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FriendFeed Will Make Switching Social Networks Easier

There has been quite a lot of coverage for the FriendFeed service. FriendFeed aggregates updates from a variety of other social networks and Web 2.0 apps, such as Twitter, Flickr, Jaiku, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington reports that FriendFeed just added a search capability, making it “suddenly feel like a destination site”. The service is growing and improving.

Aside from aggregating your feeds, you can subscribe to the aggregated feeds of others. You “friend” others the same way to do with Twitter. Just subscribe to their FriendFeed. They don’t approve your subscription, you just do it. FriendFeed is essentially a social network in its own right, allowing users to post comments and share feeds amongst friends.

Which got to me thinking…the emergence of FriendFeed and other “networks of social networks” is going to make switching services a lot easier for individuals. And that’s going to make life harder for the social networks.

Here’s what I mean. I signed up for FriendFeed. I added several other services to which I belong: Twitter, Google Reader, LinkedIn, Pandora and del.icio.us. Suddenly, I see my updates all in one place. That, by itself, is pretty cool.

I then subscribed to the FriendFeeds of others. Robert Scoble is an active FriendFeed guy, by virtue of his involvement in every other social network and Web 2.0 service out there. It’s pretty interesting to see what he’s up to and what he’s commenting on.

Then I notice something. I’m seeing Scoble’s Jaiku updates (Jaiku is a competitor to Twitter).

Jaiku? I don’t belong to Jaiku!

And this is how these social network aggregators are going to change things. On Twitter, I can subscribe to others’ Twitter posts. For example, I subscribe to Scoble’s Twitter updates. But to subscribe to Scoble’s Twitter updates, you need to join Twitter. Through FriendFeed, that’s no longer the case. You can follow anything Scoble puts up on his FriendFeed: Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, and others.

So here’s how this unfolds. You and your friends join FriendFeed. You’re all on Twitter. You love the ease and carefree way you can post updates to Twitter. Your friends on Twitter see your updates, either on Twitter or on FriendFeed. But after a while, you decide the features of Jaiku are even better – you make the switch to Jaiku.

Normally, the switch to Jaiku from Twitter would be disruptive. Your Twitter-using friends no longer see your updates, and you can no longer see theirs. The pain of this disruption is a form of lock-in, as the value of switching does not equal the costs of doing so (see In Praise of Inertia: MyYahoo #1 for more discussion on this topic).

But with FriendFeed, the cost of switching social networks nears zero. Whether I post updates on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Google Talk, my friends will see them on FriendFeed. There is a loss of the the ability to talk back to your friends directly on their different service, but FriendFeed lets you post comments on any update of your friends.

This is great for the individual, expanding the choices for different services. And it puts more pressure on social network and web service apps to continually improve their features and user experience. Otherwise, users will easily switch to a better service.

Lookout social networks and web services – the lifestream aggregators are coming.

UPDATE: Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb has a March 20, 2008 post up entitled “The Conversation Has Left the Blogosphere“.  In it, she observes that blog comments may ultimately migrate to lifestream aggregators, such as FriendFeed.  This thought is another variation on the idea that the lifestream cloud becomes the community, replacing the apps-based communities we know today.

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