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.