Saving the FailWhale

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I so want to befriend FriendFeed. It would be the right thing to do: Permanently screw with the commenters who correctly believe I’m an arrogant elitist who wants to maintain my flimsy status at the bottom of the C-List. Truth be told, I despise social media for the wasted time I’ve spent ignoring the next phase only to pathetically cave as soon as I see the tide of history passing me by.

34 days ago I carved FriendFeed a well-deserved new one as Twitter showed signs of leveling off at barely useful. Back then, IM and Track were protected from withering eyes by the random failures of the whole system; today the complete absence of real time network effects shifts the blame squarely on the the social media crowd and their inability to consolidate value. Summize has emerged as an adequate bandaid, but in so doing also suggests using FriendFeed’s Search function to similar effect.

Then the dominoes began to fall: Dave Winer injected some real emotion into the new cloud, recognizing as he frequently has done over the years that the power in disruptive transports depends on real human concerns to trigger the bootstrap phase. I think he finally realized that the decentralization evangelism didn’t fundamentally resonate with those who watch Dave for clues to the next direction. When he started engaging around his issues of A-List, pro blogging, and so on, people were forced to follow him into the silo.

In engaging with FriendFeed without subterfuge or TinyURL masking, Winer lent much needed credibility and validation to the cause. This wasn’t about Twitter’s failings. Honestly, I don’t know what it was about but it felt real, a nod to the new service that recalled his seminal validation of Twitter early in its run up. To be sure, Dave also pushed Pownce at a midway point to no particular effect. But this one felt different.

So I jumped in last night and started reading through the back archives. Where I thought I’d find a cacophony of trolls, I found something not all that different from the comment stream on my Saturday TechCrunch posts, except a bit more focused and less redundant. Perhaps the time spent out of the loop also spared me the learning curve of a threaded conversation, but again, not sure but better than expected. Maybe the new old guard of FreindFeed had begun to establish terms of engagement, subtle rules for the road rage that social networks incite.

Of course, I quickly retreated to Twitter, like a failed spouse trying to reclaim the magic. Having taken all this far more seriously than many and endured the burden of the messenger, I found Twitter largely intact but strangely devoid of something that I couldn’t quantify. Is it like the fall-off of traffic after the Bubble burst, or the return of the traffic on 101 in the past two years but not the frenzy? Do I think Twitter’s time has past. Only that am I sure of, that that isn’t true. Twitter will get fixed.

I still feel emphatically that FriendFeed is an iterative child of Twitter, an evolution of the Facebook activity stream without the confusion of the hoarding vibe of that service. The conversations may be siloed, but not because of business model concerns but rather a genuine question of how to reinsert the flow back into Twitter or some other originating source. My intuition suggests TinyURL could play a role in bundling up personalized versions of comment threads based on some follow/hide/search algorithm, where pruning of rude and time-wasting behavior weights the way things are aggregated.

But the current FriendFeed architecture is not granular enough to support the signals necessary to create sufficient value to justify the investment. Comments are not time stamped, requiring careful reading in context to identify a recent comment from a day-old one. This is an artifact of the lack of real time XMPP flow, which seems likely to appear soon. The explicit voting of the current system would be augmented, and perhaps replaced, by a more implicit filtering based on previous behavior and the user’s perception of the commenter’s credibility, insight, or entertainment value.

The endgame is not yet fully engaged, but the tiering of the FailWhale has produced a competition on a far more level playing field than I anticipated 34 days ago. The drip drip of Twitter API pauses and repetitive displays of old FriendFeed messages in Twhirl’s omnibus displays reminds me of the immaturity of both platforms, but the realization that the FailWhale serves all players in this rapid buildout augurs well for the near future.

  • OhGodItsGillmor

    I’ll stick to for serious IT discussion.

  • dMix

    FriendFeed? I had to check to the about page to make sure I’m on the right blog. Gillmor your a good writer but you chose to write for a blog serving a niche, lets stay on topic.

    “TCIT is dedicated to obsessively profiling products and companies in the Enterprise Technology space. TCIT aims to promote an understanding of emerging and existing Enterprise technologies and to analyze their commercial, social, and consumer impacts.”

  • marcel weiss

    what the other 2 commenters said.

  • aronski

    Having spent the day with the taste of crow in my mouth and experimenting with Friendfeed, the cracks in the dike are showing today more than ever, it is clear that they are 2 different beasts we are trying to pound into the shape we think we want. Today I spent trying the service totally by mobile platform as I am traveling by land through Europe. The fact that Twitter is so crippled has me using different services (Summize,Twitterberry,gTalk and Friendfeed) to try to keep the conversation going as we experienced it a little over a month ago. While Summize provides an after the fact Track and a fast but semi manual stream to follow and gTalk’s one way broadcast inbound in real time( when it functions),it doesn’t replace the 2 way real time experience that gTalk with Track did. Friendfeed’s threads and rooms are very cool features. As are the other ways to shape and filter certain aspects of users multi feed streams but I see Friendfeed as a different tool altogether. It has great promise when more of the users I follow set up (tomorrow maybe?) and FFtogo is a great reader/commenter app but I think that my other thought may be shared by people: I just want Twitter to work. All the other services will live and die by their usefulness. Twitter when it functioned was something that you could take with you, share as it happened, use to message, get answers, read suggested news and broadcast your experience to whomever would tolerate it. I guess my snobby attitude about Friendfeed has had a slight paradigm shift, thanks to Twitter’s failure. I’d like both, thank you and I hope that comes to pass.


    “the lack of real time XMPP”
    Didn’t they mention they were looking into developing this on your very own gillmor podcast? I love it when non-developers expect developers to jump though hoops in a nano-second.

  • Steve Gillmor

    DNS Attack

    Yes they did, and in fact Bret Taylor went a little further in a video conversation we had at Supernova:

    I’m confident this is forthcoming, and expect that these talented folks will indeed jump through these hoops in a relative nano-second.

  • Ken Sheppardson

    I can understand why someone’s first response might be to declare this unrelated to “emerging and existing Enterprise technologies and to analyze their commercial, social, and consumer impacts”, but I’ll go ahead and disagree. I haven’t seen the light, so to speak, on the idea that the Twitter+TinyURL architecture is the backbone for online communication in the future, but I can sure as heck see the potential for FriendFeed or FriendFeed-like services in the enterprise.

    If you use FF for a while, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the same service in your company (either installed internally or hosted with the appropriate authentication and authorization features added) aggregating all the feeds from everyone in your workgroup, department, or business. It’s lighter weight than email, provides a public feed similar to an intranet home page, facilitates quick conversations, and is globally accessible. How is that not an emerging technology for the enterprise?

  • Steve Gillmor


    Couldn’t have said it better, and didn’t.

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  • dMix

    @ #7 Ken

    “How is that not an emerging technology for the enterprise?

    Just because an existing technology could be applied to the enterprise market does not make that technology enterprise software.

    I read through the post and don’t see any connection made to a business applications. Consumer and enterprise markets are very different, adoption is slow.

    You also mentioned feeds. Can you give me an example of these feeds that the software would aggregate?

    The first step would be wide-spread adoption of intranets with RSS, web based communication software with APIs, and other content like project management updates with these enterprises. But unfortunately those technologies are not yet common outside of silicon valley. Especially multiple ones to be aggregated.

    I’d argue there is a need for the technologies I listed. But right now its too early to say there is a need for a service to aggregate content that is hardly there.

    *Hopefully I’m not coming off as an arrogant c-list commenter*

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  • Ken Sheppardson


    Given that this is TechCrunchIT’s first week, I suppose I’m willing to cut Steve and Nik some slack as they define the scope of what they want to cover. That is, whether they intend to provide news and tactical analysis of existing “products and companies in the Enterprise Technology space” or push things out further and start a discussion on how some of the new consumer apps and mashups will be brought into the enterprise. Personally, I’m more interested in the latter.

    You asked, “Can you give me an example of these feeds that the software would aggregate?”


    * Most if not all wiki software these days provides an RSS feed of changes. I don’t have adoption stats, but I would certainly think firms outside of Silicon Valley are recognizing the value of the wiki in knowledge capture and collaboration.

    * Internal blogs maintained by individuals and teams are a great way to capture project status, keep in sync with team members, and support remote employees. These blogs, of course, provide RSS feeds.

    * Providers of document management systems, bug tracking systems, help desk systems, customer service applications, and other knowledge capture applications have certainly recognized the value in providing feeds as a way to distribute information about updates. If they’re not already providing these feeds, I suspect they will be in the next version or two.

    There’s also the opportunity to tie all this data together with numerical feeds like vehicle / shippment geolocation data and generate mapping and charting mashups. I’m not sure what feeds logistics services provide, but I suspect they’re coming shortly.

    I’d certainly agree with you that adoption of these technologies isn’t moving as quickly as some of us would like, but to some extent I think there’s a chicken-and-the-egg issue: roll-out of these sorts of feeds and feed tech may be slow until employees have systems that can aggregate the infromation, allow an individual to filter by topic or author, and otherwise slice and dice the information the way systems like FriendFeed can.

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