November 22, 2009

Finding Value Even If I Were the Last FriendFeeder...

Since the site's acquisition by Facebook this summer, I have not talked much about my thoughts on the future of FriendFeed, aside from the initial response saying it was not "dead". There hasn't been a major compelling event to do so, but it keeps coming up, so I thought I would share my thoughts, in light of what we've seen since August.

On Friday, I mentioned there are three cores to a successful social service - namely technology, relevancy and community. How one perceives community can be very different depending on one's perspective, and the network's community is a fluid one, depending on little things like the time of day, the day of the week, or the stage of evolution - particularly noticeable by services that first are overrun with geeky early adopters, only to see the mainstream eventually find footing. In light of my heavy use of FriendFeed for the last 2+ years, and the last few months of insecurity on the site in terms of its future, which has seen significantly reduced traffic and use, I have thought a lot about how much time I should invest in a site that, in theory, is seeing some parts of its community reduced.

After much thought, I can see myself deriving real value from the site, even if every single other person I communicate with there regularly were to disappear. For while it's incomparable fun to trade discussions and debates with the tight community there, and to rack up comments and likes, or to contribute my own, like scattershot, through my feeds, there are many different reasons I have been making FriendFeed my social media nervous system, which have nothing to do with the "Community" aspect - and try as I might to reset my browser home page to another address, I keep going back to the old standby, because FriendFeed works so well.

1. It's Still The Best Aggregator In Town

While there have been many attempts at aggregation services over the last few years, FriendFeed made the most robust and easy to consume aggregation service out there. FriendFeed can provide a single page to view all of my activity, just as it originally set out to do in late 2007.

2. It Still Has All My Friends' Content In One Place

Even if people stop using a site, their content continues to flow through FriendFeed - with the small exception being the handful of users, who for whatever reason, deleted their accounts outright. This means that, in addition to Google Reader, Twitter Lists or other services I am using, I can click out and find interesting news.

3. It Still Acts As A Fantastic Distribution Engine

FriendFeed lets you send specific services' updates to Twitter automatically, based on your preferences. This means that, if I choose to, bookmarks I make on Delicious automatically can flow, through FriendFeed, to Twitter. So too can my updates on SmugMug, while I try not to drown my Twitter followers with Google Reader shares. Having this take place automatically is still much easier than using the "Send to" feature in Delicious for every single item.

4. It Still Has The Deepest Social Media Search Online

Twitter's search utility still only goes back a few days. New partnerships with Google and Bing, as well as many different third party search engines are trying to make things better, but they don't compare with FriendFeed, which lets you search all FriendFeed users' updates, going back to the beginning of the site. Using the site's advanced search functionality, you can search specific services, specific people, or even find specific posts that had comments from a single individual.

5. It Had Saved Searches and Lists Long Before it Was Cool

Before Twitter introduced lists, FriendFeed had already enabled me to set up lists of folks I follow, so I could reduce my entire social stream to specialized groups. It also provided the option to save searches, including advanced searches, in my sidebar. So rather than invent the wheel somewhere else, and redo effort, my customized experience is already set to help me find data fast.

So What Is the "Future" of FriendFeed?

At Friday's Real-Time CrunchUp, hosted by TechCrunch, Paul Buchheit, co-founder of FriendFeed, now working at Facebook, said the site was not destined to go away any time soon - even if working on it hasn't been front and center for him or for his colleagues, who are said to be working on infrastructure projects within Facebook, hopefully making that social network even more special.

That the FriendFeed blog has not updated since August, added on to the news that two of the team's small developer base have already left for alternative non-Facebook pastures (Ben Darnell and Gary Burd are the known exits) hasn't helped the community feel reassured that all is well for the future of the site. In interviews, it sounds like work on the site has fallen into elective "20% time", familiar to Google watchers, and many regulars who participated on the site in the last year have chosen to leave.

No matter how you try to massage popular sites, like Twitter and Facebook, they do not equal the product that FriendFeed produced, from a technology standpoint. Now that the community is changing, and some are resigned to a different world, there are pressures on some to consider alternatives, but until I can find tools that solve for each of my issues, as outlined above, there are tons of reasons I will continue to use the product - even if it's assumed I'm looking denial straight in the face.