Saturday, June 7, 2008

FriendFeed: Being informed, Sharing, and Participating

I got an e-mail from someone basically saying, “So, is FriendFeed going to be an AOL thing with you?


I wrote rather prolifically about AOL in the in the early-to-late 1990s. Why? Because I saw it as the path of bringing online services and the Internet to the mainstream. That’s one prediction that I got right. I also knew the web would kill it if AOL didn’t play its cards right but I figured that would take some time. Amazingly though it has been beaten down badly, AOL still has millions of paying subscribers.

By the time I used a graphic front-end web browser for HTTP in 1993 (Mosaic) I’d already been on one AOL service or another for over 7 years going back to the Q-Link days of the 1980s. Mosaic was the first thing I’d seen in a long while that WOWED me and just about everyone I knew who cared about the online world got an e-mail from me saying “WOW, you have to check this thing out!” I’m sure I e-mailed AOL’s own Steve Case.

And Then There Was FriendFeed

The thing is, I could fairly easily explain why I thought AOL was a big deal and why I thought the web browser was going to be a huge deal. FriendFeed is a little trickier. But I have to be honest, the iPhone and FriendFeed both are the first thing to WOW me like that, probably since I first saw the Web browser. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff since the first browsers came on the seen.

The main great thing about the web is access to content – and there’s tons of it from stock trading to sports to everything you could ever want to know about just about anything. Google and Wikipedia? Amazing. FREE awesome content management system via (FREE!) un-frakking believable. FREE!

All my expectations with regard to the web had largely been fulfilled. It takes creative people innovating to get my mind thinking, "huh, perhaps I didn't expect enough and should expect more!"

Like AOL and the web browser, I can articulate easily in bullet points why the iPhone is cool as hell. I’ve had mine almost a year now and – it’s still cool as hell to me.

FriendFeed becomes a problem to articulate mostly because I never stopped to think about why I liked it. I think that's actually a good thing generally speaking. I wound up giving it a little thought.

Why I’m a FriendFeed Lover

I guess you could say it fulfills several fundamental needs and combines them very uniquely:
  1. The need to be informed
  2. The (very human) need to share
  3. The (also very human) need to participate

I’ve seen services which do parts of that fairly well, but I’ve never seen anything interweave them as elegantly as FriendFeed does. FriendFeed is still in the very early stages and learning a lot. I don’t really know if it is anything that can take off with the mainstream anytime soon. But I like the promise of any service aimed at fulfilling three basic needs and think the FriendFeedsters are off to a great start.

Having spent several years in the 1990s working on profile-based news services that would produce the "Daily Me", I'm also very interested in the role FriendFeed may play there. But more on that another day.


The biggest challenge for FriendFeed may be that when it comes to explaining it, it’s sort of like TiVo – you can explain to someone how cool it is, but that doesn’t tell the story nearly as well as just showing them.

Also, I fear some people will feel inundated by the information flow on FriendFeed. I don’t feel that way, but I also don’t feel any particular obligation to read everything. If I miss a day, I just jump back in with whatever is at the top of my page.

If I want to know what’s up with any particular person, I can just go to the friends list and click on them -- this is an area from a UI perspective FriendFeed can and no doubt certainly will improve.

Friendfeed has many other product challenges that revolve around information presentation, including the feeds themselves. Right now, for example you can feed just about anything in via RSS but it shows up more or less looking like it should be a blog post, even if it isn’t. That's a problem. But the product issues, in the scheme of things are very resolvable and ultimately the least of FriendFeed’s challenges. Though I imagine for now it keeps them awake at night anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A couple of nonprofit techie colleagues set up a friendfeed room to explore it's value professional resource sharing -- some of us love, some don't - but generated some great reflections. You have to experience it to understand it ..