Webware writes about Friendfeed this morning. A quote from the article that drew my attention:
FriendFeed is currently a “social-network aggregator.” It picks up the stuff you do online and tells your friends about it, saving them the hassle of visiting all your online hangouts to see what you are up to. But as many people have noticed, this leads to social overload. It’s too much information to process. Buchheit and Taylor were clear with me that they have more work to do on FriendFeed to make the core aggregation feature more useful. In particular, they want to add intelligence to the service so it highlights what you’re interested in, not every last thing your friends are doing.
I have been using Friendfeed irregularly the past few weeks. I was thinking about this the other day. Why am I less enthusiastic about the service than a lot of bloggers (here and here for example) out there? The service gets full attention of the blogging world and seems to be the new pet for tech geeks (I wonder how many non-techies are on Friendfeed?). I have had a few good times on Friendfeed, but these times were characterized by the interaction that took place over there. People commenting on something and replying to each others comments. Interaction is what I like most in any kind of service. I like Twitter for just that reason. While Twitter was made for people to answer the question “what are you doing?”, I like Twitter much better when an uncontrolled , unexpected, funny and often surprising @conversation starts (that is, people actually addressing each other on Twitter instead of addressing the whole world). It’s interaction and it makes the service work for me.
Based upon my own experiences I’ve come to a pretty harsh, untested, unfounded conclusion about social network aggregators. They are based upon the wrong assumption. And the founders of Friendfeed seem to understand this pretty well. There is one major flaw in such services, they lack intention.
Let me explain what I mean by that using a quote from that webware article.
“It picks up the stuff you do online and tells your friends about it, saving them the hassle of visiting all your online hangouts to see what you are up to.”
This quote says it all. Friendfeed and the like are build to save us the hassle of finding out what our friends are doing. They assume that it brings us value to sit back in a lazy chair to find out what our friends are doing. But the problem with that assumption is that it doesn’t bring us enough value.
Just think about it for a minute. Off all the things you do in a day, all the people you meet, all the things you read, write, think. How much of that stuff is actually interesting for your “friends” to know about? Would you bother to tell them about it if Friendfeed didn’t exist? I bet that more than 90% of your experiences in a day aren’t really worth mentioning to your friends. But Friendfeed and the likes can’t make that distinction. They publish everything you have imported into Friendfeed, making the rest of the world look at 90% useless information to dig up perhaps less than 10% good stuff. Why? Not because there is too much information. it’s because of a lack of intention.
By now each Friendfeed user probably has imported 10-20 RSS feeds and isn’t even remotely aware of all the stuff he is sharing automatically. Because of this lack of intention most of the shared stuff is worthless. If I see something that I know my friend really likes and then share it intentionally with him, it provides us both with value. But if I spill my guts to the world without thinking about what I’m sharing it makes most of the things I share pretty worthless.
Precisely for this reason I believe that services such as Twitter are far more valuable than Friendfeed. If someone posts a Tweet, he or she is using intention. It is a conscious act to say something out loud. Does that mean all Tweets are valuable. Off course not. But if intention is there, then you will see value far more likely than when something is aggregated automatically.
Friendfeed might look great to us tech geeks and bloggers. Mostly because the service is being used to draw attention to blog posts, tech info, breaking news, etc. It is a way to get attention for something, to draw traffic to your site. Friendfeed is becoming a traffic driver as Fred Wilson points out. Instead of getting RSS readers to you blog, which takes a lot of time and dedication from a blogger, we can now all post our stuff to Friendfeed. And some folks are likely to click on the link out of curiosity.
But I have serious doubts that such a social network aggregator provides non-tech people any value. What if we could see all “social” activities of our friends without them having the intention of sharing something specific with us? The information value, fun or surprise factor would diminish rather quickly. It is like the Facebook news aggregator. I am not a heavy Facebook user, but I can’t say that I get a lot of value knowing my friends just took a movie quiz, played a game of scrabble, poked or zombied someone. Call me old-fashioned, but it just doesn’t provide me value. But if one of my Facebook fiends intentionally sends me a personal message, it immediately provides me with value.
Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor came from Google, and did a great job technically aggregating everything into Friendfeed. They did an even greater job drawing venture capital and getting the blogosphere to really get hyped over Friendfeed. But honestly, they should really rethink the basic principle of Friendfeed. They should stop trying to figure out what is valuable to me as a user, as shown in this quote:
Buchheit and Taylor were clear with me that they have more work to do on FriendFeed to make the core aggregation feature more useful. In particular, they want to add intelligence to the service so it highlights what you’re interested in, not every last thing your friends are doing.
There isn’t an algorithm that will filter out the garbage and show me the valuable stuff. The principle is simple, garbage in means garbage out. And Friendfeed has made it very simple for its users to draw in anything at all. I never INTENDED to have all that stuff shared ;-)
I’ll keep reminding myself when new services arrive that interaction is what it is all about. Forget aggregation. Aggregation is for convenience, for the unintended. Interaction is intentional and therefore always more interesting!