Don’t Be Boring, Don’t Sweat Page Views: Ten Company Blogs Analyzed

Courtesy of user 'twob' on Flickr

Courtesy of user twob on Flickr

I read an amusing and insightful post by B.L. Ochman, 10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn’t Blog. Several reasons don’t argue against blogging (e.g. “A blog is not a quick fix”), but a few are worth considering. Here are a couple that I liked:

1. The blogs most companies want to create are guaranteed to join the 900,999 out of every million blogs with no readers. Why? They’re boring.

2. A blog has to have a personal voice. If you sound like a corporate drone, nobody will read your blog.

In a similar vein, Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Worthen reported on a  study by Forrester Research. Forrester reviewed 90 B2B blogs, and came away decidedly unimpressed: most corporate blogs are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion.”

I’ve just started to blog for my company Connectbeam. I’ve got a couple posts under my belt, and I’m curious as to what other companies are doing. I decided to take a look at 10 companies’ blogs. I looked at 10 posts each for the 10 companies, and scored each post on 10 content attributes. This “10 cubed” analysis is presented below.

Ten Companies’ Blogs Compared

The table below shows counts for each company on the different content attributes.

Links to the ten companies’ blogs: Adaptive Path, Amazon Web Services, Boeing, Emerson Process, LinkedIn, Marriott, Pitney Bowes, Petro-Canada, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks. Hat tip to SocialText for maintaining a list of corporate blogs.

The table is sorted by the number of instances for the different types of content. And the content types? Made ’em up myself. They are the kinds of things I’m thinking about with regard to Connectbeam’s blog.

What About Those Different Types of Content

Explain Company’s Actions. The idea here is that the blog enables more freedom to give details behind the things a company does. I imagine for public companies, there are limits on how open they can be. But certainly there is opportunity for more than the canned quotes we often see in press releases.

Petro-Canada is currently very big in this category. I don’t know the company, but from reading its blog, it appears they’re having trouble getting gas to western Canada stations. One of their refineries is down. So they’re using their blog to keep people updated on progress.

This is a good use of a company blog.

Warmed Over Press Releases. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? And it can be if that’s all a blog is. But there is a role for the press release type of information on blogs. After all, a press release tells a company’s latest activity, which fits a blog’s purpose. Another aspect is that a lot of blog entries are essentially mini-press releases. They have the quality and informational value of press release, but for a minor event that wouldn’t normally warrant a full press release.

Amazon Web Services leads this category. But that makes a lot of sense to me. AWS is hot. They’re getting traction in the cloud computing arena. Right now, they probably are best served dishing out updates to current and prospective customers. They are in a good position to lead industry thinking around cloud computing.

Company Events. Companies are having, and participating in, events all the time. They are good opportunities for blog write-ups, usually because of interesting things learned when people come together. Events may also relate to things outside the companies control, but which affect them nonetheless.

Boeing blogged about events related to the strike against it by the IAM union. Marriott blogged about the bombings outside one of its hotels in Pakistan.

Wax philosophical. This is one of my favorites. Companies are deep into the machinations of an industry, and of their markets. They see a lot, and are working hard to understand customers’ pain points and the future of their industries. This gives them both information and motivation to put forth interesting thinking. Admittedly, the thinking will slant toward what benefits the company. But I like different points of view.

Starbucks does this a bit on its blog. One entry discusses efforts in Costa Rica to establish sustainable coffee farming. Adaptive Path is really good about this. This post describes the merits of simple presentation styles using hand-drawn graphics. Reminds me of Common Craft.

Link to another blog. Linking to another blog establishes a company blog as being part of a great conversation. It says that the company is following activity in its industry, and finds value in things outside what its own employees do. It also gives a sense for the areas that a company is looking at.

Adaptive Path does this a lot. Their blog includes a lot of linking to other blogs, which makes their posts an interesting place to find more information. LinkedIn also links to other blogs, generally those that include something related to LinkedIn.

Discuss industry issues. As participants in their industries, companies can illuminate issues that affect them. Customers and suppliers will have an interest in these type of blog posts, because they want to know what’s affecting the market. Companies can also apply some influence on industry standards, legislation and developments through their words and analysis.

Emerson Process covers issues that affect its industry. In The Value of Inherent Safety?, there’s a discussion about the need to incorporate incident avoidance into the financial analysis of projects. Seems like a smart idea.

Link to another company. Linking to another company is a Profile In Courage. OK, that’s overstating it, but linking to another company is probably a little worrisome. Will I lose my reader when they click a link? Am I confusing a reader by mentioning a different company? I like when companies do this, because it’s an acknowledgment that there are other entities in the universe.

LinkedIn does this fairly often. For them, the links are to companies that have had some success on the professional networking site. Adaptive Path links to fellow panelists from a conference it attended.

Unrelated to core operations. This is a funny content category. Blog posts about things that don’t relate to company operations or industry issues. I guess it’s a way to attract readers who usually don’t read the company’s blog.

The Pitney Bowes blog is an example of this. Or perhaps it’s better to describe it as Pitney Bowes CEO Mike Critelli’s blog. He doesn’t really cover his company. Rather, he takes aim at wasteful spending and regulaiton by the government.

Describe product use cases. Blogs are great homes for product use cases. There really isn’t a place for these in a press release. You can put some on the company website. But blogs are conversational and open to all types of content. And use cases help customers see the possibilities for a product.

LinkedIn goes after this type of content hard. Their posts name names, tell how the social networking site was used and quantify the outcomes. They’re well-done.

Silliness. A bit of  irreverence can lighten a company blog. Put some fun in reading it.

Southwest Airlines’ blog incorporates plenty of good wholesome silliness and fun. Not surprising, considering the company’s personality. I like this one about this summer’s earworm, Kid Rock’s All Summer Long song.

Special bonus points to the Emerson Process blog for including a link in one its posts to a FriendFeed discussion.

What conclusions to draw from the above table?

  1. Explaining corporate actions is a key use of company blogs
  2. I was pleased to see that “waxing philosophical” is a recurring theme for blogs – this gives context to companies’ actions and product releases
  3. Describing product use cases seems like a great idea, but perhaps is not the right approach for the companies whose blogs I analyzed

One last thought…

Companies Aren’t Blogging for Page Views

Implicit in the “boring” analysis of blogs is the idea that the poor companies are suffering anemic page views.  Of course, high page views are something everyone would love. Google’s blog is daily reading for a lot of people.

But many companies will get value from blogging to a smaller audience. I think this is particularly true for companies in the B2B space. It’s the old quality vs. quantity situation. Earning the attention of key people in your markets justifies the time investment in blogging.


If you want an easy way to stay on top of Enterprise 2.0, I invite you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. The room takes feeds for Enterprise 2.0-related items on Twitter, and SlideShare. To see this room, click here:


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Getting Overly Focused on Your ‘Regular’ Blog Audience

This week, I had one of those “lucky” blog posts, How Are Enterprise 2.0 Vendors Pitching Web 2.0? Using Wordle to Find Out. What do I mean by “lucky”? It caught the eye of someone, which led to all sorts of goodness. I’ll come back to this.

The path of success for the blog post was different than some of my other more-read posts, by which I mean FriendFeed. If I go back to the posts which have gotten the most views – direct and syndicated – FriendFeed has been incredibly important to making that happen.

So naturally, if a blog post doesn’t get a lot of uptake there, I think, “well, not one that resonated a lot out there.” In fact, I sometimes feel lulled into a sense that FriendFeed is pretty much the barometer for how a post is viewed out there:

  • Get a lot of Likes and comments on the feed URL or someone’s share? Rock on!
  • Not too many people care about the post? Take satisfaction in your own writing and move on.

That sense isn’t wholly without merit. FriendFeed has a lot of smart, engaged people who love a good discussion piece.

But I can see how sweating that too much might undermine your sense of blogging. I’m thinking of those for whom blogging lost its luster recently, such as Colin Walker. He also became fatigued with social media.

The absolute greatest thing about FriendFeed for bloggers is that you “know” your readers. You see what they think in their comments. You get feedback via Likes. You follow them elsewhere on FriendFeed and gain an understanding for their perspectives and interests.

That feedbback loop can be a bit double-edged. Over time, I’ve developed a pretty good sense for when a blog post will work well inside FriendFeed, and when one will get a lackluster reception. I plow on with my posts regardless, because I write what interests me. But that sense that something will receive limited interest can be a touch dispiriting.

But then you get these out-of-the-blue successes, these “lucky” posts, and you’re reminded that there are readers all over the place, not just FriendFeed.

I’m going to describe three blog posts that really got me a good reception, only one of which was a FriendFeed-only phenomenon.

Three Blog Successes

FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Compatibility Index: I start with a blog post that achieved success within my favorite haunt, FriendFeed. And no surprise. It was about FriendFeed, and it caught a vibe that was powering FriendFeed. We were all meeting really cool people there, and this was a way to find even more users with similar interests. Between my feed and Louis Gray’s share of the post, there were 79 Likes and 68 comments. Plus action around many other shares of the post. And the post led to a really cool app produced by felix.

This post brought home to me the power of FriendFeed. For me, it’s still something of a benchmark for uber successful posts there. Outside of FriendFeed? Not a lot of clicks.

Should I Buy the Apple 3G iPhone or Nokia N95?: Written from the perspective of both a smart phone and Apple luddite, this post examined what was known about the two smart phones. It got a good reception on FriendFeed. Then the post was picked up by I don’t know that site, but it apparently has a lot of readers. Because a lot of them clicked through on MacSurfer’s link to my blog. Since then I’ve enjoyed some nice search engine traffic thanks to that link.

Suddenly, I found a completely different audience than the social media friends I have on FriendFeed. Apple fans.

How Are Enterprise 2.0 Vendors Pitching Web 2.0? Using Wordle to Find Out: Published this past Monday, the post got a comparatively small reception on FriendFeed. As I mentioned before, you develop a sense for what blog posts will play well on FriendFeed. I kind of knew this one wouldn’t. My enterprise 2.0 posts usually are smaller affairs there. That’s cool. I write those posts anyway because I work in that sector and the subject interests me.

And then luck struck again. The post caught fire with the enterprise 2.0 crowd. Enterprise 2.0 A-Lister Dion Hinchcliffe tweeted my blog post to his followers. Views started picking up. He then asked to publish the blog post in Social Computing Magazine. I said ‘yes’ of course, and it was the lead story for the day.

Again, I found a whole different audience outside FriendFeed. Enterprise 2.0 professionals.

So What to Take Away

I write this as a reminder to myself that there are a lot of audiences out there, and that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of focusing on what your friends on FriendFeed find interesting. If I wrote exclusively about enterprise 2.0, might I question whether anyone cared based on lower response levels on FriendFeed? And I wonder if other bloggers feel this?

As Colin felt the burn-out from social media and blogging, the thing that was best for him was to take time off. Another person who shares some of Colin’s feelings is Alexander Van Elsas. For Alexander, rather than step back from it, he has established himself as The Guy Who’s Questioning This Whole Social Media Thing.

Louis Gray had nice advice to bloggers verging on burn-out: Relax, Bloggers: Nobody Is Keeping Score, and There’s No Quota.

To that I’d add this: Stretch your creative limits. Maybe you were on a tear for a particular topic, had some success, and now find the well running dry and reader engagement dropping.

Time off is certainly a good remedy. But how about another idea? Writing something different. Try a new set of topics. For instance, perhaps there’s a tangentially related set of topics to social media. Cloud computing. Data portability. The bases for human interactions over time. Enterprise 2.0. Or go well outside that. Energy. Politics. Parenting.

Sure, you may not get a lot of clicks. Maybe the reserve of “conversation capital” you’ve built up will be quickly depleted. However, you know that’s a real possibility because you’ve switched directions on your audience. That gives you the mental safety zone to experiment and to get the creative and analytical juices flowing again.

Remember why you started blogging in the first place. Explore topics that interest you.


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Weekly Recap 072508: Twittering into the Mainstream

Twitter got some big play this week: 2 good, 1 bad…let’s start with good…

USA Today had a nice feature on Twitter, Twitter took off from simple to ‘tweet’ success…this quote from the article really gets it right about Twitter these days…

Twitter has become so popular, so fast, that keeping up with its fast-growing user base is a real issue. So many people now use Twitter to update friends that the system often crashes.

The outages are the markers of a company that is experiencing success beyond its expectations…

The New York Times ran a story about how companies use Twitter, blogs and other social media to keep up with customer issues and questions…

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two mainstream, huge-circulation newspapers writing positive stories about Twitter this week…if you wonder a couple years from now how Twitter became so mainstream, remember weeks like this…

But not all was well with Twitter this week…the company inexplicably chopped off subscribers from every user…there were a lot of pissed Twitterers…people threatened to leave Twitter…but when the followers were restored?…

Temporary retraction .. comes back up 50 more followers ? I can’t help it … it’s sticky”

Twitter’s je ne sais quoi


I’ve never said jailbreaking


SmugMug seems to have figured out FriendFeed’s visual dynamics…SmugMug pictures come thorugh big, bright and beautiful on FriendFeed, especially compared to Flickr pictures…

SmugMug pix on FriendFeed, courtesy of Dave Cohen:

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Dave Cohen SmugMug Pictures

Same pix, this time Flickr on FriendFeed:

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Dave Cohen Flickr Pictures

Great advertisement for SmugMug…and the little guy is cute regardless of the photo service…


Noticed a change in my Google Reader shares these days…I’m tending to share blog posts that I haven’t already seen a few times on FriendFeed…that means fewer TechCrunch shares…more emphasis on those nuggets that haven’t seen wide circulation yet…

Figured people were seeing the big blogs enough already…


I got to do a guest post on Louis Gray’s blog this week…really good reactions out there in the blogosphere, which was great…blogger Barry Schwartz thought enough of the post that he wrote his own post in response, Am I Losing the Connection?

Unfortunately, Barry got the author wrong…he overlooked the “guest post” announcement at the start of the post, and naturally figured Louis wrote it…from Barry’s post…

  • Louis Gray wrote a blog post named Bloggers’ Interactions With Readers Decrease With Prominence
  • Louis Gray documents what are “interactions:”
  • “It’s these two dynamics that cause some bloggers to head onto the next stage,” explains Louis.

Sigh…I am happy the post resonated, but it’d be nice to get a little recognition…so I left a comment on Barry’s post a few days ago:

Barry – glad you liked the post. One small correction – I actually wrote that particular post. Louis was kind enough to let me guest post on his blog.

As for losing your connection to the industry. Look to people like Fred Wilson and Louis Gray as examples. I don’t think any blogger should feel the need to connect with every reader. Just like connecting anywhere else – pick your spots, right?

Despite the comment, Barry hasn’t updated his blog…Barry – you’re losing touch with your readers!…

Well, I’m not alone…Rob Diana wrote a piece on Louis’s blog, Can Microblogs Just Talk to Each Other?…Dave Winer thought it was Louis’s post…such are the benefits and perils of guest blogging…


According to Allen Stern, Mahalo employees are busily writing articles for Google Knol…Unsure of Google Knol’s future impact on his company Mahalo, Jason Calacanis is making sure they have plenty of articles with links pointing to Mahalo pages…


Plan to buy an iPhone this week, if they have inventory


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Unclear on the Concept: People Complaining about Comcast Monitoring Social Media

The New York Times has an article today about Comcast using social media to respond to customer complaints. Comcast is definitely at the forefront of this move to engage customers out in the wild. Comcast’s efforts have previously been documented on ReadWriteWeb. New York Times coverage helps move the concept, and Twitter, closer to mainstream adoption.

What caught my eye in the NYT article is that some people are concerned about Comcast doing this. They feel like Comcast is acting like Big Brother. According to the article, 20 year-old Brandon Dilbeck blogged about his dislike of ads on Comcast’s programming guide. A Comcast representative found the post (Google blog alert perhaps?), and responded to him via email.

Hey dude! Your blog had some impact! Isn’t that cool?

Well, no. The blogger apparently thought it was weird:

Mr. Dilbeck found it all a bit creepy. “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.

Here’s what I don’t get. Blogs are publicly available. Anyone can find a blog and comment on it. Sometimes, your blog posts result in actions you wouldn’t have expected. This is the power of Web 2.0.

If you’re going to write publicly, how on earth can you be concerned about Big Brother? Sure, if Comcast had monitored his email or phone conversations, that’d be Big Brother (and illegal).

But to air your concerns publicly and have someone from the company read it? If you’re concerned someone would actually read your post, then don’t blog. I’m actually surprised this 20 year old was concerned. The Gen Y folks are supposed to be pretty open about everything in their lives. Maybe Mel McBride is right when she made this comment on FriendFeed with regard to Facebook:

I’m just getting tired of dopes buying into the surveillance of their personal history, daily activities and personal associations as a “convenience” – wake up people.

Social media: If you write it, do it or video it, people can find it. That’s the great opportunity for all of us.


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My Cameo Appearance on Louis Gray’s Blog

I had a chance to do a cameo blog post over on Louis Gray’s blog. You can see it right now, Bloggers’ Interactions With Readers Decrease With Prominence.The gist of the post is this:

One observation to make is this: the level of interaction seems to vary by the blogger’s level of established reputation. As a blogger gets more well-known on the Web, the level of interaction declines.

This was my first-ever guest blog post. I’ve seen others do it. Pretty neat, ain’t it? Here are some things that occurred to me as a I wrote it.

Louis’s blog is a lot bigger than mine. Per Technorati, Louis is a Top 5,000 blogger. A much bigger audience than mine. He’s a regular on Techmeme. I always want to put my best content here, but I have some coverage if a post doesn’t get much traction. People who read this blog know me, and have a sense of what I’ll write n the future.  Over on Louis’s blog, there’s a much bigger audience. They’ve come to expect a certain quality. Louis’s expectations became my expectations.

The chart below is the one I used in the guest post on Louis’s blog:

Louis is a Stage 3 blogger. With that, some of the crazy experimentation I like to do (such as my stick man representation of social media interactions) is not appropriate on his blog. I was cognizant of that.

I picked a subject that is consistent with Louis’s overall blog. The role of bloggers, and their interactions is the kind of subject that Louis regularly covers. I wanted a post that fit his “brand”. So I didn’t write one of my Enterprise 2.0 pieces, because that’s not something he covers.

I took forever to write it. Weirdly, it just took me longer to finish up this post than it usually does. Probably for the two reasons listed above.

A lot of fun, and I thank Louis for letting me rent his blog for a day. Go check out my post on his blog:

UPDATE: My guest blog post made it onto Techmeme:

Do FriendFeed Comments Hurt Bloggers’ Ad Revenue?

Allen Stern at CenterNetworks recently wrote a post arguing that FriendFeed was hurting bloggers by taking away page views. I’d paraphrase his position as this:

Once people comment on the actual blog post, they tend to return many times to see the comments that follow theirs.

I mean, they reload the blog post…MANY, MANY times…

The numbers sounded aggressive to me, so I wanted to give some consideration to Allen’s calculations. I also created a separate spreadsheet that estimates the ad revenue generated from comments on FriendFeed. The tables are presented below.

One note. Allen’s CenterNetworks worksheet for blog-based comments shows ad revenue that crushes the revenue I show for FriendFeed-based comment ad revenue. But here’s the catch – there’s an uber-aggressive assumption about repeat visitors to blogs in Allen’s calculations. Right-size that assumption, and I think FriendFeed ends up looking better.

If you leave this post with one thought, it’s this:

FriendFeed will help the vast majority of ad-based blogs to increase their revenue by driving higher page views.

OK, on to the calculations.

CenterNetworks Blog Comment Ad Revenues

Allen wrote most the calculations below in his blog post. I did have to make some assumptions to hit the $100,000 annual revenue level he associated to commenter page views.

As Allen says in explaining the $100,000 in comment-related revenue:

Last step in the equation – how many people visiting the blog will reload the page a number of times to view and/or interact with the comments – on sites with major trollage, this number can be astronomical. Using our numbers above, I estimate that this could be a minimum of $25,000-75,000 per year. Again this is most likely a bare minimum and for large blogs with controversial content, this dollar figure could be way higher.

At the end of the day, a large blog could easily be generating more than $100,000 a year in commenting revenue alone.

Allen does say the number of reloads is astronomical. As the table above shows, to hit his $100,000 in comment-related revenue, commenters must hit reload 39 times. For all 10 posts. Every day. All year long. All commenters.

And presumably they’re doing this for all the big blogs: TechCrunch, BoingBoing, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Engadget, Gizmodo, Huffington Post…and do these blogs actually average 70 comments per post?

Anyway, I’m sure there are those who actually refresh 39 times per post on all these blogs. But are there enough to generate $100,000?

FriendFeed Comment Ad Revenues

The crux of my analysis is not page views driven by reloads. It’s based on unique visitors clicking to the blog because of the viral attention features of FriendFeed. Specifically the tendency of comments to bounce a blog post to the top of people’s FriendFeed. Comments in general will advertise the content, and comments by someone you trust will increase the odds of clicking.

As you see, I set the revenue as 10% of what Allen has in his, but I’d argue it’s based on a more realistic assumption about page views. Remember this spreadsheet focuses only on the comments effects, not the Likes or the multiple times a blog post shows up in FriendFeed: Google Reader Shares, bookmarks, Stumbles, etc.

A problem with my spreadsheet is that I carry over the aggressive assumption about comments (70 per FriendFeed entry). But I want to make the comparison to Allen’s spreadsheet apples-to-apples.

Analyzing TechCrunch’s Comment Activity

To get a sense of FriendFeed’s impact thus far, I looked at ten TechCrunch posts from the July 3 period. I counted the number of comments the posts received directly on TechCrunch, and how many they received on FriendFeed. For FriendFeed, I found all instances of the link – TechCrunch’s RSS feed, Google Reader shares, bookmarks, Stumbles, etc.

I excluded notes included with Google Reader shares or bookmarks from the FriendFeed comment count.

Looking at the table a couple things stand out:

  • FriendFeed does not appear to have stolen too many comments from TechCrunch
  • FriendFeeders have put the link out into their individual networks an average of 85 times – that’s the kind of visibility most blogs would kill for

I want to call your attention to post #10 in the above table, “Judge Protects YouTube’s Source Code”. 29 comments on FriendFeed. 14 of those comments came on a direct post of the TechCrunch article by Jason Calacanis. Jason has 29,000 followers on Twitter, and many of those have come over to FriendFeed. So when posts a question, he can get a lot of comments. But more importantly, the people commenting on his post are in all likelihood doing it because it’s Jason Calacanis.

My guess is that most of those commenting would not comment on the TechCrunch post. They’re more interested in what Jason is discussing.

Some Conclusions

I’m sure Allen is right about the TechCrunch “regulars” who post and reload multiple times. I’ve seen the reload behavior in myself when it comes to FriendFeed. However, I suspect his estimated number of reloads is way overstated. If you were to look at the 70 commenters in his scenario, you’d be lucky to get an average reload of 3 times, not 39 times. Sure, some commenters will hit double digits in their reloads. But many commenters won’t return at all.

The other consideration is that FriendFeed will take away some of those diehard reloaders. But I’d be willing to bet most of the die-hards will stay on the blog itself. Why? These guys’ relationship is with the blog and if you’re really reloading 39 times, you won’t stop commenting on the blog itself. I’ll bet there are a bunch of TechCrunch-heads who know one another via posting there. The TechCrunch site is their social network.

For most blogs that don’t generate 70 comments per post, the viral attention features of FriendFeed hold greater benefit than comments on the blog itself. Look at the ratio of FriendFeed links-to-comments for TechCrunch:

11.5 times more links for a post than comments (85.3/7.4)

As a blogger, I’ll take that trade-off. All those links are added visibility. FriendFeed is just as much about discovery as it is about conversations. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

Even Allen’s post about this was visible 24 separate times on FriendFeed.

Finally, in an interesting development, check out how ReadWriteWeb is integrating FriendFeed comments into each blog post. That’s one of the top 11 blogs worldwide embracing FriendFeed comments.


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Why Bloggers Should Want Comments on FriendFeed

Blog comments aren’t dead, but FriendFeed comments have emerged as equally valuable. Robert Scoble has a post up now in which he states:

My Tesla post gathered two comments here.

13 comments and 12 “Likes” over on FriendFeed.

Let’s just stick a fork in it. Comments are dead.

I don’t think they’re dead, but I do think he raises a good point. The interaction that occurs on FriendFeed is so much easier and freewheeling than it is on blogs.

Blogs that don’t have a lot of comments can feel like museums (“look, but don’t touch”). It feels like it takes an extra effort to put a comment there, because you can’t really feed off others’ participation.

FriendFeed’s got four things that make it really, really good for commenting:

  1. Wide open nature – anyone can jump in
  2. More lively subscription base – RSS subscribers are great for views, but not for comments. FriendFeed’s interaction nature stokes conversations in a much better way
  3. The barrier to commenting is lower – I commented on Robert’s post about this, and got a message saying my comment was “awaiting moderation”. Not on FriendFeed – where I just typed and clicked “Post”.
  4. FriendFeed’s viral attention features – Likes/Comments cause content to bounce to the top of the screen and friend-of-friend interactions cause people outside your subscription base to see your blog post, generating more views and comments

Keep the blog comments coming, but I’m quite happy to have you comment on FriendFeed too.


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What’s Your Blogging Style? Use FriendFeed Likes/Comments Ratio to Find Out

Julian Baldwin asked a question today on FriendFeed: “Roughly speaking, what is your comment to like ratio here on FriendFeed?” Based on the responses, a  lot of folks are doing more commenting than liking, but I suspect the responses aren’t totally representative. Still you can see a lot of emphasis on commenting.

Which made me wonder about turning this around a bit. Instead of looking at each person’s ratio of Likes to Comments, what could be gleaned from figuring that ratio out for a blog?

I selected several blogs, and totaled the number of Likes and the number of Comments for the last 30 posts of each blog. I then calculated the ratio of Likes to Comments, and mapped the bloggers to roughly one of four blogging styles:

  • Stir it up
  • Can we talk?
  • Observing the scene
  • Stuff you want to know

There are some adjustments and limitations related to this; they follow below. But first, the map of bloggers to blogging styles. To reiterate, the ratios you see below are calculated this way:

# Likes / # Comments = blogging style

So for instance, Dave Winer’s ratio is actually below 1.0. He gets more Comments than Likes. Here’s the map:

As I put this together, the analysis does seem to ring true from my perspective.

Here are the adjustments and limitations:

  • Some bloggers are really active at responding to comments on FriendFeed. This tended to drive their number of Comments up. For instance, Alexander van Elsas could put on a clinic in terms of engaging commenters on FriendFeed. I should be so good. So I gave the number of Comments a haircut for several bloggers.
    • Alexander van Elsas – 33% haircut
    • Myself – 25%
    • Mark Dykeman – 25%
    • J. Phil – 25%
    • Colin Walker – 25%
  • The analysis only applies to the main blog for each person (listed below)
    • No Toluu activity updates
    • No Qik videos
    • No side blogs that augment the main one
    • Etc.
  • Only the blogger’s own feed was used in this analysis. This is imperfect, as it does not include Likes and Comments for other ways thr blog post gets into FriendFeed:Google Reader shares, tweets, direct posts,, etc.
  • Some great new bloggers aren’t here, as they build out their blogs with posts.
  • The 30 blog posts per author only included entries with at least 1 Like or Comment.

And quickly, here are the links to the blogs used in the analysis:

What do you think? Does the Likes/Comments Ratio make sense as a blog style indicator?


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Three Big Questions Facing FriendFeed

I write about FriendFeed. A lot. Someone told me they wondered if I was employed there. Nope, just really enjoying the service.

Then I see a couple of bigger names in the online world, Robert Seidman and Steve Rubel, expressing their view that FriendFeed feels like it’s going to be the next big thing.

And I realize I’m not the only one with great enthusiasm. It’s growing.

As FriendFeed continues to acquire new users, innovate and roll out new features, it’s inevitable that some big decisions will need to be made. I want to discuss three of them here. Shall we?

1. How Will FriendFeed Balance Signal, Discovery and Noise?

This question really hits on two fundamental elements of the social media experience:

  • Distribution of information
  • Consumption of information

Managing information is a BIG deal. It’s hard to get the balance right – when do users really need a piece of info, when are they in the mood for a bit of discovery and at what point do they tune out because of information overload?

Google’s success was in recognizing the need for better information access, a process they continue to refine and improve. The thing with Google is that you search when you have a defined need. User intent is known. It’s what makes Google’s advertising so successful.

FriendFeed has a bigger challenge. Intentions vary by person. By hour. There’s time the river of content needs to deliver a hard dose of signal. Other times, you need a break from some work you’re doing, and you want a bit of discovery. But above all, please recognize what I consider to be noise!

So FriendFeed has to figure out the user intention, a burden that Google doesn’t have.

They’re off to a great start with these:

  • You choose the people to whom you subscribe, providing the first cut on topics you’ll see
  • Excellent Hide function
  • Rooms to isolate discussions around topics
  • Ability to view top content by likes, comments and other signals

This will be an ongoing war for FriendFeed, particularly as the service grows beyond its information junkie user base.

2. How Much of a Social Network Does FriendFeed Want to Be?

FriendFeed states their mission as follows:

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.

A simple goal. And yet, early users of FriendFeed are finding the social network aspects of FriendFeed to be compelling. I personally have established a completely different network of people on FriendFeed from what I have on Facebook or LinkedIn. I didn’t just port over my friends from those services, I established new connections.

When I was training for my first marathon back in 2003, I regularly participated over on Runner’s World message board. A group of us were running the California International Marathon in Sacramento, and an online bond formed. We conversed on the message board, and decided to meet up in Sacramento. How’d we do it? One guy posted his disguised email address, and we all emailed him. We then did the email thing to coordinate.

FriendFeed is above that level of social networking right now, but not by a whole lot.

FriendFeed has the potential to be a very powerful social network, one rivaling Facebook and LinkedIn. Why? Facebook is your network from school. LinkedIn is your network from work. FriendFeed is your network based on stuff that interests you. That’s what makes it so powerful.

Remember the interest in felix’s FriendFeed Likes Compatibility Calculator? People were really curious about who they match up with based on shared interests.

A few things come to mind as “best of” elements of social networks:

  • Direct messaging (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter all provide this)
  • Profile page – express yourself, complements your content, Likes and Comments
  • Status – for those times when you’re just not around or you need to get personal

Want to take it further? I can see FriendFeed becoming a more robust professional network than LinkedIn. You like all those comments and content? Maybe you’d look at that person as a potential hire. How about calendaring? Coordinate events, and it’d be a real nice complement to the Rooms.

How far does FriendFeed want to go in social networking?

3. How Will FriendFeed Make Money?

Ah, the money question. It’s inevitable and ultimately must be addressed to justify the venture capital.

I can see two possibilities for making money at this very early stage in the company’s history:

  • Advertising (duh…)
  • Business uses

Social media advertising has potential, but is not without its issues.

FriendFeed has a a few things to address and going for it when it comes to advertising. Users’ affection for the Refresh function means a lot of page views, but how much time will they spend on the ads. There’s a field of white space off the right, so real estate for ads won’t be a problem.

But FriendFeed does have two good weapons in its arsenal when it comes to advertising:

  1. A search function with a ton of potential (and search is the killer advertising feature)
  2. A mountain of data about what users’ interests are

As for business uses, my first thought when I saw the Rooms feature was that it could be a great thing for companies to use. Employees can trade thoughts on ideas and projects via Rooms. In fact, that’s how the FriendFeed guys use Rooms:

It started when we wanted a better way to share feature ideas and product plans with each other here at FriendFeed

I can also see media companies adding Rooms functionality to their sites. A much richer way to let readers discuss content than the current commenting systems.

Final Thoughts

I’ve written plenty about FriendFeed, and I’ll probably write more in the future. Partly because it’s such a compelling site for me. As a full participant, I can see a lot of stuff going on. And it doesn’t hurt that the site is getting hot in the blogosphere.

But there’s something deeper here as well. In FriendFeed, you can see some of the bigger issues that all social media have to deal with. For instance, I’d written a series of posts about the noise issue on FriendFeed. My most recent post stepped away from being FriendFeed-specific, and took a look at the broader issue of signal vs discovery in social media. Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb took it a step further with a great post Why Online “Noise” Is Good for You, pulling in scientific studies on the value of noise and discovery.

FriendFeed is tackling some meaty issues, as described above. Since they’ve got traction, a talented team, an innovative spirit and an attentive audience, their efforts to address the big questions will be a terrific study of the larger social media realm.


See this item on FriendFeed:

Fostering Innovation: Lots of Little Fires or One Inferno?

An area that I find really interesting is role that social media can play in improving innovation. Before the advent of social media applications, innovation needed two primary drivers:

  1. Someone with the passion and time to see it through
  2. The luck that someone’s offline social sphere picked up on an idea and helped spread it

Today, innovation can occur much more easily than before, courtesy of social media. An idea can be disseminated and discussed far beyond (i) the originating person’s social sphere; and (ii) their level of energy to pursue it.

Which brings me back to the ongoing discussion about distributed conversations. Is innovation the product of lots of little conversational fires or one raging talk inferno? The answer is ‘both’, but I think people have undervalued the potential in lots of little fires.

The Myth of the Iconic Genius

Recently, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article for The New Yorker, In the Air – Who says big ideas are rare? The piece examines the history of innovation, with Alexander Graham Bell’s role in inventing the telephone as a case study. Turns out Bell wasn’t the only one working on the telephone. Elisha Gray also had a working telephone at the same time. As Gladwell describes it, this is but one example of what science historians call “multiples” – cases of simultaneous invention by completely independent persons. It happened in calculus, evolution, decimal fractions, and many, many other fields.

After discussing the findings of two researchers, Gladwell puts context to the common occurrence of “multiples” in history:

For Ogburn and Thomas, the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. They must be in the air, products of the intellectual climate of a specific time and place.

In other words, it’s a fallacy to think that innovation only channels through one singular genius. Which brings us back to this idea that distributed conversations are a bad thing.

The Value of Lots of Little Fires

Lets use innovation inside the enterprise as an example. An employee comes up with an idea. Not a perfect idea, perhaps not a fully formed idea. But an idea that’s got some shine to it. I hope that sounds plausible to you if you work inside a corporation. It rings true to me.

Assume the company has a good platform for this employee to propagate it. She blogs the idea on some internal web application. Other people pick up on the idea. Now stop here for second.

If her idea is to gain traction, what makes the most sense? Employees from other departments, divisions, countries all interacting with this person they don’t know? Or employees thinking through the idea with their own social circle?

I argue that employees should be free to discuss the idea how they want and with whom they want. Why? It goes back to the observation of Ogburn and Thomas – invention is often the product of current broader thinking and prior discoveries. Inside a company, this likely means an emerging issue or opportunity that employees are starting to sense.

Little fires become big fires because they burn areas that are dry and ready to ignite. In the same way, letting employees hold their own conversations is a great way to find those patches of dry tinder that are ready for your idea. Some conversations will snuff out due to lack of good kindling. But other conversations will grow as the sparks from the originating fire find lots of wood to burn.

And that’s the importance of distributed conversations. You never know from where the energy and support for your idea is going to come.

Don’t Underestimate the Value and Motivations of People

So little conversational fires are important for building a buzz inside your company. What else do they do?

  • Provide different perspectives from outside your sphere
  • Motivate employees to care about your idea

In our company example, lets say the originator of the idea is in Field Operations. She knows the customers well and has a good sense of what they’re feeling. So she writes up her idea in a blog post.

But her idea would affect a lot of different groups: product, operations, development, finance, marketing, sales, etc. Each of these departments will have a unique understanding of the idea’s requirements. Would you force all of these different perspectives through that one blog? Of course not.

Stepping outside the employee motif for a second, I think it’s important to understand that people have different experiences, interests and talents. And they have their existing peers with whom they talk. When it comes to discussing a newly presented idea, it’s unnatural to force them to abandon these existing connections and prior conversations. If that means the originating author has to chase down the conversation, so be it.

Stepping back into the employee motif, the other value of little fires is the motivational aspect. If you want an idea to take hold, you have to relinquish some control of it. If you don’t don’t, you’re going to run right into a wall of indifference.

This sounds bad to say – aren’t employees only interested in the greater company good? Maybe. But lets not make that the only basis for the success of an idea. Acknowledge that people work hard and have ambitions. The little fires of distributed conversations give them ownership of the idea within their particular social sphere. They can point out the flaws, come up with improvements and relate the idea to previous thinking.

Forcing everyone back through the originating blog post loses this dynamic, and you’ve just killed the personal motivation of some people to participate.

But Isn’t This All Messy?

Yes. It is.

Proper recognition for the idea will be an issue. Going back to Malcolm Gladwell’s article, he lists a number of people who came up with an idea at the same time as more famous inventors and discoverers. But they didn’t become household names (e.g. Elisha Gray).

Also, as different groups work through an idea, fiefdoms might emerge. Different groups laying claim to having the best vision and plan for the idea. Who’s right and who should drive it forward?

But here’s the good news – the idea got traction. Senior managers are well-paid to figure out the other issues (I’ll pause here for your Dilbert snicker…).

Now if the company’s blogging software is any good, the original author of the idea will be recognized. And more than likely, our heroine was involved in several of the distributed conversations that occurred. She is not divorced from the whole innovation process.

Final Thoughts

Distributed conversations are an important component of gaining traction for innovative ideas. They enable a greater percentage of ideas to come to fruition than in traditional company settings where dialogue is limited to your own social sphere.

I’ve used life inside the enterprise to describe why distributed conversations have value. I think a lot of the same motivations apply out on the world wide web as well. If you’re a blogger and you think you’ve got a good idea or insight, recognize that you most likely were not the only person thinking that way. So don’t be too bothered when little conversational fires start elsewhere – your spark landed in some dry tinder.

Grab some marshmallows and join the fun.


See this item on FriendFeed:

FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Index: Case Study in Value of Distributed Conversations

By keeping comments distributed, or decentralized, more than one discussion is able to take place. New ideas are likely to be heard since readers often start with a blank slate and are more likely to participate.

Shey Smith, introspective snapshots, The Case For Distributed Conversations

Today, a great example of the value of distributed conversations took place. What started as a blog post here ended up with three different developers coming up with innovative new scripts that FriendFeeders were digging. And it all happened because of distributed conversations, not despite them.

The very smart and in-tune Fred Wilson wrote a piece yesterday decrying the distribution of conversations all over the Web, including on FriendFeed. Mathew Ingram followed up with a concurring blog post. I understand where they’re coming from, but I think they overlook the value of distributed conversations.

What I’d like to do is briefly describe the action today, and then point out how distributed conversations made innovation possible today.

FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Index Calculators

Wednesday night, I posted a piece titled FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Compatibility Index. The post reported some number crunching I did to figure out who most often Liked the same things that I do. The idea was to see what other FriendFeeders shared the same interests. At the end of the post, I made a request for someone to automate the analysis.

From this post, two separate conversations emerged. The RSS feed for the blog post hit FriendFeed (Original Post). And Louis Gray shared it on Google Reader (Shared Post), which started a second conversation.

What happened? There were three different places where conversations were happening: on this blog and on two different items in FriendFeed. And it resulted in three separate developers coming up with solutions.


Yuvi, a 17-year old wunderkind who does amazing stats analysis, was interested in automating this analysis. He posted the same comment on all three locations: “I could automate this…if friendfeed fixed this bug.” Yuvi was concerned about a bug in FriendFeed that won’t allow you to go more than 11 pages back in your history.

His comment generated responses in FriendFeed on both the Original Post and on the Shared Post.

Original Post:

  • Phil Glockner: “Yuvi, does that bug exist when doing queries against the API?”
  • Yuvi: “Yes, it exists in the API too.”

Shared Post:

  • Shey: Yuvi, could you automate it up to page 11?
  • Hutch: Does the limit of going back beyond page 11 risk the script failing? Or does it limit the data collected?
  • Yuvi: @Hutch: Limits data collected.
  • Yuvi:@Shey: Well, I could… But, it’ll be of limited use, no?
  • Bwana: I say do it now so when they do fix it, it’ll be ready, plus there seems to be an interest
  • Shey: @Yuvi Limited yes, but I think 11 pages of data is of some use for analysis of recent data
  • Cyndy: Yuvi, I’m not sure it’s a bug. I think it’s a limit that they have set. Since the variable is passed in the URL, if you try to go past that number of posts manually, it still won’t go. Could be that they are only pulling from cache?
  • Yuvi: @Cyndy: Well, they’ve been mum on this – so I don’t really know. But, if even *I* can’t access my old stuff, isn’t that wrong on at least “some” level?
  • Benjamin Golub: I don’t think it’s a bug either. I feel that there DB sharding might be setup such that it is very very quick to pull recent data.
  • Bwana: Well if there is a limit imposed, pages after 11 shouldn’t even be shown. It’s a bug of some kind either way.
  • Yuvi: @Benjamin: Yep, agree on that, but there should be ‘some’ way to get the older data out, no?
  • Yuvi: Just repeating – the API has the same limit in place. Script ready anyway – First Target – LouisGray 😉

So in that sequence, you see that fragmented conversation, away from the blog post itself, resulted in Yuvi creating a script to determine who shares your Likes.

And Yuvi blogged about it, linking to my blog post and even mentioning me by name. Everything a blogger could want.

Do you see what I mean Fred and Mathew?

Ole Begemann

On Louis’s Shared Post, a second developer Ole Begemann weighed in:

  • Ole Begemann: I’ve written a Python script that does this, too (for practice). Interestingly, Phil is no. 12 on my list of Louis Gray’s most compatible likers. If there’s interest, I’ll try to wrap it up on a web page (it’s command line at the moment) and publish it.
  • Hutch: @Ole – Yeah, I’d like to have a page where you could see these results.
  • Ole Begemann: I’ll get around to it Hutch. It might take me a few days. It’s my first try as a Python programmer. 😉

A second developer came up with a script for this. Again, via conversations that happened entirely away from the originating blog.


Finally, back on my Original Post in FriendFeed, a developer named felix added this comment:

“I just created a little javascript to go and grab the last 30 likes of anyone and do a basic calculation. Have a couple more features I want to add, but no more time today – what do y’all think?

That link goes to a blog post, where Ole links back to my original blog post. Again, as a blogger who wrote something I thought might be interesting, this is all really good stuff.

None of it occurred on my blog. And it doesn’t bother me in the least! in fact, check out felix’s blog post. You’ll see that he, Yuvi and Ole are having a conversation about FriendFeed API limits.

Why the Distribution of the Conversation Made a Difference

Three points to make here.

1. Go where the conversations are

If I’d been hung up on forcing everyone back to my blog for comments, this likely would not have been as successful as it turned out. FriendFeed offers a dead simple commenting function that makes it incredibly easy to comment. People find it easy to interact around content, rather than everyone having to travel from blog to blog to hold conversations.

Some blogger removed his RSS from FriendFeed recently, because he didn’t like all the FriendFeed comments along with it. Really? I remember the story, but can’t find the link to his blog. Seriously.

2. Connect to people outside your blog subscriber base

Digg, StumbleUpon, FriendFeed…all of these give exposure to your blog outside of those who subscribe to it or bookmark it. And when conversations about your blog occur on these venues, you’re getting vital exposure.

Make no mistake about this. A Like or a Digg or a Stumble is great. But if you really want to attract people to your blog post, comments are king. They tell people that the post is interesting, and that they better go read to get in on the discussion.

Louis Gray has a bigger, and different, community than I do. So his share of the post on Google Reader, and the subsequent conversation, attracted people who might never have bothered with my post.

felix, who developed the really cool app where you can see who shares your Likes, does not subscribe to me in FriendFeed, nor does he subscribe to my blog. I looked at his subscriptions, and we do have a number of FriendFeeders in common including Louis. I presume that’s how he found his way to the conversation about the blog post. Would he have been attracted to the blog without the conversation going on inside FriendFeed? Unlikely.

Embrace distributed conversations. They are free advertising for your blog.

3. Use the everyone search feature

Have people figured out this one yet? On FriendFeed, you can run a search for your blog post title in the ‘everyone’ tab. It can be a little hectic, but also fascinating. Click here for the everyone search for the FriendFeed ‘Likes’ Compatibility Index post.

Note that not only will you see all the different instances of my original blog post. You’ll see Yuvi’s post as well as Thomas Hawk’s post on the subject. I like seeing comments on those related posts as well.

As a blogger, I get a lot of value out of seeing who liked the blog post, and all the conversations among the different tribes. They help me improve.

Final Thoughts

Would that blog post have resulted in three separate scripts being developed if conversations only happened on the blog? No. At least not for me. If you’ve got a huge subscriber base like Fred Wilson or Mathew Ingram, it might.

But if you’re small fry, the distribution of conversations provides enormous value. Now let me go see who shares my Likes on FriendFeed…


See this item on FriendFeed:

Weekly Recap 052308: If You Love Your Blog, Set It Free

The week that was…


Things kicked off with a pair of posts about the next stage of blogging. Yes, fractured comments and all…Duncan Riley wrote Blogging 2.0: It’s All About The User. He writes: If blogging 1.0 was about enabling the conversation on each blog, blogging 2.0 is about enabling the conversation across many blogs and supporting sites and services…Louis Gray followed up with Blogging 2.0 Causing Friction With 1.0 Bloggers…Louis nicely defines the old blogging paradigm: Blogging 1.0 centered around who could: (i)Amass the most page views; (ii) Display the most ads; (iii) Get the most comments; and (iv) Attract the most RSS subscribers

As a relatively novice blogger, I pretty easily fall into the Blogging 2.0 camp…why on earth would I want to keep the conversations limited to my little blog?…that’d be a recipe for having a stale blog…

But Blogging 1.0 is still a strong instinct out there…one example: see Allen Stern’s post on CenterNetworks, Let’s Get Serious About FriendFeed; the 1995 Message Board, the Smart Consolidator and the Stolen Conversation…read not just the post, but check out some of the comments…Blogging 1.0 will die hard…


Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!…bad week for Twitter, everyone’s favorite social chat room: outages, outages, outages…this seems to be getting progressively worse, as Twitter’s success is killing it…

To show disapproval for Twitter’s handling of these outages, several folks staged a Twit-Out on Wednesday May 21…a number of regular Twitterers went the whole day without going over to Twitter…they also hid tweets from their FriendFeed streams…even the biggest Twitterer of all, Robert Scoble, joined in…

It wasn’t met with universal love, but they made their point…oh, and Twitter did go down that day…

But one bright spot: Twitter apparently scored a new $15 million round of VC funding…


One outcome of the twitter issues this week…some bigger names in the social media world started to embrace it much more…Jeremiah Owyang, who previously marked the date when new Twitter subscribers could not be considered as early adopters, got into it again with FriendFeed…first he posted on FriendFeed that he now had a new place (FriendFeed) to look for conversations, which elicited a bunch of hearty “welcome aboard” type of messages…

Well that got Jeremiah fired up, and went into throw-down mode: Dudes, I’ve been on FriendFeed for a while, not a late adopter…he challenged Robert Scoble to list his date of FriendFeed registration…geek cred…

Of course, if you looked at his activity stats at that time, he had no comments, no likes…but he’s much more engaged now, which is cool…he even wrote a post about FriendFeed…


One thing I’ve noticed in some favorited Flickr photos…models wearing little to nothing…not that I’m complaining, I love art…Thomas Hawk has some strong opinions about making this even easier here


FriendFeed now has Rooms!…Rooms are separate spaces on FriendFeed where people can direct post items, and re-share items into a Room…they accomplish two things: (i) allow a focus around specific topics to follow; (ii) remove some of the items that were considered noise by many users…

Bwana McCall (second reference in this post, nice!) has a good initial set of use cases for rooms here…my favorite is the use of Rooms for live blogging like from one of those Apple events…

One bit of hilarity was the land grab that occurred for Room topics…Michael Nielsen asked Any plans to prevent squatting? I can see people snapping up thousands of “rooms” on the off chance that one day they’ll be worth something…um, well, uh…I managed to score Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Running, Obama 2008 and Coca Cola among others…no idea what I’ll do with them, but anyone’s free to join…I wonder if the Obama campaign will want their Room?

Something that Rooms will foster: an increase in FriendFeed direct posts…regular feeds from your social media sites won’t stream automatically into Rooms…


See this item on FriendFeed: