Facebook added a new feature to its News Feeds: a "like" button. Now, rather than leaving a throw-away or otherwise unnecessary comment on a friend's status update, you can show your appreciation by just clicking "like" instead. Sound familiar? If not, then it's clear you haven't tried FriendFeed FriendFeed, the social web aggregation service popular among early adopters.Recently,
As avid users of FriendFeed will tell you, Facebook's implementation of FriendFeed's features are nothing but a pale imitation of the real thing. Still, there's a growing concern among the service's fans about its sustainability. Although FriendFeed's founders believe they can still innovate to profitability, we're no longer sure that's true.
Early Adopters Love This Stuff
FriendFeed is a web application that's very much like Facebook's News Feed, except that it incorporates far more services. Where Facebook lets you import content to your News Feed from a dozen social web services that range from YouTube to Flickr, FriendFeed offers nearly sixty..including Facebook status updates. That's not the only difference, either. In FriendFeed, commenting on and "liking" items causes them to "bubble up" to the top - that is, it brings popular content up to the top of the page. FriendFeed's "FOAF" (friend-of-a-friend) feature also integrates posts from your friends' friends into your activity stream which can expose you to more interesting people who you might want to follow.
Although on the surface, FriendFeed might appear to be just a more robust version of the Facebook News Feed - a News Feed on steroids - the differences between the two go far beyond a list of features. Where Facebook users track their real-life friends' activities, FriendFeeders tend to track news and topics they're interested in. Most have probably never even met half the people they're subscribed to - they just like what they have to say and the things they share.
Wait...Doesn't FriendFeed Need to Make Money?
What FriendFeed delivers is something that's more than just the sum of its parts. It doesn't have one single killer feature that defines it. It is simply a mashup of pure innovation. So what if Facebook rips off bits and pieces of FriendFeed's better qualities? Why shouldn't mainstream users enjoy this too? For what's innovation's worth if it doesn't spread?
Ah, but therein lies the root of all FriendFeed's problems. The innovation of the social "like," of aggregating your web activity and letting others comment on it - all of this, all of FriendFeed's innovation, is spreading off-site. It's becoming popularized on Facebook, where a good portion of the social network's users have never heard of FriendFeed and (possibly) never will.
That doesn't bother FriendFeed, though. Says co-founder Bret Taylor:
"The ability to comment on and like entries has always been popular on FriendFeed, so it is not surprising to see it appear in other places. We have always been focused on building a unique, but open sharing and communications product, and we think that it's great when users are able to share things in more places. While there will always be some overlap in functionality between FriendFeed and large social networks, we believe there is a lot of room for FriendFeed to grow. The problems of sharing and communication are large, and we don't think they will be solved by a single product or company."
While that's true to a point - we certainly don't think Facebook will solve all our communication problems either - there is a valid concern that if FriendFeed can't cross over into the mainstream, they may not make it, especially given our current economy. Businesses still need to make money...and for web startups to make money they need users. Yes, more users than web celeb Robert Scoble and his 25,000 followers. Unless FriendFeed can prove to us that they can, without a doubt, monetize the long tail of technology early adopters, then they need to grow their user base. Can they do this? How? These remain unanswered questions as of now.
FriendFeed's Real Value
But don't get us wrong, FriendFeed's financial success (or lack thereof) is only one way to measure its real value. Obviously it's the one that investors and business owners care about. If that describes you - if you only care about the bottom line and all the nickels and dimes - then seeing FriendFeed's features swallowed up by the social giant that is Facebook may be worrisome.
However, if you measure success not by money alone but by pure, unadulterated excitement, the feeling that you've witnessed the birth of something new -something different - then it doesn't matter how many features Facebook steals for their own. All that matters is that innovation happened. It happened on FriendFeed. And you liked it.