Just in time for the U.S. election, FriendFeed — the “life-streaming” aggregator run by former Google engineers Paul “Gmail” Buchheit and Bret Taylor — has launched a real-time view that looks more than a little bit like Twitter, or like Twitter would if it had an auto-update feature (which it used to at one point, MG Siegler at VentureBeat points out, until the strain on its servers made it turn the feature off). Like some others, I confess I find it a tad vertigo-inducing, like watching the landscape rush past you on a train and trying to focus on individual objects. But for a small room with relatively few participants, I could see it being quite useful. More useful than Twitter? (assuming “useful” is a word you’re prepared to think of in association with Twitter) That’s hard to say. I’ve embedded the presidential debate room below so you can get a taste of what it looks like.
As lots of people are reporting this morning (and as TechCrunch speculated a couple of weeks ago) AOL has bought the “lifestream aggregator” known as Socialthing, which came out of Colorado-based venture capital outfit TechStars. It’s an interesting move by a company that has so much else wrong with it, but at the size of deal we’re probably talking about — as far as I can tell, Socialthing was built by a couple of guys in a matter of months — it’s not likely to move the needle much in either direction. Is it a sign that AOL is suddenly getting with the whole Web 2.0 social-media program? Perhaps.
From a usability point of view, as someone who has been beta-testing Socialthing.com for awhile (post your email address in a comment if you want an invite) there are a couple of key differences between it and Friendfeed, which I’m a big fan of (my feed is here). While Socialthing is well-designed for the most part, one of the biggest differences that becomes obvious is that Socialthing groups activity in your “friendstream” by individual — so next to each friend’s avatar you see what they have done on Twitter or Flickr or whatever, grouped together. In FriendFeed, however, you see a river of activity based around the events themselves, so that you see a stream of whatever your friends are doing that is grouped by time rather than identity.
So, Facebook is launching a new feature that allows users to comment on their friends’ “mini-feed” items, according to several sources — including the press release that arrived in my email box this morning. As Caroline explains at CNet, the mini-feed is what updates your friends when you change your status, upload a new profile pic, share photos and so on. In other words, they will now be able to say things like “LOL!” or “dude, that shirt is so money!” right in the feed, instead of having to go to your wall or super-poke you or whatever. Whether this is a revolutionary development kind of depends on your point of view.
Many people, including Adam Ostrow at Mashable, have mentioned that this commenting feature is a lot like one of the main features of FriendFeed.com, a “lifestream” aggregator which lets you pull together all of the activities you are involved in — RSS feeds, photos posted to Flickr, items shared with Google Reader, and so on — as well as those your friends are engaged in (my feed is here). The ability to “like” an item by giving it a thumbs up and the ability to comment on items are two of the appealing features of the service, which was founded by former Googler staffers Paul Buchheit (one of the original developers of Gmail) and Bret Taylor. A debate about whether the Facebook feature is a direct rip-off or not is taking place on — of course — FriendFeed itself.
One problem with this new feature, I think, is that it means comments wind up on yet another site, increasing the comment-fragmentation problem (which I’ve written about before). Of course, this plays into Facebook’s desire to be a portal, and the need to keep you coming back as often as possible — and the inability to extract those comments on your items or aggregate them somewhere else, since Facebook is more than happy to allow you to import data from others, but not so crazy about data going the other way (I have a plugin here that pulls comments from FriendFeed, thanks to the work of developer Glenn Slaven and FriendFeed’s enlightened approach to open APIs).
Still to come: Expect lots of posts about how Facebook is “killing FriendFeed” which “killed Twitter” which “killed Facebook’s status feature” and so on. Paul Buchheit, for what it’s worth, tells ZDNet that he and the rest of the FriendFeed team aren’t killers.
The debate over fragmentation of blog comments has been around for awhile — I’ve written about it, and so have people like Louis Gray and MG Siegler and others — and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. Some argue that having comments at places like FriendFeed (or Shyftr, or a number of other sites) isn’t really that big a deal, and that it’s no different than people discussing your blog post via email or some other place that you can’t see it. But Fred Wilson had an interesting take on it in one of his blog posts today, about a blog post by his brother Jackson: he said as far as he’s concerned, bloggers effectively get “paid” by people commenting on their posts:
So here’s the deal. Jackson instigated the conversation with that post. His reward is the comments it generates. That’s how bloggers get paid. And he’s not getting his due on this one.
I think that’s an interesting way of looking at it. Obviously, comments don’t actually pay bloggers for their posts (although the tip-jar model is pretty close). And I’m sure some bloggers would rather get paid with actual money. But I still think Fred is onto something — comments, and other interaction with readers, are one of the ways in which bloggers are rewarded for their effort, along with links from other bloggers, high ranking on sites like Techmeme, etc. It would be nice to think that the sheer joy of crafting an awesome blog post was enough, but some feedback is nice too, even if it’s not completely positive. (Note: For what it’s worth, I agree with Jackson — Mott the Hoople was awesome).
That’s why, like Fred, I am hopeful that comments in all kinds of places can be aggregated in more ways. I’ve got Disqus on my blog (as Fred does) and that helps — and now I have the FriendFeed plugin working as well, so any comments that appear there show up here as well. I don’t mind people commenting somewhere else, but I like the idea that I (or anyone else) can see them all in one place if I want to do that.
Steven Hodson thinks WordPress should buy Disqus, and Broadstuff has some thoughts too about what he calls “dis-aggregating the aggregators.” Allen Stern of Centernetworks has a video response. And Hutch Carpenter of I’m Not Actually a Geek thinks that fragmented conversations can actually be a good thing.
Hugh McLeod’s latest GapingVoid cartoon probably sums up what many Twitter users have been thinking of late. The service, which hasn’t exactly been known for its reliable uptime, has been effectively crippled for almost a week now, with no ability to page back through previous messages and no support for using it through instant messaging. For many Twitter users, including me, the inability to see previous messages makes the service effectively useless, since the only messages you see are the ones that happen to be there when you look at the site, or @ replies sent directly to you. Some people are giving up or considering it.
Mike Arrington and others have written that whether Twitter is up or down doesn’t really matter any more because people are addicted to the service, and therefore will put up with anything — but I’m starting to wonder about that, to be honest. And while I have said in the past (during the whole “FriendFeed is going to kill Twitter” hysteria) that Twitter and FriendFeed aren’t really competitors, I’m not so sure of that either any more. I see more and more people saying they are giving up on Twitter and moving their conversations to FriendFeed. Will they come back? Some think they will. Not really sure of that either.