One-On-One With The Founders Of FriendFeed

The four co-founders of FriendFeed have the best resum&eacute;s on the Internet. They were the original engineers who developed Gmail and Google Maps, the applications that launched the whole Web 2.0 craze (yes, it's all <i>their</i> fault). Now they're starting over with a Web application called <a href="">FriendFeed</a>, designed to let users aggregate all their social networking activity -- their blogs, <a href="">Flickr</a> accounts, <a href="http://fr

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

May 16, 2008

6 Min Read

The four co-founders of FriendFeed have the best resumés on the Internet. They were the original engineers who developed Gmail and Google Maps, the applications that launched the whole Web 2.0 craze (yes, it's all their fault). Now they're starting over with a Web application called FriendFeed, designed to let users aggregate all their social networking activity -- their blogs, Flickr accounts, bookmarks, Twitter chitchat, the whole enchilada -- onto a single, at-a-glance page.Tell FriendFeed your ID on any 35 different social networking services, and it grabs up the info from those services and displays it in your FriendFeed. You also can post links and commentary about interesting pages you find in your regular Web travels. In addition to posting content to their own feeds, FriendFeed users can subscribe to each others' feeds and, in that way, keep up with and comment on each other's activity.

"FriendFeed lets you share the things you find on the Web with people you know," said co-founder Bret Taylor, who was previously a group product manager at Google, where he launched Google Maps, the Google Maps API, and founded Google's Developer product group. After leaving Google he went to Benchmark Capital as developer in residence, according to a FriendFeed corporate backgrounder on the company's site. He and his three co-founders started FriendFeed in October.

I wrote my first impressions of FriendFeed after I'd been using it for several hours. I still agree with those impressions today.

The display is nice and simple: Just a Web page with a list of entries. To read other people's feeds, you friend them, just like on any other social networking service, and then when you visit the FriendFeed home page, you'll see a single stream of all your friends' activity, displayed in chronological order, newest first. You can consume FriendFeed feeds as RSS, view them in desktop applications, including AlertThingy and Twhirl, and more.

This is my FriendFeed. Friend me and I'll friend you back. And you also can subscribe to InformationWeek articles on FriendFeed.

FriendFeed lets you leave comments on friends' entries, and read and respond to other people's comments. That leads to a result that's unusual for Internet conversations: It fragments the discussions.

The model that we're used to on the Internet is that somebody writes an article, and people leave comments on that article. But, with FriendFeed, people are more likely to leave comments on the FriendFeed item itself. "If it's an article from InformationWeek, it might be shared 20 different times, and there will be 20 different discussions," Taylor said.

That seems unnatural to those of us used to the way conversations now happen on the Internet, concentrated at the source. But, in fact, it's more like how real life works. "At the core, our philosophy is that conversations are naturally fragmented," Taylor said. "When you read a newspaper article in the New York Times, you talk about it with your friends, you don't necessarily talk about it with the author."

The fragmentation of discussion is an attempt by FriendFeed to avoid the shouting and noise that dominates big aggregation sites like Digg, Slashdot, and YouTube, Taylor said. Because FriendFeed connects groups of people who know each other, they're more likely to be civil.

I asked them about a revenue model. Taylor responded, "We're still in the early stages, but I think there's a lot of promise and potential to create relevant and useful advertising because FriendFeed is content-oriented. People are discussing a product or a movie or something where there is a natural opportunity for contextual advertising."

Co-founder Paul Buchheit (who coined Google's slogan, "Don't be evil") said that the ads can bee both content-based or socially based. In addition to ads based on content, FriendFeed also could run ads targeted at a user's particular demographic.

The company raised $5 million two months ago, primarily from the pockets of its founders and from Benchmark Capital.

I asked how many users FriendFeed has, Taylor and Buchheit said they aren't currently sharing statistics. However, blogger Alexander van Elsas shares some statistics from about two weeks ago, including an estimate that FriendFeed got about a half-million visits in March, compared with more than 6 million for Twitter.

Van Elsas says that consumers will find FriendFeed overwhelming. Scott Rosenberg responds: "You're probably right. But haven't the everyday-user consumers pretty much adopted Facebook as the general-purpose 'let's share' platform? That's my experience."

Rosenberg (who co-founded Salon Magazine) makes a good point. People already are using Facebook to share photos, music, links, and videos, as well as pouncing on each others' werewolves. Still, I find Facebook confusing; you have to use a different application to share different information types, and each application works differently from the others. FriendFeed is a unified and consistent interface. And FriendFeed doesn't have to be at war with Facebook; you can point your FriendFeed at your Facebook profile, and then all your Facebook friends will see in your Mini-Feed what you're up to around the Internet.

In addition to Facebook, FriendFeed faces competition from other sites looking to aggregate all of a user's Web content. Competitor Socialthing is still in private beta. Zude lets users aggregate content from all over the Web into a single page; my colleague Fritz Nelson was impressed by them.

My biggest problem with FriendFeed right now is that it still seems to be a very local to the Silicon Valley community. The usual suspects dominate the conversation, including Robert Scoble and TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. I haven't been getting much activity on my posts. I get into social networking, to have conversations, not to monologue at a quiet room, and FriendFeed doesn't so far give me the conversation fix I crave. On the other hand, that's changing recently; I'm starting to see more diverse voices, and some responses to my posts. And Mashable reminds me that Twitter was the same way at first.

Have you tried FriendFeed? What do you think of it?

P.S. Because I mentioned Twitter, I guess it's time for mandatory shameless self-promotion: Follow InformationWeek on Twitter for all our blog and article headlines, updated automatically as we post them. IWpicks gives you only our best and most popular blog and article headline, updated manually by Yrs Trly. (IWpicks is going to go silent tomorrow, returning May 27, because I'm taking the week off.) And I'm on Twitter, too; follow me and I'll follow you, so long as you're twittering in English and your Twitter stream isn't dominated by 24-by-7 marketing messages.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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