Sunday, July 6, 2008

Twitter and FriendFeed: Both Will Thrive, Both Will Survive

This started out as an e-mail to Jason Calacanis in response to his blog post but it got so long that I said, "screw it, that's not an e-mail, it's a blog post."

Hey Jason,

it is good to see you on FriendFeed and I hope you find it a useful tool for your endeavors. I can’t help but think you will. I think for the first time during the 2000s I was in front of you on the curve with something (besides watching a boatload of video on my iPhone but I don’t really consider that an Internet thing).

A few things.

1. It’s not odd to me at all that you (or Loic, or Arrington or Scoble) would garner followers on FriendFeed more rapidly with FriendFeed than Twitter. You all had a group of built-in, click-happy, early-adopting followers already on Twitter. I’d guess the correlation between your followers on FriendFeed also following you on Twitter is nearly 100% (same for Loic, Scoble, etc). When Twitter was born there was no built-in group of click-happy, early-adopting subscribers to follow

2. Twitter and FriendFeed are NOT the same service. While you can do much of what you can on Twitter (promotionally) on FriendFeed they are not the same things. I view Twitter as primarily a communication service and information becomes a component as a result of the communication. FriendFeed is primarily an aggregation/information service where communication becomes a component around the information. It’s a very different model

3. Twitter still has huge opportunities (HUGE!). While I’m not a huge fan of Twitter and prefer FriendFeed this is based on a personal bias. Twitter is still better for simple broadcasting and simple direct messaging. I don’t believe FriendFeed has any objective to become primarily a communication service or offer direct messaging. In fact, I hope they do not get caught up in any of that.

4. SMS is huge. Twitter is perfect for SMS. Twitter hasn’t even remotely begun to capitalize on the opportunity it has as a communication service via SMS. I’m not sure it makes any sense whatsoever for FriendFeed to worry about SMS. At least for now, I really hope they are not thinking about it at all.

You, Scoble, Arrington etc quite are not the typical use cases for either Twitter or FriendFeed. You and Arrington primarily (seemingly, I could be wrong) see these tools as promotional for your products. While that *is* a use case for both services (and I have no qualms with that) I think promotion/broadcast are on a sliding scale.

I’m not sure what the continuum is – perhaps it’s from broadcast/promotion to information and communicating with people. While I think there is a promotion component for everyone (if you buy into “you are your brand” thinking) the weighted importance of broadcast/promotion will not likely be heavy for the mainstream user. Scoble may be in a league of his own at 100% on both ends of the spectrum! But on a sliding scale you and Arrington definitely are slid closer to broadcast/promotion than communicating with other people. Whatever the sliding scale is, there is a pretty wide range of use.

While I understand the Twitterati (I can’t believe by the way, that ‘Twitterati’ makes it through the MSFT spell check!) is very down on Twitter being down all the time, and I understand the reliance on FriendFeed during the downtime, it’s definitely not an either/or situation.

Will FriendFeed kill Twitter?

Did the web kill e-mail?

Rhetorical question. :-) While it’s certainly in the realm of possibility that Twitter will kill itself, at this juncture, reading the tea leaves that seems highly unlikely as the reason that people are bitching so passionately at times is because they love them some Twitter.

Jason Calacanis is to Michael Arrington as Ginger Makela is to...?

Finally, I hear a lot of ranting about FriendFeed just winding up being an echo chamber. There is more than a little truth to this because of the nature of things. There are a lot of early adopters and bloggers on FriendFeed right now who want to promote their stuff. Then this fact of life comes into play: if you digg, delicious, stumble or in some other way share MY stuff, I will be more likely to digg, delicious, stumble your stuff. Of the people I follow (~120) I can count on a good 20-30 of them digging, deliciousing and stumbling on the exact same things.

There are a couple of ways to handle this echo on FriendFeed. One is unfollowing some of the people who share the same stuff because essentially I can follow only Louis Gray and see it. I have unfollowed some people including Scoble because anything really important Robert has to say will still wind up on my radar via friend of friend. I can follow Louis Gray, J.Phil, Steven Hodson, Allen Stern, Hutch Carpenter, Corvida, Sarah Perez, etc., etc. and I do (though am playing around with following and unfollowing), but I can wind up seeing a lot the exact same thing by simply following Louis. Alternatively, I can hide all Digg, Stumble, Delicious, etc from certain people besides Louis and reduce the echo substantially.

The tools aren’t perfect yet, but they are not shabby either. I think the folks at FriendFeed are really putting a lot of thought into empowering one to have as much or as little echo as they wish to have. Do I want to see the same thing 50 times? No! But some people might like it and I have no desire for the service to be designed around ME so long as I can completely customize it to taste via preferences/settings, etc. Some people like to watch the same movie or TV show 20 times. I’m not one of those people, but that doesn’t make it wrong or bad for someone to do it if it suits them.

Armed with the proper tools via preference settings FriendFeed as it adds more users it will only get better. Is there echo? Sure, but there’s something else. Like Bob, Ginger Makela and Paul Bucheit. Yeah, I know Paul is a founder of FriendFeed, but he shares some really interesting stuff. He doesn’t overshare (or even share at all really) the tech early adopter echo chamber stuff. The stuff he does share is usually interesting to me.

Same for Bob. Same for Ginger Makela. They share things I find really interesting. People get all hung up on statistics (and I don’t want to sound all hypocritical as I’m a numbers junky myself) and things like the “FriendFeed Likes Compability Calculator” but for me that’s a cool notion that winds up pretty much being a big “meh”. Why?

I have my eyes and my brain to tell me whose stuff I like the most. I like Ginger, Bob and Paul. They ain’t echoing much (if at all) and what they share is really interesting to me. Interesting enough to me that rather than worrying about seeing their stuff I simply bookmarked their FriendFeed pages. Sometimes I want to know what Ginger and Paul are finding interesting and thinking on and sometimes I want to know what Bob is reading – his stuff ranges from deeply thought provoking to downright weird. Sometimes I like weird.

There are plenty of other people I'm following (at least 30 anyway) who aren't all hung up on the tech echo chamber. They like sports, culture, pop culture, etc. and they are fun/interesting to follow.

You can’t always really get a good vibe of what people are reading or thinking about via Twitter. But you know what you can’t do on FriendFeed? You can’t send Fred Wilson a message while he’s in France letting him know he screwed up the spelling of someone’s name in a post. I’m not a typo nazi, except when it comes to names. Especially when it’s the name of the guy who is single-handedly responsible for my having a TiVo since 1998 (almost 10 years now!). Fred’s response?

In less than 140 characters Fred summed up all the goodness of early adopters for me and made me remember why I was an early adopter to begin with. We get to touch the future. FriendFeed and Twitter may not be perfect, but they are a glimpse of the future. Sometime in 1992 after spending 12 hours on a Saturday getting the CD-ROM installed and figuring out how to get it to play audio CDs through the soundcard I was absolutely thrilled with the triumph of getting it to work. My girlfriend at the time thought I was a complete idiot telling me, “You’re so proud of yourself about wasting half your weekend and $250 to do something you could already do on your perfectly good CD player!”

I told her “Computers are the future of music, I can wait 10-20 years until it’s actually much better, or I can screw around with it right now. I choose right now.” I'm trying to think of FriendFeed and Twitter style services with the 10-20 year view. As with music in 1992, I want to touch that future now. Because of services like those, we can. Is it perfect? Hell no. Will all this stuff work better 10-20 years from now? Hell yes. But it's still very cool for many of us to glimpse that future now. In 1992 there was no iTunes. No iPods. Not even software for ripping an audio CD into digital format (and if there was, the hard drive sizes didn't make it feasible).

But you could begin to imagine it. I'm guessing Fred is imagining a world where more and more people will be able to "share something" when they want to. Even if they are on a subway three thousand miles away from home.

Me? I'm imagining a world where people don't try to constantly pit products and services against each other even when doing so doesn't really make any sense.

It's easy if you try.


howard lindzon said...

what I would say if i had the energy

Ken Stewart said...

Very thoughtful... I would agree with you. I am still playing with whom I follow and whom I do not. Between all of the social media sites, I honestly have just had to check out.

I'm really gunning for a meaningful social media experience, but it seems I'm missing my demographic to a large extent - odd as this sounds.

I have not been able to put my finger on this, but I do so enjoy reading your posts. They are a nice challenge and response - and offer a nice counter-weight to the noise in those 'other A-listers'...