FriendFeed, The Centralized Me, and Data Portability

It’s definitely FriendFeed month in Silicon Valley. The company, founded by ex-Googlers, let you aggregate information and activity streams from all of the various services that you use on the internet – Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blog posts, delicious bookmarks, Twitter messages, and other stuff (33 services total to date). Your friends subscribe to your stuff, and see a stream of data on their home page coming from everyone they follow.

The site also allows users to add content directly, comment on information and, more recently, added an excellent search feature that is still sorely lacking in Twitter. The site is more than a list of feeds that can be re-exported. FriendFeed wants to be a destination site, too.

And their growth is very strong, given that the service only launched publicly a month ago. The number of users was growing 25% per week earlier this month.

Last week the site announced the availability of an API, which allows third party services to easily add in FriendFeed data and features. The first batch of these applications are starting to be released now.

The Centralized Me

But there’s something just a little weird about FriendFeed, some people are starting to mumble. It’s an aggregated “me” but it sits in a centralized site (in fact, centralization is kind of the point). FriendFeed is a (and hopes to become “the”) Centralized Me. It’s a data silo. True, it’s a friendly data silo, with APIs and RSS feeds to move some of the data around, but it’s ultimately housed on their servers, and always will be.

Loic Le Meur sort of summed it all up tonight in a blog post where he says that we grew used to having a Centralized Me in the days before all these services popped up, starting in 2004 and spreading since then. That Centralized Me was the blog. Then we grew used to having a Decentralized Me – your stuff was literally everywhere. Go here for photos, here for the blog, here for videos, and here for bookmarks. Robert Scoble today is sort of the quintessential Decentralized Me – his stuff is everywhere, and he seems to love the chaos.

What Loic wants, and I think other people will want it too, is a place that they control where this information is aggregated. That may be right back at the blog for some people. For others it may be Facebook (who understands this fully). Wherever a person considers their home turf is where they’ll want all this data.

FriendFeed can become that place, but it’s an uphill climb. So many other services have already become the psychological home of their users. Changing that is like swimming upstream.

Is Data Portability The Anti-FriendFeed?

The Data Portability Project may turn out to be the answer that people are looking for. And it may turn out to be a sort of anti-FeedFriend. The whole point of Data Portability is to get social networks talking to each other and exchanging user data, with their explicit permission. Want to add your flickr photos, twitter messages and YouTube Videos to your blog? Data Portability is working to help make that happen through consensus driven policies and procedures. In essence, data portability embraces the Decentralized Me, but lets users re-centralize it wherever they please.

Frankly, not enough people know much about DataPortability yet. That will start to change, as founder Chris Saad is starting a road show presentation to talk at a high level about what he’s trying to accomplish. Some big partners are joining, even if just in spirit so far.

Ultimately, Data Portability is to the Centralized Me (all your stuff) as OpenID is to identity (your literal identity). And just as the big players are sort of supporting/exploiting OpenId to maintain their user accounts, they will also support/exploit Data Portability to remain the place users consider the Centralized Me.

Serious politics and power plays are coming. What I’m wondering is if FriendFeed can get big enough fast enough, and get enough users to think of it as their Centralized Me, to be in the game.