Last week, we wrote that FriendFeed was in danger of becoming “the coolest app that no one uses.” The thought was that while FriendFeed is doing some great things both in terms of its technology and feature-wise, it has failed to capture the growth of the hot micro-messaging service, Twitter. But I think that misses the real key comparison. If you look at it, FriendFeed is actually a lot closer to Facebook these days. You know, that service that 200 million plus people use. They’re doing a lot of similar things — only FriendFeed is doing them better.
Go ahead, take a look at the newly launched beta version of FriendFeed side-by-side with the recently redesigned Facebook. Sure, both also look a lot like Twitter, but look deeper, beyond the appearance and into the functionality. Both of the services’ main pages offer a stream of information, including information piped in from other services. Both have filters on the sidebar (though FriendFeed recently moved its from the left side — where Facebook’s are — to the right side). Both offer the ability to comment and “like” elements within the stream. And both offer the ability to hide information within the stream.
Now, use both services. Immediately, you’ll see what Facebook is trying to do: Show you an up-to-date look at what your friends are doing both on Facebook and around the web. But it’s not actually live — it’s static. You need to refresh the feed to get more information. FriendFeed, on the other hand, is updating in real-time.
At first, there was some backlash against this real-time updating on FriendFeed, with users complaining that there was too much information coming in, too quickly. But that talk has quieted down quite a bit in the week since its launch. And the real-time aspect has so far proven to be a boon for activity on the site. I’m looking at my FriendFeed stream right now compared to my Facebook stream — my FriendFeed stream has a lot more activity on it, despite Facebook having over 200 million users and FriendFeed likely having something south of a million users.
At a glance, FriendFeed feels alive, while Facebook feels, well, static.
Facebook plans to turn on real-time updates as well. But when it does, it could well be looking at another major backlash from users. If we saw a backlash against real-time on FriendFeed — which not only has much fewer users, but also has a user base that is considered to be full of “power” web users — just imagine what the backlash will be like on Facebook. It will be ugly.
And that’s why filters are so important. These allow you to show only certain updates from certain people on your stream. But again, FriendFeed has done a better job on them than Facebook has. Facebook has made it fairly easy to edit who is in what filter, but it’s still not obvious as to how to do that from a friend’s actual profile page. On FriendFeed, it’s obvious.
More importantly, FriendFeed has always made it easy to filter the stream not just by user, but by type of feed element. Facebook recently added this functionality, but it is much less tailored. For example, I can hide YouTube videos, but it will hide all YouTube videos. On FriendFeed, you can hide just YouTube videos from a certain user (but still get other updates from that user). And it’s easy to change those settings as any time. On Facebook, I have no idea how to do that.
And with these weaker filters (and a user base who isn’t accustomed to using them), when Facebook implements its real-time stream, a lot of information is going to go by without being noticed. That’s because while FriendFeed smartly brings elements back up to the top of the stream when a friend comments on or “likes” them, Facebook keeps them moving right on down the stream. This means that we’re not likely to see an 800+ comment stream below items like we saw the other day on FriendFeed during a live recording of the Gillmor Gang (yes, it was talking about FriendFeed, but still).
Obviously, Facebook is a lot more than just a stream of information — it’s the largest social network, with rich profiles, a robust application community, among many other things. But it’s also clear that Facebook wants to be the center of sharing information on the web. And right now, both Twitter and yes, FriendFeed are kicking its ass at that, in terms of execution.
Let’s jump back to Twitter for a second. A lot of people are caught up with the whole Facebook/Twitter comparison — and that probably includes those high up at Facebook (which failed in a bid to buy Twitter at the end of last year). It’s obvious that Facebook’s recent emphasis on status updates comes directly as a result in the surge in popularity of Twitter. It’s also clear that the large icons in the stream come from Twitter as well — something which I think is actually a mistake for Facebook, because the icons are far too large and make information intake even more difficult.
But I think it’s FriendFeed that Facebook should be more closely following, given what it wants to do with its service. That’s especially true when even more information starts coming into the site by way of Facebook Connect. Twitter has exploded in popularity because it’s so simple — but it’s far too simple for everything that Facebook want to do. But FriendFeed seems to be morphing into exactly what Facebook wants to be.
So the question I have now, is whether or not Facebook will copy these better features from FriendFeed? I think it will. After all, it had no problem borrowing the “like” feature, the importing of third-party stream elements, or the commenting functionality. (Sure, FriendFeed didn’t invent all of these, but they’ve been implemented on Facebook in nearly the exact same way they’ve been used on FriendFeed.) And if Facebook is able to follow that lead, 200 million plus users will essentially be using FriendFeed — just under the moniker of Facebook.
Unlike a lot of people out there, I believe Facebook is on the right track with its recent moves to centralize sharing on the web. But the redesign, in many ways, is half-baked. It needs to be executed better — it needs to be like FriendFeed.