FriendFeed did Connection Best

For those of you unfamiliar with FriendFeed, it was a social network cum real time stream and content aggregator where many of us had powerful conversation threads and group discussions. Its strong search function meant you could find anything on the platform instantly. The global community and ability to stumble onto multi-lingual content easily was a major plus for me.

FF search

FriendFeed was about the friends of friends. What it did really well (slightly edited from that post):

(1.) It provided a 360 view of someone's online activity. Because it was designed to aggregate feeds from different tools — e.g., Twitter, Flickr, Delicious, Google Reader (also discontinued), blogs RSS, Digg, and Stumble Upon activity, etc. You get a better feel of someone's social media imprint, tone, voice, attitude, including yours. What is the sum total of those impressions?

(2.) It shined a light over international discussions. While I have many Italian, Belgian, Australian, German, and French professionals in my Twitter stream, their activity is drowned by the sheer volume of American chatter. On FriendFeed I was been able to see the activities and conversations of my Italian network, for example. They made very good use of the tool using images, reports, and discussions. All neatly captured in threads that on the Twitter surface would seem unrelated and disjointed.

(3.) It was full of surprises. A friend of a friend may post something quite interesting that I would never in a million years have thought of looking for and there was more than one dimension to it beyond broadcasting. For some reason it reminded me of conversations you strike when on a train in Italy or as you wait in line at a store — casual can be interesting. If a thread strikes a chord, it will keep bubbling up in the stream, intact for you to catch up on hours later.

I even did a fun you know you are addicted to FriendFeed when post — they had come up with a hide button way before Twitter gave us the mute option. The comment thread to that post on FriendFeed:


Comments Two
[pardon my poor screen shots]

I can dream of it on Facebook. The only place where we came close to having good exchanges was this blog when the comments box was a place to connect with others.

How do you Influence the Influencers?As of April 9, it will be no more. Though it ceased to exist in the minds of many users who had been there before with other tools when it was acquired by Facebook in 2009. The announcement inspired me to write one of my classic posts in defense of growing your own URL vs. that of other networks — How social media is like sharecropping:

There's a lesson in FriendFeed's sale for all of us who spend time with social media, interact with customers online, or guide corporate digital outreach. Here it is: We are playing in somebody else's yard. And we can be told to go home at any time.
That API your team just wrote an application for? It can be changed overnight – or disappear entirely. Maybe you've spent months developing a customer base on some promising service. A quick weekend deal, and that service is gone. Just business, of course. Companies don't run on promises and rainbows forever, and cash is king in a tough economy. Things can change in the blink of an eye.

In a way, businesses working social media channels are sharecroppers. So are all the users. They labor on the services, both creating and receiving value. But they don't own the fields they cultivate, and can be put off the land whenever it suits the landlord.

I did hold out for a while, as I explained in my 12 reasons why I still use and like FriendFeed where I saved the best reason for last:

12. You will still find that camaraderie and helpfulness that was present in other networks early on and then went away when things got busy and crowded (and people jostled for positions.)

Here we are once again wrestling with the built to flip concept popularized by Jim Collins in his famous Fast Company article. I prefer building to grow — the difference in question between do you add or extract value?

Louis Gray said# it well:

If you were part of the active community that made FriendFeed special in those wide-eyed years, you experienced something I've never seen with any community since (with occasional flashes on Google+ and Twitter being exceptions). If you missed it, then you missed out on seeing one of the most talented teams ever assembled working on something that was both fun and smart. And that story's final chapter is coming without us ever getting the happy ending we were hoping for. I'm not mad, just wistful at what might have been.

Something to think about as we give more of our data to companies that may or may not be building to grow and who consider the contents of the platforms they provide theirs, even though we put it there.