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Will 2009 be FriendFeed's year?

It has been a very interesting year for social networking, microblogging, the practice of sharing short messages with followers has really caught on and Twitter has certainly enjoyed the most buzz of 2008. A notable feature though of Twitter's rise has been the number of problems they have and its bizarre reverse product development cycle, it now has less features than when I first joined; and all in the name of stability, a goal that Twitter is going through a lot of pain to achieve. In the background though has been the looming presence of FriendFeed, a service that aggregates streams from various web 2.0 services and has the ability for users to post comments. It was founded by some former Google employees and has been adding some very interesting features recently such as rooms and real time feeds. That's right - they've been adding features not taking them away! I've noticed FriendFeed is becoming more and more useful to me as it attracts users and it will be interesting to see how this develops in 2009.

Here in the UK we did have the surprise of finding that Twitter could no longer provide us with free SMS messages of status updates and direct messages, and of course it is not possible to connect with Twitter with instant messaging anymore. However, I think this isn't really the problem, nor is the US Election banner at the top the problem either, although it is annoying, it isn't even the unclear business model (although D'Arcy Norman's thoughts on this are interesting). Twitter's problem is more fundamental and probably shared with many Web2.0 sites, it that it doesn't provide facilities to cope with a truth about people. People have different aspects to their personalities, they have a range of interests both personal and professional, different circles of people in which they mix and people may only share limited ranges of interests with each other. It's something that is much more complex that a simple personal and professional persona split, which could be potentially solved by just having more than one account. As an example, I bet you are not reading this because, like me you are a fan of Milton Keynes Lighting!

Twitter I think can be a really great service and it is possible to derive a lot of benefits from it, but it has problems that will become more and more of a burden as time passes. The social experience of Twitter does not scale, if you follow more people you just end up with more and more tweets. Sometimes the idea of a "stream" is used to explain how information flows in Twitter, a nice image, but if you imagine each tweet as being a unit of water in that analogy, if you have more and more units of water flowing through the limited space of your Twitter client you end up with more of a torrent! Now this might not be such a problem if you just dip into Twitter now and again to see what is going on, but if you use it out of genuine interest for a topic this could lead you to missing something you might like to have seen. If you consider that many of the messages won't contain information that you are interested in, this can compound the problem, do you follow that person who shares 10% of your interests or not? Add to that the problematic invention of "live tweeting" conferences (the practice of posting messages to Twitter containing the key points from presentations) and you get a situation that could potentially start annoying people and driving them away from the service.

So why is FriendFeed interesting in this context? Well the first thing to note here is that FriendFeed is not a direct replacement for Twitter, like Identi.ca is, but instead a service which primarily aggregates feeds from all sorts of Web 2.0 sites, so if you post a video on YouTube it will automatically get noted in your FriendFeed stream. It currently supports forty-two services plus RSS feeds (which pretty much takes care of everything else). The killer feature though is "rooms", a place where people with a shared interest can post items and comment. Examples of this are the Drupal room and the Ubuntu room. These could potentially be used as chat rooms as well. This is a very powerful method of resource discovery, in fact potentially more powerful than the social features of Delicious which, like Twitter works on the principle of following people only. You can also follow people and organise them into different groups which might be handy if you know people from different places and know they don't have much in the way of overlapping interests.

While Twitter only allows you short messages of 140 characters, making it bit like the "telegraph system of Web 2.0" (to quote the Twitter front page), FriendFeed allows you to post all manner of things, text, video, pictures, links, it is a bit more of a multimedia experience than Twitter, more integrated than having to keep going off to a completely different site to view a posted picture. It would be understandable to look at Twitter and get a feeling that it is in danger of becoming dated, and perhaps, just perhaps, the looming shadow of FriendFeed will creep ever closer to take the Twitter's crown of being the social web site of the moment.

Comments

Hello, very interesting article. You hit the nail on the head about the Web 2.0 when you say:

Twitter's problem is more fundamental and probably shared with many Web2.0 sites, in that it doesn't provide facilities to cope with a truth about people. People have different aspects to their personalities, they have a range of interests both personal and professional, different circles of people in which they mix and people may only share limited ranges of interests with each other.

We live in interesting times......

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