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Let’s Get Serious About FriendFeed; the 1995 Message Board, the Smart Consolidator and the Stolen Conversation
To borrow a phrase from a friend, "I’d like to get serious for a minute," and tonight I’d like to get serious about FriendFeed. They launched "Friendfeed Rooms" today and many bloggers are juiced about it. Philip over at Google Blogoscoped has a good writeup about it. Earlier this week I sat behind Robert Scoble at the Mediabistro Circus conference in NYC. What I saw was Robert looking at Friendfeed every second – it seemed every other second he was clicking the comment button and typing something in (I couldn’t see what). I watched this behavior for about 20 minutes before he went on stage.
There are two sides to FriendFeed; a 1995 message board and what I call a "smart consolidator." Not sure I really need to talk much about the 1995 message board except to say it works. You can start a thread and others can comment on it. Of course it doesn’t do it as well as Vbulletin or PHPbb does, but it works. I am ok with another message board tool.
The other half of the FriendFeed is the smart consolidator. What it does is allow you to add all of your social services to one place, creating a rich stream. The consolidated stream is a great idea – I can subscribe to Louis Gray’s feed and keep up with everything that he’s working on. From his Flickr photos to his blog feed to his Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc, etc, etc. There are a lot of these social aggregators, FriendFeed seems to have won the game because of their "star" founders and their ability to generate buzz in the "250". Josh Catone from RWW discusses the need for blogger buzz to get the engine going. I’d suggest that FriendFeed got pumped because of their "star" founders more than because of the quality of the app to start with.
If FriendFeed stopped with the great smart consolidator, they would rock. Instead what they have done is "steal" the conversation in an attempt to keep people within FriendFeed. Let’s use Robert Scoble’s post about his laptop as an example. Robert posted a message on Twitter with a link to a photo on Flickr of his laptop stickers (where’s the CN one Robert?!?!). Here’s the FriendFeed thread on the "topic". Thirty replies on FriendFeed, potentially a hundred on Twitter and a couple dozen on Flickr. Is this type of fragmented conversation ok? It makes sense on Flickr since that’s where the conversation started and it makes sense on Flickr because that’s where the image lives (one could argue that the conversation belongs only on Flickr). The conversation does not make sense on FriendFeed. When someone sees the link to the Flickr photo on FriendFeed and clicks to view the photo, why not comment there, on the actual photo? Instead the user returns to FriendFeed and comments.
I’d like to offer a simple solution that would satisfy me and actually make FriendFeed 1000x more useful. Remove comments from FriendFeed and have FriendFeed aggregate (view only) the comments from all of the social services they aggregate. That would be the absolute best scenario. A user can read all of the comments on FriendFeed but to actually comment they go to the source. Then anyone who isn’t a FriendFeed user can still see the entire conversation, participate in the conversation and FriendFeed users don’t have to look at multiple sources to see the entire conversation. What this also does is allow the content creator (photo, video, whatever) to get involved in the conversation without having to monitor FriendFeed as well.
The bottom line is that a reader should see and contribute to the conversation as a whole and the content provider should have the same ability. And I am not just talking about text bloggers.
In a chat tonight with a powerful tech blogger he said, "I mean, you can talk wherever you want, I guess… but I don’t need to pay attention to you if you’re doing it outside of my post." And this is why the conversation should be centralized where it begins. Will it work 100% of the time? Of course not but it will work in the overwhelming majority of the time. Why does FriendFeed want to keep comments on the FF site? Simple… it’s the business plan. Stealing the conversation is where the money is – just go talk to Digg to see. Check out my article regarding why Digg shouldn’t allow comments.
Does FriendFeed have potential to go mainstream? Sure. If they could learn to create a service that benefits both publishers and users (they currently serve neither well), they would create a powerful force in social aggregation.