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Yes, FriendFeed Will Be Mainstream (by 2018) and Here’s Why

We recently went through a Twitter meme about whether it was mainstream yet. There is no debate as to whether FriendFeed is mainstream today – it’s not. The question really is, will FriendFeed ever see mainstream adoption? Robert Scoble played both sides of the coin (here, here).

FriendFeed will go mainstream. My definition of mainstream: 33% of Internet users are on it. It’s just going to take time, and it’ll look different from the way it does now.

Four points to cover in this mainstreaming question:

  1. What will FriendFeed replace?
  2. What is a reasonable timeline?
  3. What content will drive the activity on FriendFeed?
  4. What topics will drive engagement?

What Will FriendFeed Replace?

Harvard professor John Gourville has a great framework for analyzing whether a new technology will succeed. His “9x problem” says a new technology has to be nine times better than what it replaces. This is because of two reasons:

  • We overvalue what we already have by three times
  • We undervalue the benefits of a new technology by three times

What does this mean in everyday terms? There’s comfort in the status quo, and fear of the unknown.

There’s the argument that FriendFeed is a complement, not a replacement to existing services. There’s some truth there, but the bottom line is that we only have 24 hours in day. Where will end up spending our time?

Here’s what FriendFeed will replace:

  • Time spent on the individual social media that stream into FriendFeed (blogs, Flickr, etc.)
  • Visits to static, top-down media properties (e.g. CNN, ESPN, Drudge Report, etc.)
  • Visits to other user-driven aggregator sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo! Buzz)
  • Usage of Google search (search human-filtered content on FriendFeed)

In terms of the “9x problem”, the nice thing is that people do not have to replace what they already do. Visit CNN? You can keep doing that. Like to see what’s on Digg? You can keep doing that.

Searching on FriendFeed will advance. You can do a search on a keyword or a semantically-derived tag, and specify the number of shares, likes or comments.

FriendFeed doesn’t require you to leave your favorite service. It’s the FriendFeed experience that will slowly steal more of your time. That mitigates the issue of people overvaluing what they already have. They won’t lose it, they’ll just spend less time on it. Thomas Hawk continues to be an active participant on Flickr, but more of his time is migrating to FriendFeed. As he says:

One of the best things about FriendFeed is that it gives you much of what you get from your favorite sites on the internet but in better ways.

I think FriendFeed will have the 9x problem beat, but it will take time.

What Is a Reasonable Timeline for FriendFeed to Go Mainstream?

The chart below, courtesy of Visualizing Economics, shows how long several popular technologies took to be adopted in the U.S.

Using my mainstream definition of 33% household penetration, here’s roughly when several technologies went mainstream:

  • Color TV = 11 years
  • Computer = 15 years
  • Internet = 8 years

In addition, here are some rough estimates of current levels of adoption for other technologies. Estimates are based on the number of U.S. Internet users, the recent Universal McCann survey of social media usage (warning, PDF opens with this link) and search engine rankings.

  • Google search = 68% of searches after 10 years
  • RSS = 19% of active Internet users after 4.5 years of RSS readers
  • Facebook = 9% of Internet users after 4.5 years (20mm U.S. members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)
  • Twitter = 0.6% of Internet users after 2.2 years (1.3mm members / 211mm U.S. Internet users)

Yes, the date of FriendFeed mainstream adoption is pure speculation. But looking at the adoption rates of several other technologies, ten years from now is within reason (i.e. 2018). The RSS adoption is a decent benchmark.

What Content Will Drive FriendFeed Activity?

Alexander van Elsas had a recent post where he listed the percentage for different content sources inside FriendFeed. The results were compiled by Benjamin Golub.

Not surprisingly, Twitter dominates the content sources. Original blog posts are a distant #2 content source, and Google Reader shares are #3. That speaks volumes into the world of early technology adopters.

When FriendFeed becomes mainstream, the sources of content will change pretty dramatically as shown in this table:

The biggest change is in the FriendFeed Direct Post. Relative to blogging or Twittering, putting someone else’s content into the FriendFeed stream is the easiest thing for people to do. FriendFeed Direct Posts are similar to Diggs or Stumbles. Since all the content we create, submit, like or comment is part of our personal TV broadcast on FriendFeed, Direct Posts can be just as much fun for users as newly created content by someone you know.

Direct Posts will draw from both traditional media sites as well as from other people’s blogs. Expect media sites and blogs to have a “Post to FriendFeed” link on every article.

Twitter drops as a percentage of content here. Why? FriendFeed’s commenting system replaces a lot of what people like about Twitter. Blogs drop a bit as well. More people will blog in 2018, but many of those will be sporadic bloggers. Still, 10% of the content consisting of original author submissions is pretty good.

Google Reader shares hold as a percentage as more people recognize the value of RSS versus regular-old bookmarks inside their browsers. ‘Other’ goes up, because who knows what cool other stuff will be introduced over the next ten years.

What Topics Will Drive Engagement?

Human nature won’t change. The same stuff that animates people today will continue to do so in the future. Politics, sex, technology and sports will be leaders in terms of what the content will be. There will be plenty of other topics as well. I can see the Iowa Chicks Knitting Club sharing and commenting on new patterns via FriendFeed.

One issue that will arise is that people will have multiple interests. They’ll essentially have various types of programming on their FriendFeed “TV channels”. For a good example of that today, see Dave Winer’s FriendFeed stream. Dave has two passions: technology and politics. I like the technology stuff, but I tend to ignore the political streams.

Well, this will become a bigger issue as FriendFeed expands. I personally like the noise of the people I follow, but my subscriptions seem to generally stick with recurring topics. But as more mainstream users come on board, the divergence of topics for any single person will likely increase.

FriendFeed will employ semantic web technologies to identify the topic of submitted items. These semantically-derived tags will be used to categorize content. Users can then subscribe only to content matching specific categories. How might this work?

A Dave Winer post with “Obama” in it is categorized as Politics. I could choose to hide all Dave Winer updates that are categorized in Politics.

Final Thoughts

The constant flow of new content, the rich comments and easy ‘Likes’, and the social aspect of FriendFeed will drive its mainstream adoption. It’s a terrific platform for self-expression and for engaging others who share your interests. It’s also got real potential to be a dominant platform for research. In the future, look for stories in magazines and newspapers asking, “Are we losing productivity because of FriendFeed?”

So what do you think? Will FriendFeed ever be mainstream? In ten years?

*****

See this item on FriendFeed : http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone+%22yes.+friendfeed+will+be+mainstream+%28by+2018%29%22

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Hey Yahoo! Forget MSFT, GOOG. Change the Search Rules.

These I wish I knew the moment I was turned off on Yahoo and what the root cause may be, but I no longer use anything Yahoo (except my Flickr account if you want to count that).

Vince DeGeorge, on FriendFeed

I was doing the same thing until I started using delicious as a search tool. Finally realized how powerful it was, and have been using it since.

Shaun McLane, on FriendFeed

I have previously written that Delicious search is one of the best ways of searching for things when a standard search doesn’t pull up what you are looking for. After Google, it is my favorite “search engine.”

Michael Arrington, TechCrunch, Delicious Integrated Into Yahoo Search Results

The latest news is that Microsoft is reaching out to Yahoo again. In fact, a couple reports (here, here) say that Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo’s search business.

Before any such transaction occurs, it seems worthwhile to think about what Yahoo could do with its existing assets. The three comments above are insightful. Yahoo is slowly losing share of mind, although it’s existing base of users will be around for a while. At the same time, there are nuggets in the Yahoo empire.

Search via del.icio.us ranks as one of those nuggets. Another nugget? Yahoo! Buzz. According to ReadWriteWeb, Yahoo! Buzz has surpassed Digg in terms of traffic, and its demographics better reflect web users.

Yet, Yahoo struggles against Google in the highly lucrative search market. Google increased to 67.9% of searches in April 2008, compared to Yahoo’s decline to 20.3% of searches.

What should Yahoo do? Stop playing Google’s game. Rewrite the search rules by embracing the social web fully, leveraging the social media assets it has.

And in doing so, demonstrate an aggressive path to make Yahoo a social media titan.

A Proposal for “Socializing” Yahoo Search

In January 2008, TechCrunch ran a post with a preview of del.icio.us integrated with regular Yahoo search results. Included in the search result links would be stats that tell a user:

  • Number of del.icio.us users who bookmarked the page
  • The top tags they used on the page

Both of those stats appear to be clickable. By clicking on the number of users stat, I assume a user would be taken to the del.icio.us page showing the users who bookmarked the page. If one clicked a tag, you’d land on the del.icio.us page for all web pages with that tag.

That’s a good start. But Yahoo can do better. Below is a diagram that shows how Yahoo can use its existing assets, combined with a good dose of the new social media experience, to radically change search:

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on with the proposal.

Search Rankings

From what I’ve read, Yahoo has pretty much caught up to Google in terms of search performance. That means the use of links and clicks to rank websites is pretty common across the two search engines. However, Google does have the advantage of three times the traffic, which makes its insight into what’s relevant better than Yahoo.

But Yahoo has its own in-house advantages: del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz. Both address shortcomings in the links and clicks rankings for search engines:

  • Links require a media site or blogger to take the time to link. These links are insightful, but lack the broader reach of what Web users find relevant.
  • Clicks occur before a searcher knows whether the landing site is valuable. They don’t describe its usefulness after someone has clicked onto the site.

With del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz, Yahoo can tap into users sentiments about websites in a way that Google cannot. These insights can be used to influence the ranking of search results.

Search Results – Your Friends or Everyone

Here’s where it can really interesting. Notice I keep the general search results outside the influence of what your friends think. I think that’s important. A person should see results outside their own social circle. Otherwise, it will be hard to find new content.

But there is real power in seeing what your friends find valuable (e.g. see FriendFeed). So Yahoo should let you easily subscribe to other people for content discovery. Yahoo already has a head start on letting you set up your subscriptions:

  • Yahoo Mail
  • Yahoo Instant Messenger

In addition to that, you should be able to easily subscribe to anyone who publicly shares content they find interesting. Both del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz have public-facing lists for every user of what they bookmark or ‘buzz’. After viewing those lists, I should be able to easily subscribe to these users.

Once your network is developed, it becomes a powerful basis for improving information discovery.

Search Results – Associated Tags

Whenever tags are available from del.icio.us, they should be visible for each web site shown in the search results. This is what TechCrunch previewed. What do tags tell a user?

  • A way to discover other sites that might be relevant
  • Context for the web site
  • That someone thought enough of the web page to actually tag it

Tags should come in two flavors: everyone and your network. Clicking on a tag should display the top 10 associated sites right on the search results page. For more sites associated to the tag, the user is taken to del.icio.us.

Keeping the top sites on the search results page is important to make people use the functionality. Leaving the search results page just to see the sites associated to a tag will cause adoption to drop signficantly.

Search Results – Associated People

Each web page in the search results will show the number of people who have (i) bookmarked the site; or (ii) Yahoo! Buzzed the site. These numbers give a direct indication of how many people, not websites, found the web page valuable.

Clicking these numbers displays a list of the people, along with their most recent activity. This gives users a sense of whether they want to subscribe to a given user or not.

Search Agent

Once users perform a search, they will be able to subscribe to new content matching their search results. These subscriptions can be based on different criteria:

  • Any new content matching the search term (Google does this via Google Alerts) or a tag
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and bookmarked by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and Yahoo! Buzzed by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new bookmarks or Yahoo! Buzzes by someone to whom the user subscribes

New content notifications occur via email or RSS. RSS can be anywhere, including on the user’s My Yahoo page. Again, FriendFeed has shown the power of these content streams.

Final Thoughts

My little post here isn’t the only idea someone could float. But it does at least address taking Yahoo much more deeply into the social media world, where users drive the value.

Yahoo revealed details of a proposed del.icio.us integration back in mid-January. And then nothing. Yahoo previewed Yahoo Mash, a new social network in September 2007. And then…nothing. The last post on the Yahoo Mash blog was January 11, 2008.

Yahoo has so many amazing assets. Search, email, portal home page. Several beloved social media apps (Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming). Yet they have not put them together into a cohesive strategy and experience.

And now, talk of selling the search business? C’mon Yahoo. You’ve got too much going on to give up yet. Stop playing by others’ rules. Make your own rules with the amazing assets you have.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/1b07226a-b51b-f386-fbb8-bdaece83e9fe

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