Sunday, May 25, 2008

FriendFeed Loving and Why Conversation Fragmentation is Your Friend, Not Your Enemy

Allen Stern got it right with part of his headline last week: Let’s Get Serious About FriendFeed: the 1995 Message Board, the Smart Consolidator and the Stolen Conversation. He had everything right but the last part about stolen comments. More on comment fragmentation later.

First more FriendFeed love. I really LIKE this service, but I loved 1995 style forums. I used bulletin board services in the early 1980s and was on Usenet at least since since the late 80s (rec.arts.scifi!). I can’t remember all of my IDs from the 1980s but here’s the oldest post in the Usenet groups by me that I could find, a post from almost 15 years ago trying to help someone out with a video driver question for the IBM OS/2 operating system. Soon I will buy an iMac and revisit my “dual boot” years. Anyway, there’s so much bullshit with monikers like “Web 2.0”. There’s not really much new under the sun, there’s just new ways to do it, and some are better.

Twitter really is new in that it’s the first “broadcast” (one-to-many) instant messaging service to crop up, but for the most part minus all the complete attention whoring and self-promoting, it seems many just use it as a giant chat room. I have no issues with any of that (not the chat room aspects, not the attention whoring and not the self-promotion), but to a large degree having experienced chat rooms since the mid 1980s, I’m pretty much over it. I understand also why MySpace and Facebook are particularly popular, but also: over it.

In almost a year on Facebook, I’ve got 50 friends, and in the last 6 months have probably added only 2-3. I’m not looking to work that network. I’m actually not looking to work any network. That probably explains why after almost a year on Twitter, I’m following 38 people and have 88 people following me. On FriendFeed, which I’ve only been active on really for about a month or so, I am already following 87 people and 53 people are following me.

I’m not sure whether FriendFeed will just be a passing phase for me. They need to expand the features around “hide” to truly make the service useful to me in a way that would allow subscribing to hundreds. But even in its current state the “hide” feature is extremely useful. The search on FriendFeed is very good too. But what I like about it is the way it’s not like Twitter or Facebook, and that’s this: it’s really easy to keep your eye on conversations, find like-minded people to subscribe to, and – and this is the big one – really easy to just jump in and participate in conversations.

I do not find the participatory aspects of either Twitter or Facebook geared towards ease of participating in a conversation. Ease of letting others know what you’re up to? Sure. But FriendFeed (for me) allows that AND ease of participation. That ease is a big deal to me. It's the best of both worlds in some ways. All the things I loved about the early days of the Internet but in a way that takes advantage of all the progress that's happened over the last 20 years.

Now back to the comment/conversation fragmentation. Ironically, the people who seem to be the most outspoken on this are people who’d claim the interwebs are ALL about the conversation. To some degree I agree with that sentiment, but you can’t control the conversations even if even if you start them.

For example, while I’m completely apolitical I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there are a whole lot of days where Arianna Huffington or Bill O’Reilly start a conversation that is had by perhaps MILLIONS of people. And to the degree those conversations happen on the Internet, they happen all over the place. Do you think Arianna or Bill O. give a rat’s ass about that? No fraking way!! They’re just happy to get people talking. Bloggers should work the same way, but because perhaps due to concerns over web traffic it seems like it’s more important to some of them to “own” the conversations their posts generate on THEIR blogs.

That truly falls into the category of cutting off your nose to spite your face and it’s just dopey. All those fragmented conversations do wind up driving traffic to your blogs, it’s just not always easy to quantify. On for example, we get lots of traffic referrals from hundreds of conversations about television going on via PHPBBS and other online discussion forums. If there were some easy way to group all the referral traffic coming from discussion forums it would likely be our #2 referrer overall, right behind Google.

Do I wish those people would comment on our blog instead? Not really and some of them do. Mostly, I’m just happy they found some of our info useful and useful enough to mention it and post a link to it wherever they felt like discussing it. Sometimes the resultant conversations (I have followed them from time to time) on those forums are pretty interesting, but I don’t feel like we “own” it, even if some post of ours generated the discussion. There’s no way (none, nada, zilch, zip, zed, zero, etc) to control these conversations and why would we want to?

The whole reason for doing the blog to begin with was we thought we’d be filling a useful niche. Anything that points to that outcome – like a link from a discussion forum about the CW show Supernatural – we view that as validation of our original premise. We view that as very good, and not bad in any way. Comment fragmentation is actually your friend. Whether it happens on FriendFeed or anywhere else. Anyone who disagrees with that truly is cutting of their noses to spite their face.

Conversation fragmentation is a good thing and you might as well embrace it because resistance is definitely futile.


louisgray said...

Resistance is futile.

1995 message boards led me to talk Apple stock at Raging Bull, Silicon Investor, Yahoo! and other places, keeping a good group of friends at each. We talked about news articles there... but didn't centralize comments. This whole flareup about blog comments needing to be in one place only will look pretty silly in a year or two.

Robert Seidman said...

Louis, to your credit, you're a more patient man than I am. I think it looks silly now, but you're right, I should just ignre it for the next year or two -- it will go away.

Mark Dykeman said...

This is one of the most logical refutations of conversation fragmentation's woes that I've seen. Nicely done.

Ken Stewart said...

I love it... Robert, great article on both the observations of the mediums themselves as well as the inane babble over where the conversation happens. The very essence of the web is decentralization of information... once it exists somewhere, the information can never be squelched again. I honestly would've thought all those "leading" the 'web-olution' would've figured that out by now.

Keep the faith, amigo!

Robert Seidman said...

I have had the faith for 25 years+. Still do!

Allen said...

Thanks for the link - as for the rest of my comment, it will be on another service - but I won't tell you which - so neither you or your readers will be able to know what I think.

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