A Friend for Feeds
FriendFeed is the latest social media tool on everyone's lips. Tim Hoang finds out why the latest doyen of the Web 2.0 world might have longer legs than others.
Social media tools allow their huge number of users to connect through different means. Blogs, microblogs, news feeds and photo sharing sites all enable different types of communication within their communities. However, it is ironic that the sites which allow us to communicate, struggle to communicate to each other. The different social networking sites are essentially islands, completely separate and independent bar the odd application.
There has been talk of a more open platform from Google and MySpace but so far there has been very little in the way of actual developments. In a similar vein to blog aggregators such as AmphetaDesk and Bloglines which help users better manage the large number of feeds they subscribe to, FriendFeed allows members to keep updated on friend's social media activities.
Web Two Many
"The days of one company, one website, one URL hosting your online social interactions are long dead. There's just one social network, and it's called the Web. Anyone wanting to listen into and participate in online conversations will quickly find out today that the conversation is not hosted in one place; the conversation is now distributed, and will be forever more," said Philip Sheldrake, Director, PR agency Racepoint Group UK
According to the FriendFeed site:
"FriendFeed is a service for people to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that their friends and family are sharing...The goal of FriendFeed is to make content on the Web more relevant and useful for you by using your existing social network as a tool for discovering interesting information."
The service supports a wide range of platforms, including del.icio.us, flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn and Last.fm. A crawler automatically searches specified sites for relevant content and communicates any relevant activity to friends.
Above: FriendFeed allows you to better manage friends' updates
"The atomisation of the web means that users have pockets of information fragmented all over the web. Just think about a regular person who watches, favourites and maybe posts a few videos on YouTube, puts their family holiday snaps on flickr, comments on a blog they read daily, shares links from their Google Reader. Multiply this by a blog you write, the comments on that blog, the links to it, tweets on Twitter, Facebook updates, de.licio.us, digg and stumble upon tags. And then multiply by the number of friends you follow and the fragmentation and amount of this information becomes overwhelming to the point of overload," said Nicholas Gill, planner at headstream PR.
"FriendFeed helps that by aggregating all that information in one place so you don't have to traverse numerous websites to keep in touch with the information. It helps you stay on top of what's grabbing your friends' attention and keeps you connected. You also get full control of the people you follow and can un-follow at any time," continued Gill. "FriendFeed gives you control over the web 2.0 noise and lets you consume it in a way that is relevant to you."
Open for Business
As with other social networking sites, many people struggle to see how it can actually benefit businesses and consumers. The process of adding your contacts to yet another social networking site is painful and time consuming. However, Sheldrake believes that businesses should be using the site for sharing knowledge and to be perceived as a thought leader.
"If being an expert or leader in your market is defined as others' regard for your insight, skills, products or services, then you must participate in the networks where this expertise is being shared, and where the people you want to influence are going to help shape their viewpoint. For many B2B professions, these networks remain predominantly offline, but this balance will tip in favour of online for most if not all professions eventually," said Sheldrake.
"If you want to be part of the conversation, you need to keep up with the topical threads. Services, such as FriendFeed, allow you to track the critical influencers in your market to keep abreast of the dominant memes. The days of just getting in touch when you have something to say are gone," he continued.
One company that is currently utililising Friend Feed to promote its brand is Propellernet. The search marketing company uses FriendFeed so that clients can get to know the company on a much more intimate level.
"We use FriendFeed as a central portal to collate most of our social media activity in order to reflect and communicate our brand personality. Everything from our tweets through to our bookmarks on del.icio.us to our photo postings on flickr can be viewed in one area," said Karl Havard, managing director.
"I believe the benefits of FriendFeed are the ability to build a strong team ethic and create a sense of belonging for every single member of our team. It also provides us with the ability to portray a real face to our organisation so that our clients and anyone who chooses to take an interest in us can see exactly what we're about.
"On the flip side, if you're following an organisation, a friend, or even an influential blogger, a lot can be learnt about their online activity. You can see what they are saying and posting about certain topics and issues, and should you want to contact them for whatever reason, you can be much more personal and in sync with their interests and values."
However, Harvard warned businesses that content can be distributed unevenly, but if used properly, FriendFeed allows a degree of transparency that can be a real business differentiator.
"There is an issue about centralisation at the moment. If someone on FriendFeed 'diggs' your blog for example, comments can be made on the FriendFeed site, as opposed to on your blog. Typically, the preference would be to have the comments made on your blog as you can keep the conversation going and maintain a level of control.
"It's a brave step for any organisation to use FriendFeed as it offers a more personal insight into what a company is really all about, this may not necessarily reflect the messaging on the company's website. This can work for you, but quite easily work against you and brand could be tarnished. I would expect to see some organisations gaining the wrong type of exposure because of their FriendFeed posts. I just hope it isn't us!" he continued.
The Future is Personalised
As with the web itself, many foresee aggregating sites becoming more intuitive. The sites will actively search for relevant content more intelligently and offer a higher level of personalisation and customisation. The sites would also be able to identify who to interact with and what the level of that interaction should be.
"Whilst I don't speak for FriendFeed, I think they need to look at making a higher level view of your network, where they pick out the most important bits - possibly via semantic analysis - and remove some of the most trivial. You should still be able to dive down to the trivia, which is helpful in really understanding how people tick, but at the moment there's just too much scrolling once you're tracking a dozen 'friends'. We've already seen Yahoo Pipes constructed, for example, to show your FriendFeed minus their Twitters," commented Sheldrake.