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FriendFeed: Social Network? Or Uber Information Management Service?

friendfeed-logo

Item #1: Tamar Weinberg posted this on FriendFeed the other day:

I’m starting to see a lot less regular interactivity on FriendFeed. I see *activity* though — people posting their own stuff. Commenting and Liking content? Not so much. Case in point: my own FF stream. Two weeks ago, it was a lot more active than this past week & I barely changed anything.

Now Louis Gray wondered if this comment reflected a case of the blues. I’ll disagree with him there. But before I get to that, let me add a couple other comments I found interesting.

Item #2: Shaun Farner posted this on FriendFeed:

We’re turning FriendFeed into Delicious. What happened to the feed part?

I just feel like things are more likely to be ignored if they aren’t posted directly to FF. Kinda lame. I check FF for activity constantly even if I post something on a different service.

Item #3: And then Mona Nomura, who can garner 50-like posts on FriendFeed better than anyone, wrote this:

Actually, I’m the opposite. Been diggin’ Twitter lately. šŸ˜‰

As I read these, and reflect on my own usage, this is the question I ask: FriendFeed: Social Network? Or Uber Information Management Service?

I’m curious, because the two use cases are different, with different revenue models and feature sets. Which way do you think FriendFeed should go?

FriendFeed: Social Network

FriendFeed enables you to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends.

FriendFeed About Us Page

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FriendFeed is a social network, for sure. I see people posting details about their personal lives, some with nice discussions around them. I’ve got a number of people I’ve connected with purely through FriendFeed and I love staying on top of what they’re doing. That social aspect is important to me and many other active users. There’s even a weekly podcast of FriendFeeders called ffundercats.

In a post a few months back, I asked “how much of a social network does FriendFeed want to be?” Think about Facebook. It’s got a lot of “sticky” information aspects for each person. Their profiles. Their apps. Their status (which does not usually equal Twitter-like velocities). Their Wall. Their photo albums. And you can send emails to one another on Facebook.

FriendFeed, on the other hand, is a steady stream of content. Having sticky aspects to your persona on FriendFeed is tough, and the most permanent thing is the set of icons representing what you feed into the service.

So yes, it’s a social network. But heck, everything is a social network. Digg is a social network. Reddit is a social network. Hacker News is a social network. SlideShare is a social network. GetSatisfaction is a social network.

But they’re not primarily social networks. They provide other services, and communities grow up around those activities. Those communities are the social network, but they’re not the defining part.

A defining element of social networks is setting up a place you can call “home”. A place of permanence from which you then reach out to others. Alexander Van Elsas wrote this last July:

Can we live an on-line life without an anchor point? Surfing the web without some on-line place that we can call home?

FriendFeed doesn’t yet have that home yet. It is a social network, but is that it’s primary purpose?

FriendFeed: Uber Information Management Service

Being the uber information management service is something I see for FriendFeed. It’s the use case I’ve been touting on this blog a lot lately.

Social networks generally have profiles, internal messaging, status updates, comment walls – which FriendFeed doesn’t have. With that in mind, let’s look at theĀ  recent rollouts by FriendFeed:

  1. Powerful, more granular search (link)
  2. Display the actual twitpics in tweets that feed into FriendFeed (link)
  3. Better display of content sources (link)
  4. Notifications and posting via IM (link)
  5. Post FriendFeed updates to Twitter (link)
  6. Simple update protocol (link)

Notice anything in that? A strong orientation toward improving the posting and consumption of information.

Think about it. Is there anything on the market like this? There is a mass migration of production and consumption toward user generated content and traditional content filtered by people you trust. It’s been a piecemeal effort to track all this. For the first time, there’s a service with an amazing architectural foundation for letting users track all manner of topics and media types they want, while tuning in to their preferred information filters.

The only comparable way to do this was in an RSS Reader. And that experience doesn’t even come close to that of FriendFeed.

FriendFeed’s Highest and Best Use?

Certainly the social network will continue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this sentiment expressed: “So-and-so just dumps their feeds in here, and never interacts. I’m not following them.” That’s the social network talking right there.

But if you come at FriendFeed from a different angle, the information management service angle, you’re fine with those who add their feeds but don’t comment or Like. Instead of looking at it like a social network, you’re looking at it the best way on the market to follow topics and people of interest. It’s why I add Imaginary Friends as well. I don’t want to have to go to different services to track what everyone is doing. One centralized place for that, with architectural scalability and stability, and an amazing array of user-controlled tools for managing information…that’s what I want.

The revenue model of an information management service looks different from that of a social network. To see how a social network monetizes, study Facebook’s efforts. The ad model is not so hot. Particularly when compared to Google’s ad revenue.

And remember where FriendFeed’s team came from. Not a social network like Facebook. But from the information powerhouse Google. Once FriendFeed has collected all of this amazing information and the various attention signals (Likes, comments, # timesĀ  a URL is shared, mapping individuals’ specific interests), I’ve got to believe there will be people who want that data. Ads will make sense, but so will other value-added services that FriendFeed can uniquely offer. Think of start-up BuzzGain.

At the top of this post, I said I disagreed with Louis. I don’t think Tamar’s post was any indication of sadness. I mean, FriendFeed hit 1 million unqiue visitors in December. It’s hot.

I do think most FriendFeed usage will be the consumption of information, less social interaction. Tamar’s post just reflects some of that.

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See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=FriendFeed+Social+Network+%22Uber+Information+Management+Service%22

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