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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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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

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

  1. Colin Walker says:

    You’re right about the way that FF usage will change over time. During the whole debate about linking and attribution it was suggested that bloggers should go where their audience is, I said “A FriendFeed blog anyone?”

    All it will take is for FF to add formatting options to the current comment box and FF suddenly becomes a viable mini-blog platform. If they also extend the API so that applications like Windows Live Writer can submit proper posts (including images, links etc.) then we could also see a shift towards REALLY taking your blog where the audience is. Never mind about having content reposted, what about having your actual content directly in peoples streams?

  2. tommyl says:

    I’m not too sure about this. My first thought was make it effortless to use and more users will come and participate. But I also thought that might happen to blogging when tumblr made it easy to publish a tumblelog. I don’t have the penetration figures, but I doubt that has happened.

    That being said, I agree with Colin about adding formatting options to posting stuff directly on FF. That does make it a cool mini-blogging platform, and I think that might just change the face of blogging for many of us.

    FF is almost certain to increase the frequency its users visit and participate. But increasing the reach of the service will be considerably more difficult.

    Tom Landini

  3. Kevin says:

    I think this is too skewed towards meta-bloggers. If you are blogging about Blogs, Social Media, etc… then this is a great system. Those of us in other niches have much less of a need for it. Also, it is just bad for certain niches. Programming blogs which handle large amounts of raw source code (my posts average 50+ LOC per post) just don’t fit into this type of system well, and I’m sure there are plenty of other niches like this.

    Kevin

  4. Pingback: Colin Walker » The changing face of FriendFeed.

  5. @Colin – I really like the idea of FriendFeed including a basic blogging ability. Totally fits the “lifestream represents the authentic me” concept. And users could go beyond the 140-character limit of Twitter.

  6. @Tom – If FF successfully increases the frequency and participation of current users, a natural outcome will be expansion into the market. It’s hard to imagine there’d be such a sharp split between hard core FF users and everyone else. I’d expect there to be a range of activity.

  7. @Kevin – That’s an interesting take. A lot of the blog posts can go pretty deep, and people come back to comment/like/share them. I suspect that would carry over even for code blogs. Rather than try to keep up with a bunch of separate blogs, let your social network help you stay on top of them. It does sound like commenting for code blogs is best done directly on the blog. But FriendFeed can make different posts more visible among a wider audience.

  8. Pingback: WinExtra » From the Pipeline - 5.20.08

  9. Pingback: notes, thoughts, ideas and responses » The FriendFeed Sponge

  10. Pingback: FriendFeed:To Mainstream or Not is the Question

  11. Pingback: The changing face of FriendFeed. » Walker Media

  12. Pingback: The changing face of FriendFeed.- SquashBox Media

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