FriendFeed is a wonderful application that allows users to track what their friends are doing online. Photos, videos, blog posts and anything else that’s published online with a RSS feed can be brought into the service and viewed by anyone who wants to subscribe to you. And the FriendFeed team is continuously innovating and creating new features. All in all, it’s a service that should be bound for success.
But there’s trouble on the horizon, and FriendFeed is in danger of becoming the coolest application that no one uses.
Growth at Twitter, FriendFeed’s primary competitor, continues unchecked. According to Comscore the site is growing at approximately 33% a month and attracted just under 10 million unique worldwide visitors in February. It had just 1.2 million in February 2008. More importantly, every time I turn on the news, it seems the talking heads are pushing their Twitter account as their online identity. That kind of mainstream attention is driving users by the boatload. Meanwhile, competitor FriendFeed, despite a continuous stream of innovative new features, is languishing. It has just 637,000 monthly uniques according to Comscore, or about 6.4% of Twitter’s flow.
FriendFeed has less users today than it did last October, according to Comscore. Cofounder Paul Buchheit says that isn’t accurate (and I believe him), but it’s clear that the service hasn’t grown much in the last few months. Twitter is adding more users every week than FriendFeed has in total.
Twitter is turning into a growth monster, and the trajectory and continued media hype suggest that will continue well into broad mainstream adoption. This is despite the fact that Twitter rarely launches new features (or perhaps because of that) and had to buy its search feature.
Meanwhile, all those innovative features that FriendFeed launches are routinely copied by Facebook and others, minimizing their positive impact. And the fact is that FriendFeed may just be too complicated for the average user to quickly understand. Twitter is fairly simple: spout off on whatever you like in 140 characters or less, and if you’re interesting enough people will begin to subscribe to you. FriendFeed, by contrast, is a much more complex system with numerous bells and whistles. The power users love it. Novices can be overwhelmed.
Buchheit says that there’s no reason multiple players can’t compete in the microblogging/activity stream space and find success. He points to email as an example (and as the creator of Gmail, he knows what he’s talking about). But I’m not so sure that this space will go the same way as email. Twitter’s lead may be insurmountable by anyone other than Facebook at this point.
At the end of the day, this wonderful company may tire of swimming upstream and go for an easy exit. I’m sure that a number of larger companies would love to snap up FriendFeed to get the technology, team and userbase. I mean, it’s not like Google is just going to sit there and watch this all play out without them. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.