Why I don’t like Friendfeed as much as I wanted, it lacks intention

Webware writes about Friendfeed this morning. A quote from the article that drew my attention:

The vision

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!

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This entry was posted in Bret Taylor, Facebook, Friendfeed, interaction, Paul Buchheit, social network aggregator, Twitter and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Why I don’t like Friendfeed as much as I wanted, it lacks intention

  1. Louis Gray says:

    To me, FriendFeed is interesting because of the interaction there, not so much the aggregation. The aggregation is what’s easy to grok, but the interaction is why I’m an avid user.

    Start here:

    http://friendfeed.com/louisgray

    We can interact. :-)

  2. Scott O'Raw says:

    I totally agree Alexander. The reason I didn’t include my Ma.Gnolia bookmarks RSS when setting up my FriendFeed account was for precisely the reasons you outline above. A lot of what I bookmark is reference material for me. If I feel a given site is something I feel other people should know about I can post a message on Twitter, share it on Facebook or, I guess a level up from that, write a piece on my blog about it.

    Your assertion that ‘intention’ is at the heart of the matter is incredibly apposite.

  3. alan p says:

    Aggregation is overdone and overhypes, filtering is the key requirement.

    Darned if I can see the difference between Friendfeed and N other similar ones except they have money ;-)

    (I love the irony that Google buys Jaiku just as 2 ex Googlers start building Friendfeed btw :)

  4. Alexander van Elsas says:

    @Louis Twitter provides interaction too, so why is friendfeed still more interesting to you? I find that the interaction on Friendfeed is fun (so is the interaction on Twitter). But the heart of the ff service (aggregation) provides me not enough value because of the lack of intent of the sharer.
    @Scott thank you for your nice comment ;-)
    @Alan I think Filtering is ok, Friendfeed just added a few filtering possibilities. But it still doesn’t address my main problem with aggregation. Garbage in means garbage out, no matter how great of a filter there is. No intention means no value

  5. Pingback: One Leg Off the FriendFeed Bandwagon | Mark Evans

  6. FriendFeed is, for me, just one more thing to keep track of. I never log in, and browse the daily update email, but mostly I look at that email in my inbox and cringe. I’m finding Twine much more valuable to me in sorting out what I want to read an d view rather than the barrage of noise coming out of FriendFeed.

  7. Scabr says:

    I think that FriendFeed’s conception is under construction,but their experiments are too interesting.

  8. Fraser says:

    Intention? Sure. But an additional problem is context.

  9. Zelnox says:

    Let me try to illustrate this. Some people like to go to Walmart Supercenters to shop for everything: clothes, soap, toothbrush, motor oil, eggs, pens, blender, pillow covers, etc. Others prefer to shop are more specialized places. People build relationships with these places. And I believe this applies to the web too.

    When I first heard of FriendFeed, I was worried about the level of noise all the aggregation would lead to. Been trying the service on and off (seems like I’m following a bunch of Googlers or ex-Googlers), but I don’t really see the extra value. If FriendFeed closed down, I wouldn’t miss it. If Twitter did, it would suck a lot.

    I remember reading somewhere that the bulk of updates on FriendFeed came from Twitter. Most of the people that do use Twitter regularly do so from a Twitter client. That’s how they are able to converse almost instantaneously.

    There are feed readers for blogs, and the Tumblr Dashboard for Tumblr. Moreover, I think most people use centralized bookmarking systems for their own intrinsic value (not with the intent to actively share). Personally, I don’t use feed readers as it was too much information. I prefer one-page aggregators such as techmeme, popurls, and originalsignal.

    When we aggregate all of this, that’s a lot of data! With specialized places, we can choose when we deal with them, when to process that information. That is intent in data consumption (to build on intent of sharing).

    It is true that one can interact within FriendFeed by commenting or by liking. But couple that with the amount of data aggregated, it seems to lead to spending more time in triaging/sorting/curating/sifting through that data.

  10. Webomatica says:

    Hmmm. I hear what you’re saying, but at least as I’m concerned, everything I do on the Internet is intentional, and gone through my personal filter of a desire to share. While friendfeed pulls in a fair amount of my actitivy online – it pulls in about 1% of what I do on a daily basis. It’s not pulling in what book I read on my commute to work or how many traffic lights I waited at – it doesn’t aggreate all the “boring” stuff like the websites I visit.

    Maybe I’m using FriendFeed differently, but every service I put into FriendFeed does have that intention to be shared.

    I’ll write about this more on my blog, I think, good post.

  11. Alexander van Elsas says:

    @Zelnox I agree, but for me it isn’t just the amount, but the sharing without intent is what makes it less valuable.
    @Webomatica I can understand that you have intended to share stuff and for that reason added certain RSS feeds to Friendfeed. But I could also imagine that since the RSS feed is there, you share things without thinking about it. But more importantly, I find that sharing something specific with specific intent and people is usually more valuable. In other words, if I decide to share a link with YOU, I probably am adding more value to the share than when I send it to everyone. In the first case I assesed the value for you, in the second case I’m throwing it into the world without that thought.

  12. Pingback: FriendFeed And Intention » Webomatica - Technology and Entertainment Digest

  13. I find myself using FriendFeed as a method of self-expression.

    Specifically, I have included a feed of everything that I listen to on last.fm. At least one person has pointed out that he’s interested in some of my feeds, but not that particular feed. However, this feed gives me the capability of commenting on particular songs, and it’s easier to do it this way than it is to create a blog post about a particular song.

    As FriendFeed gets more granular in its hiding mechanisms (currently you can hide all “blog”/rss feeds, but cannot selectively hide some and read others), the system will become more useful.

  14. @Alexander Brilliant insight. I could not agree more, the magic is all about human interaction, not content aggregation.

    “Intentional” posting are more relevant, because they are intentional act of interaction.

    Un-intentional acts can also result into fascinating human interactions, but the problem then become how to manage the volume of noise so that meaningful interactions can still happen.

    Great posting!

  15. Alexander van Elsas says:

    @Ontario Emperor. I think that self-expression is pretty intentional, so in that case it would most likely add value to those that enjoy music. A good counterexample to my post I would say ;-)

    @Cyril Moutran thanks ;-)

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  19. Tarun Saigal says:

    Ummm… I dont know …firstly Alex, I am on FF and I am far from being a techie ! I kind of lke the idea of FF right now because it allows me to fcus in a strange way to more interesting reads than i could on my own – for me its a tool that I like. And it does allow me to interact – perhaps not in real time as tweeting. I also am on the LinkRiver and honestly I think there is way too much noise there and finally twitter…hmm I am sorry but I dont get twitter-cacaphony- reminds me of the early IRC chat rooms. But thats me -

  20. @Tarun FF does provide us with interesting readings (just not enough to make it that important of a service, in my opinion). And I’m sure not everyone on FF is a tech person ;-)

  21. ross chapman says:

    As social tools, I see feed aggregator sites being useful for power personalities on the web who, because of their popularity on Twitter and other social networks, may desire to provide a way for their multitudes of “followers” to access their lifestream at a central place. But for the rest of us, I agree that these services highlight the passive vs the active in online sociality, thereby decreasing (some kind of) real interactivity between people.

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  24. Pingback: Interaction will drive the evolution of the web « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior

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