April 21, 2008

FriendFeedMachine Debuts New Approach to FriendFeed

While not everyone agreed with my early, glowing, assessments of FriendFeed, there is now no question the social Web activities aggregation site is among the fastest-growing on the Internet, amassing not only some of the biggest names in the tech blogosphere as its most active members, but, with the addition of an API, becoming a new platform for development, much like Facebook was in 2007. The newest approach to handling the data flow from FriendFeed is a service called FriendFeedMachine, which lets helps you filter between your true "Close Friends" and those you just want to follow, and gives a new approach to making comments, open items within the Web page, and even marking items as previously read.

Designed by Scott Goldie in Melbourne, Australia (Web site | Twitter), FriendFeedMachine was inspired by the very real problem some FriendFeed users have found through the site's growth, as "real life" friends are being drowned out by the noisier, more active participants, including Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, and as some have let me know... me. Goldie also found that as the "real life" friends' activity would fall off his radar, items would go unread, and a new approach was needed.

"I wanted to see what my friends were doing by service (i.e. grouped by Twitter, Blog, etc.)," he wrote in an e-mail Saturday night. "I also wanted a way to view items without leaving the page where the feed info was."

While some on FriendFeed, Twitter and other communications mediums have opted to unsubscribe from the more active users, Goldie agrees with Scoble's assertation that "it's not who follows you but who you follow that's important." FriendFeedMachine is an attempt to organize the resulting noise and make it more useful.

You can login to FriendFeedMachine at www.friendfeedmachine.com, by entering your FriendFeed ID and your remote key. At first, you can see those individuals who are on your home feed, as you would with FriendFeed's main page, as well as the service they used to generate activity, be it Google Reader, Blog, Twitter, Digg, Del.icio.us or any of the other few dozen FriendFeed supports.

Clicking on the "Friends" button at the top lists all your friends you are subscribed to and the services they use. Even my 266 that I follow came up, though I'd assume the more friends you have, the slower the browser interface will be. Unlike FriendFeed, which organizes activity chronologically, including items most recently commented on or liked at the top, FriendFeedMachine organizes by individual. I can click on Frederic Lardinois' Twitter entries and see them all at once. I can click on Kevin Fox's favorite YouTube videos, or select Dave Winer's blog posts, for instance. From this window, I can either read each item individually, mark them as read, or close and return to the "Friends" area.

This example shows Kevin Fox's FriendFeed posts

But the most interesting element to FriendFeedMachine is the concept of "Close Friends". By clicking on the profile picture of any friend within FriendFeedMachine, I have a checkbox to name them a "Good friend". When I do that, their data is now shown not just in the aggregate feed, but under the "Close Friends" button. And yes, Good = Close as far as FriendFeedMachine is concerned. Now, the issue of separating "Real life" friends and all FriendFeed contacts is solved. If I choose, I can whittle down my 266 followed contacts in FriendFeed and have a "Close Friends" list of 3, 10 or 30... whatever I like. And the "Close Friends" button activity is just as the "Friends" stream operates, showing me their services, and letting me view each of the activities my friends have made on their individual services.

Viewing an item in FriendFeedMachine.

(Click for larger screenshot)

And don't get the idea that FriendFeedMachine is passive, as it's not. Like other FriendFeed API services that have debuted in recent weeks, you can make comments or like items directly from within FriendFeedMachine, by hitting the green arrow to go to the item, where you see it in full, and have the option to hit "I like it!" or make a comment and hit "Post". FriendFeedMachine also displays whether or not the item already has likes or comments, so you're not left out of the conversation.

Unlike some of the recent entrants approaching FriendFeed from a new angle, FriendFeedMachine is not an AIR application, or a GreaseMonkey script. It's a new, unique, Web interface for viewing and interacting with the FriendFeed activity - all of it. But now, you don't risk missing updates from your real friends.