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March 23, 2010

FriendFeed Data Joins Its Coders At Facebook

Despite not achieving the lofty position in the social media stratosphere many of us had hoped it would as an independent company, FriendFeed played a significant piece for a mid-size community that has, for the most part, felt adrift and abandoned in the seven months since the once-perky startup was acquired and absorbed into Facebook. When parts of the site started to creak over the last few weeks, with features breaking or slowing, some thought it spelled yet more bad news. But after some considerable effort, the site and all its data has been migrated to the more robust Facebook data centers, which should hopefully keep the site going for those who have stuck around, even when others have said their last goodbye.

Moving all data on a live site as complex as FriendFeed's to another is no trivial feat, made even more challenging by differing hosting environments or code nuances.

On Thursday, after some of the site's more dedicated users complained the network's search engine was broken beyond repair, FriendFeed co-founder Jim Norris explained:
"We're working on moving the FriendFeed servers to the Facebook data center, which will have significantly more speed and capacity and (we hope) more reliable hardware. There are a bunch of difficulties we've run into though: FF has been running on Ubuntu Linux distributions whereas FB is based on various (old but stable) Fedora Core and Centos versions, so the package management is completely different."
Paul Buchheit, also a co-founder, best known for his work on creating GMail while at Google, and a successful angel investor besides, gained the unenviable task of compiling the code and building it on the new machines. As Jim added in a throw-away line, "I don't know the exact timeline but if when I see Paul I'll beat it out of him."

It turns out that timeline was for late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, as Bret Taylor, director of products at Facebook, announced the successful transfer of FriendFeed's data to the Facebook datacenter, adding, that it "fixed many of the ongoing performance problems we have had with the site and will provide us more room to grow."

Whether FriendFeed is growing, stagnant or decreasing depends on one's point of view. No longer a gem in Silicon Valley early adopter corners, the site did bounce off traffic lows last month (at least according to Compete.com) to rise more than 80 percent - even as new challengers including Google Buzz gained attention. FriendFeed has said the United States is no longer the most active country on the site, as that honor falls to Turkey. So somebody's using the site, and while figuring out the site's future and how it maps to Facebook requires either a divining rod or root access to Mark Zuckerberg's laptop, it doesn't look like the site is being allowed to gather dust and fade into the shadows.

As the move took place, users on the site are already thanking the team for improved speed, and lower errors. And as FriendFeed never quite let me export all my data I'd piled into the site since October of 2007, that's a good thing. If they had a way to export it all, that'd be a very interesting offer, but it's a battle for another day.