Monday, July 7, 2008

Will FriendFeed Be "The Daily Me" Newspaper for the Next Gen?

Back in 1993 when I was Louis Gray's age and he was going to the DMV for the first time to get his drivers' license I began a three year whirlwind of focusing on an online personalized news and information service. The Internet was not yet pervasive in 1993, but online connectivity via modems was becoming widely accessible. My whirlwind tour spanned two companies, initially a start-up joint venture between MCI and Equifax (FYI Online) and then IBM. Though I only was highly focused on personalized news and information for a few years, I have never stopped thinking about it.

The technology, at least software-wise (at either company, frankly) was not bad, even by today's standards. It worked to specifications and with a bit of work could be customized, with a high degree of reliability to send me only information that was relevant.

I left IBM in 1996 to pursue for a couple of years the fruits of being an early stage blogger (that is a tale for another day) and consider both companies products in the realm of "noble failure". I believe they failed primarily for two reasons :

  1. Putting the honus on someone to fill out a profile that will yield all of the information they want and none of the information they don't want is an incredible challenge. If designed well enough to accomplish the task, very few people will want to put the time in up-front to fill out the profile.
  2. Serendipity: there is none! This is a huge problem. Assuming that the technology works and that someone goes through the trouble of creating a good profile they will get exactly what they asked for and none of what they didn't ask for. But we love serendipity. Editors are – or at least were in the old days when I still regularly read newspapers very good at serendpity. They place things they think you might ought to see that you never knew you were interested in and do this in a way that catches the eye.

In 1995 (or maybe 1996) I got to join a group of IBMers on a tour of the MIT Media Lab which at the time was run by Nicholas Negroponte (though Walter Bender was already very influential). Negroponte is widely credited with the notion of "The Daily Me" and there was one project specifically working on this and several that were peripherally related. One of those projects was RINGO. RINGO was (or perhaps still is) a music recommendation engine.

Though music and news aren't related the notion of recommendations as a solution for the serendipity problem and potentially for the actual profiling did cross my mind. For now, it still remains largely potential.

FriendFeed does solve a lot of the serendipity issue. I wind up seeing a lot of stuff I never would have asked for that I truly enjoy seeing. Like this, this and this.

There are plenty of challenges with the automation still. On one hand, if there is any kind of reward system that can be schemed (Digg, for example) it will be schemed and often produce less than desirable results. FriendFeed is by no means perfect for this yet, but it's getting pretty close for me. But getting pretty close for me is not good enough. Unlike Hutch Carpenter, I actually *am* a geek (so is Hutch, but if his denial makes him feel better, fine by me!).

So for me, FriendFeed is becoming a prototype of "The Daily Me" and I'm quite pleased with the progress that has transpired since the mid 1990s. But most of the progress is still yet to come. My geekdom positions me for screwing around with things, figuring out how best to hide 50 versions of the same thing showing up in my feed. Geeky as I am, I have not completely mastered this yet. The percentage of the world's population that would screw around with the FriendFeed hide tools to the degree I have is negligible (I'd guess under 1% even in developed countries). 1% doesn't get you to anything that is the XYZ for the next generation.

FriendFeed needs a whole lot of work if it's to fulfill the vision of "The Daily Me". I know some of you will say, "But FriendFeed isn't trying to do that, it's an aggregation system for sharing lifestreams." To you people I would say only this: I hope you will expand your thinking a little bit and consider the notion of it.

While it's true that FriendFeed is an aggregation system for sharing lifestreams, that is a semantics game because OF COURSE "The Daily Me" would include pictures of what your friends did this weekend, what songs they're listening to and what movies they liked and what restuarants they ate at that they thought were great.

Of course it would. Someday, I think it will.


Gregory said...

robert, the 'this' 'this' and 'this' links are awesome. amazing finds

jtyost2 said...

I could see this happening, the question is will FriendFeed go mainstream (as we haven't heard that 15 billion times today alone).

Robert Seidman said...

jtyost2: as a "daily me" type service I don't see it going mainstream anytime soon. It's a chicken and egg thing somewhat. Until it's reasonably easy to get The Daily Me, I'm not sure there is any mainstream demand for that sort of service.

jtyost2 said...

@Robert Seidman, part of it also is that I know a lot of my non-techie friends just really don't care about every little thing that someone did throughout the day. If something interesting comes that they see they will actively pass it along. I just don't see people moving more of their life to online tools.