Aug 11

Why Facebook’s Acquisition of FriendFeed is Culturally Significant

Today, Facebook acquired the social network aggregator FriendFeed. Some people on Twitter didn’t understand why I cared. Here’s why:

I have done everything I can to make social networks “user friendly” and mainstream. I don’t WANT tweetups to be cliquish and I have never tried to exclude my circle to just people who have a lot of followers. Whether it was the Blood Drive Tweetup, Twestival, a NameCheap contest, a GeekAustin meetup or another one of my social networking exploits, I’ve always tried to provide incentive for people who normally considered social networking incestuous and lame to try it out. People meet and then actually have something to talk about besides social networking.

Most people groan when you mention another social network. They’ve built their contacts and they don’t intend to spend all of their time rebuilding a network. When someone mentioned FriendFeed, I did the same thing. But then I saw how easy it makes organizing your contacts and how it facilitates conversation across social networking lines. FriendFeed is an aggregator of social networks. People who post on Flickr or YouTube can easily communicate with people who like Twitter without sacrificing the functionality they like. That’s the beauty of an aggregator like FriendFeed–it allows you to see the sum of the parts without having to tear them apart or jumble them into an unusable mess.

Bloggers like Robert Scoble and Louis Gray like FriendFeed for the chatting and real-time search capabilities. You can search a topic on FriendFeed and it will comb through any content from any network, so long as that person uses FriendFeed. Again, very awesome.

Here’s the issue though–very few people actually used it, and those who did were social media early adopters. So it was easy to fall in love with the platform, but the community itself was very limited. This limits the amount of useful data someone like Scoble would get for search, and it means I can’t really follow all the people I would want to follow because they are too busy being interesting and not setting up social networks like FriendFeed.

Steve Rubel pointed out that lifestreaming is finally going “mainstream” by this acquisition. This is my favorite part. Instead of having networks of Twitter users or network of Flickr groups, we can have groups that are united not by their platform of choice, but by their ideas. After all, most people who use social networks do indeed use Facebook. If FriendFeed’s capabilities are integrated into Facebook (which they can be already but most people don’t do), someone who takes pictures of Iran and posts them to Flickr can easily find and track a blogger from the region via Facebook. One artist can post a YouTube video of him playing a Beatles song, and another can put up a blog post of himself singing the same song. A simple FriendFeed search of the title connects them both. Facebook has essentially taken out the 400 pound gorilla that is actually marketing a social network for FriendFeed.

Will this be an issue for the security of our data? If enough people complain, they will change, because there is always the threat that someone like Google will come along and do it better.

  • Paul Chaney

    This is the best analysis of the implications of the acquisition that I’ve read to date.

    “Instead of having networks of Twitter users or network of Flickr groups, we can have groups that are united not by their platform of choice, but by their ideas,” is the best quote.

    Great insights Michelle. I’m tweeting this!

  • Justin Kownacki

    I’m not sure lifecasting will ever be “mainstream.” There’s an inherent distrust of oversharing from older generations (who value privacy), while younger generations haven’t even bought into Twitter yet. Time will tell if we’ll all find each other fascinating enough to monetize one another.

  • Michelle

    @Paul thanks, Paul! And thanks for stopping by my blog *hands you a beer*.

    @Justin I’m not sure everyone and their mom will do it, but introducing other social networks into Facebook will certainly get them more exposure.

  • /pd

    Hi Michelle, you 4get that we early adaptors , dont like and/or trust FB and thereby dont use FB much. Secondly, Connection on FB is much different then Connections on FF. Let me ask you why would I want FB to have all my data and comments ? Lets also remember that FB is facing legal action for not deleting FB accounts – only disabling them !

    As for real time search, google is pretty much there.

    “If FriendFeed’s capabilities are integrated into Facebook ” – a big IF – why the backend stuff and technology is not the same as FB, so its going to be tough.

    Its nice to see that you talk about FF without having an FF account !!

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  • Sally Relton Shakespeare

    Having groups united not by their ideas rather than their platform would be mankind’s next giant leap.

    When I wrote a blog on Ecademy I also posted it on LinkedIn. The blog received comments in both platforms but the people commenting couldn’t see each others’ comments. It got confusing and the conversation died.

    That Ecademy links its ‘like’ feature to Twitter, and Tweetdeck allows you to see and tweet your Facebook friends’ statuses has added efficiency to my networking.

    Hopefully these take-over battles will encourage the sharing and cross-fertilization of ideas and eliminate tribal boundaries.

    Best wishes
    Sally (someone’s mom!)

  • Lydia Sugarman

    Thoughtful post. I agree with the concept of groups being aggregated by shared ideas.

    Hmm, “security of our data?” The data we’ve already publicly shared on Twitter or Facebook or whatever? If anyone has concerns about data, don’t share it in any way whatsoever that allows it to be cross-posted, crawled, indexed, etc. If someone complains, let them take their ball and go home. Otherwise, it’s all out there in the ethernet to be freely shared. Isn’t that point of social media?

  • Phil Wheat

    The challenge is that the older generations look at “1984” as a warning. The younger generations (at least here in the US) view “1984” as a documentary of their school experience.

    If you’re used to not having privacy, why not go for noteriety? You’ve already paid the price for it, you might as well get some of the benefits. The question becomes less if they’ll do it, but what medium they’ll chose to adopt.

  • Igor Schwarzmann

    I have to disagree on the “lifestream is finally going mainstream” part. Ok, somehow – not intentionally – I’ve ended up disagreeing with a lot of what Steve is saying. He was the guy, who said that Friendfeed has the potential of Google. I thought, that it was very weird to assume that somebody – anybody! – knows what the next Google might be and now we know: Friendfeed isn’t sustainable all by itself.

    But back to the current argument: I don’t really think, that the idea of lifestreaming will change in facebook that much. Why? Because lifestreaming is daily business in facebook already. The ex-Googlers will just implement a better way to do it (beside their know-how in livesearch). That doesn’t make lifestream less mainstream before the acquisition of Friendfeed.

  • Michelle

    @pd i have a friendfeed account. it’s I just don’t use it because I’d rather read about the news, movies, and the world around me than social networking, so most of the feeds I’d want to read aren’t there.

    @igor friendfeed allows for the specialization of social networks. It means that Facebook doesn’t have to build a Flickr, a Twitter, etc. People can choose to feed that into Facebook as they wish.

  • Jess Sloss

    Right on Michelle, I totally agree.

    People don’t want to connect based on platform choices, they want to connect based on ideas, direction, goals; shared interests are whats important.

    @justin – I think we’ll see the definition of lifestream change ( if it hasn’t already ). It represents a way to connect with a large group of people in a easy way. Services like FF, and make it easy for people syndicate to multiple social networks, so a lifestream starts to make sense for anyone wanting to efficiently share their personality online. It shouldn’t mean sharing every annoying detail of your day ( in fact I don’t care) but useful links, presentation, pictures, insights = sign me up.

  • Capt. Spastic

    I think that you answered your own question in the first line of your posting with the word “aggregator”.

    In the time I had spent on FF, and admittedly not a large volume, it just simply didn’t stand out enough, to be different or offering something that you can’t similarly get other places. FF just really didn’t have individualistic mass appeal.

    Second issue, also in your post. “As long as that person uses FF.” That’s THE biggest limitation in SN today, cross-platform interoperability. Of course, much of that has to do with privacy concerns, and within, education on the part of the user.

    FF is a nice idea, and has its good points. Overall though, for many of the reasons you cited as well, the lack of community and the cohesiveness that brings, just left it a little flat on too many avenues.

    Next, let’s talk about Mashable. He-he.

  • Igor Schwarzmann

    Michelle, I’m already aggregating with Facebook various different platforms like Flickr, etc. I’ve been aggregating Twitter for a while, but that didn’t made much sense (the same way, that it mostly doesn’t work in Friendfeed either).

  • Michelle

    @capt. spastic exactly.

  • Ed Schipul

    Two thoughts come to mind:

    1) Social Media sites are single-issue implementations of lessons learned with their meta-moderation system. We are reinventing the wheel with feature-as-web-site implementations and acquisitions. Seems silly but so be it. Yes we need friendfeed type of feedback mechanisms. Yet I’m not sure FB needed to purchase them to get it! I personally like the IntenseDebate method of commenting.

    2) To create a big web company, just start a web site that does something the original Unix command prompt does. Google = grep, Finger = Technorati or ZoomInfo, etc…

    As for if FB should have made the acquisition? I hear your arguments but I remain unconvinced. Just sort of “meh” on the whole thing actually.

    PS – I had to reset my FriendFeed password to remind myself what they did exactly. Heh.

  • Michelle

    @ed I love IntenseDebate but actually had issues, as it prevents newbies from leaving comments.

    FYI, if you look at the FriendFeed developer team, it’s stacked with developer talent but there is no one in marketing. I don’t think they intended anything but the buyout.

    Also, I’m not sure you are considering the real-time search capabilities of FriendFeed. That in Facebook=lots o’ data.

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  • Chris Heuer

    Michelle – am trying to grapple with a few inter-related notions in this post and the comments but before doing so, here is my take on friendfeed pre and post FB acquisition.

    Last time I engaged in a conversation on FriendFeed, some of Scoble’s trolled trashed me for not being a more active member of FF – it certainly does have certain elements of slashdot, but not the good ones… The amount of information presented, in no other context then the stream itself, or a particular group’s streams was just too much – needs smarter filters, which I was just beginning to see coming to fruition. We loved the friendfeed room idea early, which is much superior to a mailing list for group sharing in an intentional community sort of way.

    Post FB acqusition, I just see this functionality being integrated into the news feed function that is there already, but I bet the dev team will come up with some really smart new aspects of the UX that will make it simpler to use and more compelling. My bet, based on early statements about the future of FF site is that it will be mothballed in the next 2-3 quarters, though I would hope they dont.

    You are right to be thinking about connecting across platforms, this is something we have been talking about for a while, and was one of the reasons we didnt choose a single platform for Social Media Club, but rather allowed local chapters to choose what would work best for them. Now… we have a slight problem with this fractured community structure we are trying to solve.

    But you know what, no matter the solution, whether it is one of the emerging #hashtag conversation aggregators or a nextgen RSS reader or FF or FB or even Echo from JS-Kit which will hopefully solve the problem Sally mentions about cross-posting one day soon, people will still be separated by their choice of technology.

    Its about where people focus their attention that ultimately matters, where they call home, what sort of people they like talking to and established relationships – this contextual relevance is key. Yes, new technologies are being created to span traditional web site walled gardens, but some people are comfortable in those gardens… I am most hopeful in this area that we get a way to connect the dots across these areas in search, and Google and many others will be leading this charge over the next year, but most people dont stay engaged in conversations via search, its a different user behaviour model… it may lead to conversation, but that’s secondary to information retrieval in search activities.

    As for privacy issues, this is a bigger problem that FB is already facing and has not resovled yet…

  • Michelle

    @Chris Thanks for your reference. If you come across any other conversations about contextual relevance in social media or if you ever want me to help spread something, just let me know.