July 11, 2008

FriendFeed Friday Tips #6: How To Determine Authorship

By popular demand, I've been asked by other FriendFeed users to highlight how I use the popular social lifestreaming site. So far the series has covered the "Hide" function, the bookmarklet, advanced search, how to integrate with Google Talk, and how you can bring comments from FriendFeed to your blog. Today, a new wrinkle: determining an item's original source.

At its foundation, FriendFeed is an aggregator of Web activity, from you, and from your friends or peers. Activity on the Web that you aggregate can be of two types: data that you create yourself (blog posts, Tweets, Flickr photos, etc.) and data that you like which others have created (Google Reader shares, YouTube favorites, etc.). Typically, it's fairly easy to distinguish between those pieces you're sharing and those pieces you're creating, but in the last few weeks, there have been some notable errors made, so with more people flocking to the popular service, it's time we had some clarification.

Your FriendFeed stream typically consists of service icons, an active verb, and the service itself. The verbs themselves give away whether you were the author or simply, a fan.

Services Where I am the Content CreatorServices Where I am a Fan of the Content
    1. Louis Gray "shared" an item on Google Reader.
    2. Louis Gray "bookmarked" a page on Del.icio.us.
    3. Louis Gray "dugg" a story on Digg.
    4. Louis Gray "stumbled upon" a site on StumbleUpon.
    5. Louis Gray "favorited" a video on YouTube.
    6. Louis Gray "liked" a story on Reddit.
    7. Louis Gray "loved" a song on Last.fm.
It seems pretty straight forward. In the first group, I'm posting, commenting, publishing and updating. In the second group, I'm bookmarking, sharing, liking, loving and favoriting. But in the last few weeks, there have been some notable incidents where the groups got confused.

1. Mark Hopkins Reports Sarah Perez Leaving ReadWriteWeb

On Wednesday night, Mashable's Mark Hopkins reported, on his personal blog, that the popular, prolific, Sarah Perez would be leaving blogging monolith ReadWriteWeb for SitePoint. (See the FriendFeed discussion here)

But it wasn't true. In fact, Sarah's former colleague Josh Catone was the one announcing the move to SitePoint. How did Mark get confused? It turned out that Sarah had subscribed to Josh's blog in Google Reader, and shared the item (see that share here on FriendFeed).

Clicking through to the shared item was arguably confusing. The post said it was time to announce where the author would be blogging after ReadWriteWeb, and the sparse Tumblr interface didn't have anyone's name on it. Mark, thinking he was onto a scoop, ran with it. Of course, he could have seen an earlier post where Josh linked to his farewell on RWW, but it didn't happen.

How could this have been avoided? First, it's unlikely Sarah would be sharing an item from her personal blog that wasn't registered with FriendFeed. The item clearly said "shared" not "posted", as outlined above. While many people, including me, will share items from their own blog to Google Reader, for it to show up first as shared before the actual blog item came through is unlikely.

2. Shel Israel Credits Me With Two Posts I Didn't Make

Shel Israel has weathered enough nonsense from the blogosphere over the last year, so this isn't any personal slight at all to bring this up. He's been very nice to me, saying in June that I was "consistently thoughtful, original and accurate". But of late, he's given me too much credit, where it's not due.

On July 5th, he wrote a post on the Google/Viacom decision, and drew largely from a post on Profy from Cyndy Aleo-Carreira. Throughout the first version of the post, he said "Louis went and read the decision several times...", and "thanks to Louis Gray, who took the time to do some digging." While the post has since been updated, it had given me all the credit.

His Tweet on July 5th remains up, as does his amendment.

But the very next day, it happened again.

Shel sent a tweet, saying: "Louis Gray (this time I'm sure it's him) says there are about 75K Friendfeed users http://tinyurl.com/GN000006."

But it wasn't me. Again, I had shared a link in Google Reader to a third-party blog, this time, from User21, written by Yuval Atzmon.

With many blog authors already worried about RSS scraping or not getting attribution for breaking posts, or losing comments to one service or another, it's important to be sure we give credit to where its due. I am not going to stop sharing RSS items to my Google Reader link blog, and I don't think Sarah Perez or the many of us who use these services will. I'm not going to stop favoriting items on YouTube, loving songs on Last.fm, bookmarking blog posts or Digging items. But I do hope the differences are clear. As much fun as it is to be recognized, I don't want to take credit for other people's work, and I'm sure Sarah doesn't want to take any more phone calls from interested blogs looking to hire her. So before you look to FriendFeed to determine who is the original source, look at the active verb, and then, if still not sure, click through to the item and see its origin. It shouldn't be too confusing.