In the past year there has been an explosion in social media. Where once we had only to worry about managing our Facebook or MySpace networks, we’re now each creating a seemingly infinite number of feeds. The burden of this data is a lot to manage, but if social media is to remain useful, then steps must be taken to alleviate the strain of information.
One approach is to aggregate information about our and our friends’ activities across all the networks we participate in at one location. Such locations are commonly called “lifestreaming applications.” Two of these applications, FriendFeed and SocialThing!, have taken a particularly high profile in the past few days.
We predicted that the network of networks FriendFeed would be the breakout app of SXSW 2008. It’s not clear how big an impact that event made on the service but in the days following, it’s blown up. In FriendFeed, friends create accounts and add all of their independent feeds from blogs, bookmarking, music services etc. Then the service aggregates your friends’ feeds into one concise stream. It currently supports 28 services ranging from Amazon Wishlists to Zooomr photos to more common feeds like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.
Sean Ammirati interviewed the founders of FriendFeed at ReadWriteTalk in February (podcast+transcript). Tech blogger Louis Gray has taken the lead in covering FriendFeed and related services. See also satire site
SocialThing! is the new kid on the (new) block and still in private beta. It currently supports just six services (Twitter, Pownce, Flickr, Facebook, Livejournal and Vimeo), but looks considerably prettier than FriendFeed – in case that matters to anyone. I had a chance to speak to the SocialThing! developers at SXSW and they assured me that everything was in place for new services to start becoming available quickly.
FriendFeed has a bit of a head start, but even barring that, there are more intuitive features in place despite its visual shortcomings. The most notable is that it links you to your friends’ content even if you don’t have access to a particular service. The reason is that when you friend someone on FriendFeed, that person has generated an actual account on the service, so they’ve elected to port in all of their desired feeds. So my friends can read my Ma.gnolia links even if they’re a Del.icio.us users and vice versa. It’s in this feature that its real power lies.
The reason SocialThing! will face pitfalls is that it’s really just an RSS aggregator and as such, it doesn’t do anything that you couldn’t just do with your regular aggregator. Because FriendFeed creates a new network, it can do a variety of entirely new tasks, like suggesting new friends, a feature that I’ve found to be remarkably accurate in predicting individuals whom I’d actually be interested in. Additionally, FriendFeed adds functions such as inline commenting and “like” (thumbs up for a particular item) that add to the social experience.
Why FriendFeed is Better
Social media will continue to escalate for the foreseeable future, but it will become increasingly unlikely that you’ll have accounts for every service out there. With FriendFeed, you don’t have to, because of its network of networks, you can just coast along with the few accounts you’re comfortable with, but still have access to friendly content across the board. This is the true innovation and it’s the reason users will adopt FriendFeed over an RSS wrapper like SocialThing!
These are just the two most prominent of many lifestreaming services that have launched recently. See the ReadWriteWeb primer on lifestreaming from January and our list of 35 lifestreaming apps from last month. While Facebook’s newsfeed has been copied by almost every other social network online, other innovators and entrepreneurs are aiming to offer more powerful versions of the same idea in standalone, cross-application lifestreaming services.