Blame FriendFeed III

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Happy Valentine's Day

Well, lookee here, it’s Google with a FriendFeed clone just in time to ask the musical question: If FriendFeed sucks so much, why on earth is Google doing a for-profit version of it? While the privacy crisis rages on around our inboxes, Google has blasted yet another microstream out into direct symbiosis with Twitter. Yes, that is exactly what FriendFeed did back in the days it was just an aggregator.

Later came the realtime chat, and then Wave, and then Google Realtime Search, all with that annoying realtime updating of the stream that caused so many of us to run for the Easy Hills. This stuff is so hard to understand that we’ve endured months of explanation by Facebook, a buy out of FriendFeed to silence the disturbing noise, and of course Twitter lists. How many times did we think about lists this week, except to note that there are not any in Buzz.

It’s been 4 or 5 days now, and even though Google PR has earned its keep managing the privacy missteps, we haven’t heard apologies from the CEO or founders like Zuckerberg pumped out around Beacon and whatever the next stumble was. What’s weird is I can’t remember much more than some Terms of Service that had to be rolled back. It may seem unfair, but Google has waited long enough to benefit from user fatigue about any of these issues.

Actually, I can’t remember why we care about this at all. It mystifies me that Marc Benioff is investing Salesforce cycles in this social stream, or why Buzz will be followed as soon as possible with an enterprise version. Looking at the Buzz flow, the only useful stuff is about Buzz futures; at some point all the FriendFeed features will be reimplemented and then the conversation will atrophy and move to a professional advertising QVC channel model. You’ll know the resulting content will be professionally produced because the rest of us will be sick of the whole thing.

My favorite part was the Google program manager’s response to a question about the return of Track (we’re always looking for good ideas, whatever that Track thing might be). Buzz really doesn’t need Track at all because there is absolutely no rational architecture to add value to. Basing a social graph on email is like Adobe supporting HTML5. Or trying to decipher which parts of this article are meant to be believed. Let me explain:

Email is the one thing that we actually believe computers can do well. We spend (used to) 75% + of our time processing it, reacting to it, storing it, subpoenaing it, shredding it, waking up in the middle of the night in a panic about it. When IM came along, we treated it like a hobby, something we did while not doing other important things like email. We aren’t sure how well computers do IM, and trust texting more because it’s tied to our phone and credit card.

The rest of the time after email and recess (IM) is spent on so-called browsing. Browsing began as a way of exploring, but email and IM quickly turned it into call and response. Here’s a URL, click on it. Read it until you’ve either absorbed the information or decided you’ve gotten the gist of it. If you like what you read, reward the source of the click direction. If not, look for someone to follow those orders and pay them to keep that away from you while you find better clicks or better people with better clicks.

Better people with better clicks require better pay for access to their clickstreams. Better pay comes in one of two ways, either more money or less time spent figuring out what better means at any moment. Typically, more money comes from going faster and smarter. Smarter comes from knowing what to look for, and faster comes from throwing out what isn’t worth finding before you waste the time finding out there’s nothing there. Smarter is a commodity in technology, but having the intuition to move on is rare.

FriendFeed emerged to harvest the social signals of exclusion, filtering based on the intuition of what parts of what streams added up to something not necessarily expected but likely to appear. Although the market focused on the competition with Twitter, the architects focused on the second order effects of the system. As FriendFeed became more and more efficient, it closed in on the value propositions of email and IM.

When email, IM, and FriendFeed intersect, we are compelled to make strategic decisions about our information flow. The first thing I tried to do with Buzz was send a private message, or in other words, replace email and IM. For now you have to create a private group on one (or none), which means it’s easier to stay with IM and its ephemeral quality or email and its additional decision tree of to’s, cc’s and bcc’s. Net: I’ll wait until they adopt FriendFeed groups and direct messages.

Groups enable a hybrid of public and private that Buzz only suggests but does not yet deliver. By establishing targets for collaboration and registering people, you avoid the constant decision-making about who sees what and in what proximity to others. Realtime conversations can be public or private, absorbing IM for many tasks and creating filtering opportunities based not on keywords but social vetting. Buzz will inevitably adopt FriendFeed tools, starting with a mapping of the social cloud and a Trackable alert mechanism to preserve discovery and harness the wisdom of overlapping friend filters.

Can Google figure out how to perpetuate FriendFeed as a broadly adopted mainstream system. Honestly, who cares? They’ve been running it internally across the company for six months, and unlike Wave have succeeded in integrating it with their Office product without a technical glitch. And if I’m reading the conversation with Sergey Brin correctly, part of the reason they’ve been successful in that integration is because they’re using Buzz. That’s why they’re hot to trot this puppy into the enterprise; they already know it works.

Far from being dead, FriendFeed just got a clean bill of health from Buzz. First, there’s the amazing mobile app and Nexus One integration, which can and will be ported directly to the iPad on Day One. Hybrid HTML 5 and H.264 stream virtualization will combine to create a core class of cross-platform media apps. As Ray Ozzie predicted, we will see rapid convergence across all the major platforms. Blame FriendFeed.

The privacy crisis will be sorted out by comparing the value of the FriendFeed cloud to Twitter lists and Gmail/Greader harvesting. Then the overlapping groups will be meshed together with API-driven import/export utilities that normalize the social dynamics of the competing systems. Parenthetically, this will give Facebook/FriendFeed integration a kick in the ass, with the promised stream splicing and bridging intelligence orchestrated to let the main systems dedupe the flow across the bus. Blame FriendFeed.

And, yes, we will see the return of Track, as we learn to stand on each others’ shoulders and take advantage of the smarts of realtime filtering based not on our Track modeling but the successful Tracking of our peers and their peers. In realtime, news is a commodity, but in reducing the friction of discovery and tying social relevance to the time not wasted on the trivial, we carve out the time to spend more wisely. If Google won’t do Track, maybe Benioff will. And I’ll blame FriendFeed.

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