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Mar 26

How FriendFeed could dwarf Facebook and Twitter

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The River

When FriendFeed first came out it looked like a nice little aggregator done by some smart EIRs who just left Google. A few months later they have grown into being the company that is mentioned on TechCrunch, RWW, TechMeme, and Mashable on a daily basis. Quite a change in a short period, so with the launching of their API, I thought I would posit how I think that they could keep on going to much bigger things, and above the hype cloud (everyone wants the next Twitter).

As I look at how I use these services, I have noticed some recent changes:

Stage 1: Really?

I did the Twitter thing when it first came out, and I admit to not getting it. I remember opening up the public view and seeing the odd swearing from Bulgaria and thinking “this is 99% noise, why does anyone waste their time?”. After a Twitter week I kinda moved on. The most I had to do with it was using MoodBlast to send my status updates to Twitter too.

Stage 2: Facebook

I moved from Twitter to Facebook and got much more attached to it. “My crowd” was on their from the tech side, and a bunch of old mates from England too. I got to get up to speed with their lives, and over time keep in touch in that tiny way by the status update, and the odd photo.

I saw huge value in being able to learn from my friends, and dreamed of being able to have my own personal Digg, centering the bell curve on me instead of 12 year olds.

As applications were getting built I was excited to see what “killer apps” will be thrown up on the Facebook platform. Scrabulous was the one I used the most, but I saw far too many Vampires around and kept seeing my notifications list on the top right go up to huge numbers as I couldn’t be bothered to say “No” to them all. I could ignore that though, and still saw value.

Then something strange happened about a month or two ago. The feed started to get less interesting. Note, all I use Facebook for is the feed. I am not someone who jumps around on profiles to find out if Jinny has has a relationship where “it’s complicated”. My feed was getting noisy, and there was less in it. The magic had gone. It seems like the core group that I care about isn’t doing as much on Facebook, so the viral nature in which it erupted has reversed just as quickly. My Facebook tab disappeared and now I can’t remember the last time I logged in.

Stage 3: Twitter part deux

“Twitter is chat where I don’t care about a response”

As Facebook usage was going down, I was also back to Twitter and finally got it. I hit the right sweet spot of following and followers and saw a lot more signal coming through. I stopped using MoodBlast and turned on the Twitter Facebook application, even though I was annoying people with the “is twittering” part of the messages that drive me nuts (Twitter: please let me turn that off!). I guess I should switch to TwitterSync, but I just don’t care.

I have started to get a lot of leads for Ajaxian and cool tech in general on Twitter, and it is a place to call out into the void and you often get a crazy number of responses.

I am starting to wish for more though. Firstly, stability of course. But then, I want features like #hashtags to be grokked by the platform, so they don’t take up valuable characters out of the 140, and that the UI deals with them accordingly. I would love a metadata layer that would allow for the payloads that dave whines so much about, but also more. Let me put in [lat: ..., long: ...] to add Geo. Let me add anything I want and then the apps on top of Twitter are sure to shine. If Twitter doesn’t do this, I think that over time other services will fill that void. Pownce is ready in the shadows, but it needs to be more than Twitter+1. This is where FriendFeed comes in.

Stage 4: FriendFeed = Twitter * 2

FriendFeed is adding cool features on a weekly basis. I have personally worked with Bret Taylor and he is top notch, so I have no doubt that this will continue. A team that has launched Gmail and Google Maps also groks scalability, so I do not expect them to have the same troubles as Twitter.

But then we have the features. I think they can be a great mix of Facebook and Twitter. I want the stream to be more about just chatting. I want the photos to be part of it. I want my personal Digg. I want….

Stage 5: The River

It keeps coming back to my desire for The River, a new email system for all activity.

The key to this is having enough dials to make it tunable. With every feature that FriendFeed adds, they seem to get closer to this. Search is key as it gives you the nob tuning on the fly, and the API is key as it could let someone like me actually implement something that I need.

Here is to a FriendFeed that keeps accelerating. Congrats so far guys.

14 Responses to “How FriendFeed could dwarf Facebook and Twitter”

  1. 1001001001 Says:

    Note to self: Did not realize how annoying people are that use the word “Grok”.

  2. dion Says:

    But it is such a good book! :)

  3. Alex Says:


    I saw the CTO of Intel give a speech today at Cornell and he used the word Grok.

  4. alan p Says:

    I wonder how many people who use the word “grok” know from whence it came?

    Anyway, re the River, I think this is the wrong problem to solve, there is too much stuff, and one more step in the aggregation process adds little real value – the problem to solve is the Filter.,-not-a-Friendfeed-dammit-part-II.html

  5. Owen Says:

    Hmm .. I’m currently at Stage 3. Interesting to see my pattern of “Try Twitter -> Drop it for Facebook -> Decline in Facebook/Return to Twitter” pattern isn’t as uncommon as I thought.

    Gave FriendFeed a blast, but didn’t find it sticky enough, probably because I felt that my recent “loyalty” to Twitter gave me more benefit that a “new” mechanism. Maybe I should give FriendFeed another try

  6. Sol Young Says:

    I’ve been trying a new approach on Twitter and have begun thinking of Twitter as a stream instead of a conversational element.

    FriendFeed is somewhat the same, as it is a flow of information as well. I think it could become the “River” you speak of (assuming they integrate email in to their stream – highly likely).

    Facebook isn’t a stream. It’s a combination of applications which one interacts with… They’ll each have their place.

  7. Roger Says:

    Sure, Grok is a word from Robert Heinlein’s classic SF novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s more or less synonymous with “understand” or less formally, “get” but most people are less concerned with the formalisms of English than with clear communication, which is much more important, of course!

    For more, see

    Back to Twitter… I enjoyed this account of how use of social networking tools evolved. Documenting such experiences is crucial to understanding how this space will itself evolve and consolidate. I haven’t looked at FriendFeed, but will give it a try, given this write up.

    In terms of Twitter, I have found it to be an amazing experience. To me, it’s absolutely key to choose carefully who you follow. It’s impossible to keep track of hundreds of Twitterers, so picking and choosing is crucial. I’d like the app to evolve to the point where we can choose to follow the dozen or so that are Twittering about our topic de jour. For example, one day we might want to see what people are thinking about Google Adsense, on another day the Iraq war, or social media. This would take search to a different place altogether.

    Related to Sol Young’s idea, my concept of Twitter is that we are experiencing the “collective conscious”; similar to the Jungian concept of collective unconscious. This ability to tap into the raw conscious thoughts and feelings of people so immediately is unprecedented and as yet unequaled by any other social networking experience. That’s the power of Twitter. Follow me!

  8. Rob Says:

    FriendFeed is a great companion to Twitter, as is Quotably, but I like the FriendFeed format, where I can leave comments and have them posted to Twitter. It just needs to be able to directly post to Twitter.

  9. pancho villa Says:

    Grok? Facebook? Twitter?

    Who are you, Micheal J Fox? You sound like a teen from the 60s.

    Grow up and get a proper job.

  10. Chris Says:

    The problem I’ve found with facebook is that its core demographic is that of the late high-school to early-college student. That’s why all of the less necessary apps, like vampires, gardens, etc. became so overblown when the API came out, and it’s becoming more and more like a myspace-esque environment. I like twitter because of it’s simpleness – it does one function, and it does it well, and there isn’t much need for it to do much else. It’s meant to serve just the purpose of simple communication, and for that role, it fits well.

    As for companion software, I have to say, netvibes has been my savior in keeping everything managed – facebook, twitter, rss feeds, searches, remember the milk, … all on one page, and easy to navigate.

  11. Chris R Says:

    You have pretty much captured my thoughts.. I’m starting to become bored with Facebook and am looking back to twitter .. but I still can’t really see what Twitter is about .. follow takeabreak!

  12. engtech Says:

    If you like Friend Feed, you’ll probably be interested in my enhancements that add more features to it:

  13. Social Media Plex Says:

    FriendFeed is really a great service and this is the reason of its popularity and success. Twitter is good but it is not as specialized and stable as FriendFeed. I believe that people will quickly move from Twitter to FriendFeed because through FriendFeed they can better communicate with their friends as compared to Twitter.

  14. Sam Hamilton Says:

    I like facebook for social networking and keeping track of my friends but its no bueno when it comes to discovering bands. I find the layout of myspace to be nauseating so I’ve been using to find and follow new music acts.

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