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The Perfect FriendFeed: Themed Channels for New Users


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On his blog, FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit asks others to chime in with their own thoughts about improving the experience on FriendFeed:

If you’d like to contribute (and I hope you do), I’d love to read more of your visions of “the perfect FriendFeed”. Describe what would make FriendFeed perfect for YOU, and post it on your blog.

I’ve seen some good posts out there on the subject, many of them with suggestions for UI changes. I’m more inclined to think along the lines of Louis Gray on this one. He suggested a lite version of FriendFeed.

I’d like to suggest another approach.

FriendFeed provides pre-built lifestreams centered around different themes.

The idea is to make it easy for new users to get started.

What Is FriendFeed’s Bridge to Existing Consumer Behavior?

It’s useful to consider FriendFeed in light of the emerging success of Twitter. Twitter rides the earlier adoption cycles of email and IM although clearly it takes some mental adjustment to grasp the how and why of twittering: public declarations of activities, information finds and conversations. Run a Google search on “I don’t get Twitter” to see the past and current struggles people have.

But there is a link to prior behaviors. And with the @replies and DM, Twitter keeps that link.

FriendFeed’s models of consumer familiarity are less clear. Seeing a stream of links, pictures, tweets, etc. from someone…what’s the analog? Online forums come to mind. When I was active in marathoning, I spent time on LetsRun.com.  People would post new topics, and we’d comment on them. Each time someone commented, the topic would bounce back to the top of the page.

Of course, FriendFeed dramatically changes the forum experience: richer set of content, sourced from dozens of external sites, Likes-based ratings and you personalize the set of topics you see.

So what were the earlier adoption factors for online forums?

FriendFeed = Community + Information Tracking

FriendFeed has two primary benefits for users:

  1. Community
  2. Information tracking

Of the two, which one is more accessible to a new user?

Community requires people who are familiar with you, and with whom you are familiar. That’s tough in any social network to get right off the bat. And FriendFeed isn’t a social network the way Facebook is. You don’t set up shop with a profile page where you describe yourself and interact with friends. You pipe in content you’re creating elsewhere, and find others’ content to follow.

Facebook lets you anchor yourself, and then reach out to others. FriendFeed is a constantly moving stream.

Community does come to users of FriendFeed. But it takes time. It will be hard for non-tech geeks to get into FriendFeed right now. Sure the bacon posts and photo memes are great. But most people just joining FriendFeed won’t be part of that. In fact, the adulation of bacon posts will probably scare them.

Something that Lists have shown me is that my attention gets focused on people who share interests in a particular topic. I guess that’s not surprising. And yet it points to the value of having something in place on FriendFeed that new users can immediately get value from.

If you join FriendFeed now, you’re not going to find anyone initially that shares your interests. You can do searches, maybe follow some of the bigger names on the service. But for the majority of the population, that’s not going to get them invested in the service. They’ll sign up, look around, then become inactive.

Community on FriendFeed comes over time as you find people that share your interests. This is why I suggest that FriendFeed provide  pre-built theme channels that let new users quickly find content they care about.

Themed Channels

Themed channels would let new users find areas of interest quickly. By “themed channel”, I’m thinking of feeds that relate specific topics for users of the various 59 (and counting) services that FriendFeed supports: bloggers, YouTube users, twitterers, Flickr users, etc. Included in that would RSS feeds of keywords related to the theme.

How might it work?

  1. New user joins FriendFeed
  2. They are provided with the option of adding one ore more themed channels
  3. They select a topic that is of interest
  4. By selecting a themed channel, they are immediately joined to a dedicated Room for a topic. The Room is one that is probably managed by a FriendFeed employee.
  5. They also can be subscribed to highly rated users whose lifestreams are among the top in terms of percentage of content related to a subject.

As an example, I created a Room for NASCAR. Into the Room, I’ve added three Twitter accounts, two YouTube accounts, four blogs, one Tumblr account, Del.icio.us tags for NASCAR and NASCAR tags for Upcoming events. Imagine a racin’ fan decides to try out FriendFeed. What do you think he’s going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if he had a pre-set channel of content relevant to him?

FriendFeed Isn’t Immune from the 90-9-1 Rule

Jakob Nielsen famously wrote about the 90-9-1 rule:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

The challenge for FriendFeed is that a lot of the population doesn’t blog or tweet. Or if they do, they don’t bring a lot of followers with them. Facebook or MySpace may be the biggest online social network they have. Asking these folks to create their own experience and find content they like is probably asking a lot of them.

But putting them in touch with user-generated content and other users who are relevant to their interests is a great way to kick off someone’s FriendFeed experience.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone++The+Perfect+FriendFeed+Themed+Channels

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

3 Responses to The Perfect FriendFeed: Themed Channels for New Users

  1. Pingback: What I Am Reading - January 12, 2009 | (jeff)isageek.net

  2. Pingback: StevieB’s Shared Items - January 13, 2009 at Lost in Cyberspace

  3. Jeff – I’ve created several themed channels – One for our local twitter community is pretty successful. I also just built a Web Strategy room that pulls in Twitter search, Diigo group bookmarks, and popular web strategy bloggers.. It’s turning into an invaluable research tool for the room’s members.

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