Friendfeed: The Little Engine that Could

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Update: Friendfeed today released support for its Beta Real-Time feature. The API adds the ability to fetch realtime streams based on the Home, Room, and Friends List updates as they occur. While Friends Lists offer a way to port social graph data of your Twitter Follows to the Friendfeed platform, co-founder Bret Taylor said that was not yet available through the API “though we should add those methods in the future.”

Friendfeed’s launch of realtime services has set off a serious horse race on the micromessaging platform. While the New York Times contrasts Twitter and Yammer as eyeballs versus revenue, or consumer v. enterprise, Friendfeed finds itself positioned as an attractive candidate for building scoped message hubs without an IT oversight requirement.

Yammer’s appeal is the quality of its offering, which extends across Web, desktop, and iPhone instances. The Adobe Air client is elegantly deployed, with a preference page for updates that specifically defines the location of scroll-up notifications (I configured it to the lower left to avoid Twhirl’s hard-coded territory), the length posts remain visible (not adjustable in Twhirl), and the number of full text items (defaults to first 3).

If you’re an XMPP fan, you can setup IM from the Web client (Twitter has killed IM) in a simple 2-step process that pings you in Gchat and confirms in the Web client. The iPhone still awaits Apple’s push technology to round out the suite, but the spit and polish of the client suite neatly defines what Twitter and its third party support will need to do once they are challenged in the marketplace. and its Laconica compatriots may have garnered a dedicated developer-focused version of Twitter’s high-visibility crowd, but there’s no papering over the weaknesses of a single point of failure at the center of the potential platform. Evan Prodromou and his open source team have outperformed expectations in cloning Twitter’s API and leveraging Twitter’s abdication of Track and now IM. But where Twitter used to stumble and shudder around high volume events such as primaries and debates, more recently the service has stayed up while it’s that goes dark.’s fundamental problem is the lack of a viral trigger to boost adoption to a critical mass beyond those who feel used and abused by Twitter’s disingenuous path to stability and a revenue strategy. Twitter has successfully made the case for becoming a common carrier of realtime discourse, regardless of the current absence of the carrot we all bit into.’s open source roots may convert a few of the choir, but for true competition to emerge, another attractor must be offered as bait.

Friendfeed seems a plausible host for such a disruptor of Twitter’s power base. What realtime enables, and Track accelerates, is the swarm behavior which evangelizes micromessaging. Without realtime, Twitter is a bulletin board in the center of the town, a virtual water cooler where the fodder of overnight is chewed and refashioned as punditry for the midday crowd. Just as Yammer is work product meets group IM, Twitter is brand protection meets market intelligence.

Swarm behavior, by contrast, turns the Twitter idea into a wave of innovation, the realtime expansion of idea into action, of early warning into rapid decision making, of business intelligence into strategic deployment of resources. Swarms are as interesting for how people don’t react as for what the original spark suggests. As we learn from experience how specific nodes participate in the information stream, we can evaluate today’s silence or muted contributions to derive competitive insight not possible before micromessaging achieved traction.

Friendfeed’s original value proposition was as an aggregator, taking off from Facebook’s activity stream to add a conversational oasis where behavioral signals could be mixed with a limited social graph and explicit voting to create some degree of authority and information fidelity. But nowhere was the speed with which Twitter grew mirrored in the resulting Friendfeed community; the lack of swarm characteristics kept the dynamics insular, the service a refuge for critics of message length, instability, and A List blogosphere class warfare.

Add realtime and suddenly the space is recast. As Twitter Track refugees tire kick, they notice the holes in their social graphs on the new service. Almost immediately questions bubbled up on and Twitter: How can we port our Follows? Why does it take 30 minutes for posts to show up on FriendFeed when it takes seconds from Twitter? Which services are faster than others in hitting the realtime canvas?

What’s innately disruptive about Friendfeed’s realtime services is that its competitors can be used to debug and flesh out the service as the community responds to the swarm behavior it enables. The easiest way to check who was responsible for the 30-minute delay from to Friendfeed was to disable that subscription and enable one from Twitter. Since many users employ a bridge to pipe posts to Twitter, the message path still works into Friendfeed when you unsub from

Once the pathway is cleared and the relative inefficiencies of Friendfeed’s inserting other services such as FLickr into the stream are calibrated, the next step is to solve the social graph issues. Here’s where Friend Lists loom large, as it should be relatively easy to set up mini-home pages with high value follows. The loser here will likely be Twhirl, since aggregating follows from Twitter and Laconica instances can effectively roll up multiple windows into a single interface. Alternately, you can embed multiple streams on a console.

Once the promised realtime APIs are released, Twhirl and will be able to recover some of their feature set, and of course the business conversations necessary to achieve parity with Twitter and vice versa will be joined. Earlier yesterday Prodromou enabled direct reply to specific messages, and a comparable ability from within Friendfeed would leapfrog past Twitter until all three players achieve parity. copied Twitter’s initial reply_id functionality when it appeared several months ago, but Twitter will have to decide whether it makes strategic sense to make it easy to talk cross-platform.

Much has been made of the differences between Friendfeed and Twitter, but realtime is the great leveler. Once the basics are ironed out, the differentiator between individual services will be much more in their effectiveness in acting as host to enough of the routing points of the overall micromessaging infrastructure to be the driver of standards. Just as Firefox (even with Chrome’s assist) continues to be the fulcrum of browser standards, so may Friendfeed step into the role of mediator between public and private micromessaging services.

Such a hybrid of intranet and extranet services will go a long way toward triggering the entry of the platform players, as email and IM become services that could be absorbed by the realtime architecture. That possibility certainly redounds to the incumbents, but users may be resistant to having their access to an open network constrained by a bigco audience acquisition and siloing bifurcation of the cloud. And just as Twitter consolidated the Track threat by purchasing Summize, we may see overtures in either direction by Friendfeed and Twitter, by Microsoft, Google, and Cisco, or open source patrons such as Oracle, IBM, and even Sun in the case of or an XMPP competitor.

  • BB

    yup. we like RT irl.

  • Rich Apps Consulting

    Friendfeed is a great applications and I am sure that it will be the application of the year 2009.

  • Brian Roy

    You’ve gotten way too wrapped up in Micro-Messaging. That is only one small part of the Social Media “presence” of a person. FriendFeed wins because it Aggregates EVERYTHING a person shares across network/service.
    More here:

  • Karoli

    My only issue with the FriendFeed realtime feed as it is today is that I want to be able to either: a) filter it; or b) track key terms with it in addition to aggregating content. I’m struggling with how to keep the signal to noise ratio down to a manageable level while still engaging in discovery and conversation. Still, the real-time feature definitely moved FriendFeed from a simple aggregator/archive to a candidate for much more attention on a daily basis.

  • aj

    ffeed still alive…after facebook facelift…ffeed is kind of dead for me…haven’t used it since new fb home page

  • Edwin Khodabakchian

    Interesting post and concept. This real-time thing goes back to content push and reminds me of Netscape Netcaster. Do normal users really want push? Or is the ability to search by keyword and get a notification on the number of updates since the search was submitted (a la twitter search) the real killer application? It would be interesting to see how it will play out. If I had to put money on the table, I would bet on Twitter, because of its simplicity.

  • Karoli


    I agree with you about aggregation, but aggregation by itself is just another layer of stuff. I don’t need stuff in real time. So either i’m using it to discover new stuff, new people or new information.

    Until now, FriendFeed has been an aggregated archive for me. A way to track my lifestream and access something easily. The conversational aspect of friendfeed actually frustrated me because I never thought to check for comments on my stuff, figuring I’d see them in twitter or on my blog, or my Flickr photos, or whatever.

    The real-time incorporation causes me to look at it again as something more useful, but I still think tweaks need to be made, or 3rd parties need to build on their API for it to realize its potential.

  • Hamish MacEwan

    Push is a pretty broad church and a lot of technologies fit within its permeable walls. The kind of “push” users like is the one they control and this is what separates junk mail and telemarketing from XMPP and phone calls from friends.

    On the search side of microblogging I was surprised that people don’t perceive a gulf between and In the former you are reduced to paying excessive attention and reloading like a trained rodent while the latter produces a river of posts that you can pause or dip into at leisure. would be the behaviour of the latter with the configurability of the former. Rather like the FB live news, which is clever enough to pause automatically if you shift to another tab.

    I think Steve’s observations are very fair and it will be true for sometime that the rebel alliance will struggle to take share from the incumbent, who having built their market share and believing the network effects will shield them from consequences have dumped some countries out of the SMS club and removed features some consider essential.

    Of course the choir, who are generally those impatient with waiting for the proprietary “walled-garden-to-maximum-extent-without-pissing-off-too-many” to collapse, as it inevitably will, will move to laconica early.

    As for migrating more, Leo’s on, so that’s a few thousand twitter followers who know the option exisists, perhaps Scoble and/or Calacanis could make the move and that should set it on fire. But wait, as noted, premature success can burn down the house. Perhaps despite our excitement and appreciation of the benefits and inevitability, we ought to wait just until the house is in order before holding a real big housewarming.

    Friendfeed I too regard as an aggregator rather than an originator, its a choice embedded, or inherent, in the incorporation of other non-microblogging sites. Sure I feed, twitter, my blog, Google shared items, et al into FriendFeed, but I don’t post directly there much at all.

    FriendFeed is a “some assembly allowed” FaceBook, nothing like a microblog, IMHO.

    And even with an API, it’ll be the delay Steve identifies *into* Friendfeed that will render this irrelevant.

    I don’t think it will be sufficient of a draw to overcome the inertia, general satisfaction, buzz and market share that Twitter has assembled. It will need to be a very attractive proposition.

    But certainly raised the bar on, as far as i know… It’s a move I’d make.

  • mnvamsi

    Friend feed is a great website to get connected with friends and to share news.
    I get huge traffic from friend Feed.

  • Marc’s Voice » Blog Archive » Blogging from Chesnut st

    […] FriendFeed move forward […]

  • Wally Hardy


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