solve it” path.
These networks have value, and I want that value, without the noise. FriendFeed provides the three things I want for my New Web life.
- Flexible Consumption
FriendFeed aggregates all my New Web accounts using their public APIs. They support 28 services right now, but this is bound to rise as more people use the service. I’d like to see TripIt added, and I’m sure Facebook will soon be on the list as they continue to open.
One bonus about aggregation is that it allows you follow a person’s activity in one place, rather than friending on Facebook and LinkedIn, following on Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce, subscribing to a blog’s feed, and adding a Reader Shared Items friend. And you don’t have to join any new networks, e.g. I can see Rich’s NetFlix queue and his Amazon Wish List, even though I don’t use those.
FriendFeed also has an interesting “recommended” feature that points you to friends that have similar interests. Not sure how they do this, but if you find someone interesting, refer to my previous point about how easy it is to consume all their content in a single stream. This feature wasn’t terribly valuable before, but now that they are officially open and Scoble is on board, expect a lot more friends.
I love the flexbility FriendFeed offers. I can install the Facebook app, subscribe to the RSS feed, get updates in GMail or just use their spare web page. Having a feed opens the data up to mashup builders like Popfly, Dapper and Yahoo Pipes, if you feel like doing some information cooking.
I suspect an API will be coming soon, opening up all the same avenues that make Twitter so fun and successful, e.g. AIR clients, mashups, etc. Being open is huge as networks like Facebook and MySpace are discovering.
The open approach makes FriendFeed a broker of information, an API processor, which ultimately may make it replaceable, but they have enough interesting features to keep it engaging. For example, you can comment on any item in the feed, making it a contextual Twitter-like conversation. This also exposes you to new friends, since all comments are displayed (I think). You can also mark any feed item as one you like.
Commenting on items in the feed is a lot like Twitter, but since it’s artifact-driven (vs. person-driven) and threaded, the conversation makes more sense when you’re reviewing it.
Over the weekend, my Reader showed over a hundred unread items for my FriendFeed RSS feed, partly an effect of Scoble’s joining and immediately adding everyone as a friend. This underscored one annoyance I had, i.e. my feed for FriendFeed included a lot of overlapping information. For example, I already subscribe to Eddie’s blog and follow him on Twitter, so I don’t want these updates reported in my FriendFeed.
The Scoble Effect actually uncovered a gem that allows you to ignore overlapping updates. In an exchange between Louis Gray and Scoble, Louis mentioned the “Hide entries like this” feature, which allows you to customize the feed. For example, Marshall and I are already friends on Mag.nolia, so I can suppress his Ma.gnolia updates using this sweet feature. This is especially useful for Twitter updates, which tend to overwhelm the FriendFeed feed.
Speaking of Twitter, it would pretty simple to use FriendFeed as a grouping mechanism for Twitter (as well as other services), since it produces an aggregated feed.
Anyway, I’m liking FriendFeed even more now than when it launched in beta. I hope it won’t wear me down like Facebook and Twitter have as I add more people. The controls do make it easier to ignore channels without hurting someone’s feelings, since unlike a social network, FriendFeed is based on objects, not people.
FriendFeed is in an enviable position too, being mostly self-funded by ex-Googlers with money to spend. They recently closed a $5 million round, led by the founders themselves. Deep pockets make them pretty independent, with little worries about an exit strategy. Ideally, this translates into a more thoughtful product. Plus, intimate knowledge of Google should translate into very efficient use of the search giants information.
Update: A couple cool features I noticed after writing this. 1) Each item in FriendFeed has its own URL, just like Twitter statuses or permalinks, e.g. Paul Buchheit shared this post in his feed. 2) As people like or comment on an item, it rises in the feed, allowing conversations to bubble up across the full network. Of course, if you read through RSS, you miss these interesting items.