Sunday, July 18, 2010

Revisiting the alternate universe where AIG bought FriendFeed last year

In a post that you saw earlier today, I said "I normally don't share blog content on Sunday." After checking the blog, it turns out that I post on Sunday more often than I thought I did.

Last August, I wrote an alternate universe post. After looking at the immediate reactions of Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed, I said:

It's fair to say that all of us are geeky enough to realize that this same FriendFeed acquisition occurred in several alternate universes, but different entities did the acquiring. So there's a planet where MySpace acquired FriendFeed, another one where Google acquired FriendFeed, a planet where Microsoft acquired FriendFeed, one where Apple acquired FriendFeed....

Unfortunately, I didn't visit the Apple alternate universe in which Bret Taylor called all of us a bunch of bozos. No I went to the alternate universe where AIG acquired FriendFeed.

AIG clearly had a plan to use FriendFeed from day one. Some of the events within the first few days were predictable - a flurry of messages touting AIG's recent profitability, the promotion of the Manchester United Fans group to "special group status." But the real shocker came on Wednesday, August 12, when FriendFeed introduced the FriendFeed Secure Communications Kernel.

This advance allowed AIG's FriendFeed to "manage your banking and investments from your FriendFeed account...[and] have other types of secure conversations - exchange of medical records, hiring decisions, and lovers' chats can now all be supported at your favorite destination, FriendFeed."

It's been a few months since all of this happened, so I thought I'd head back out to planet 65534 to see what had happened since Robert Scoble enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

Well, FriendFeed hasn't quite hit the Fortune 500 just yet, but there's been a huge increase in FriendFeed's popularity. As of early July 2010, FriendFeed had over 50 million users with no apparent loss in system uptime (it appears that many of AIG's financial transactions servers were sitting idle, so there was plenty of horsepower to support the run on FriendFeed's servers. And while some of these users were participating in some of the user interaction that had always marked FriendFeed, most of the newbies were using FriendFeed to communicate with their banks, their doctors, and their employers. These people rarely read what others wrote, and the whole idea of "liking" things on FriendFeed was practiced by a small minority of the population. (Former FriendFeed competitor Facebook ended up removing its own "Like" feature because everyone was too busy playing Farmville to do any liking.)

This change pretty much left the old FriendFeed as a distant memory. When Barack Obama mentioned FriendFeed in his State of the Union address in the health care portion of the address, he referred to FriendFeed as a company that was "only a few months old." (He also took care not to mention FriendFeed's corporate owner.)

In fact, FriendFeed's friendly past would have been completely forgotten if it hadn't been for a YouTube video that went viral just before school got out for summer. Unfortunately I can't post YouTube videos from alternate universes, but this particular video, featured a man strumming a ukelele and singing the following:

FriendFeed, FriendFeed,
You used to be for friends indeed
But now instead of looking at guys licking a man
We're sending X-rays to a doctor in Japan
I used to sell business cards every week
Now my friend Johnny manages a good stock-picking streak

A few tech bloggers identified the singer as a Texan named Josh Haley who used to co-host a FriendFeed podcast, but people didn't care - especially after Haley began singing about more popular topics and began to be mentioned as a serious contender for Hawaii's governorship.

However, certain people on Wall Street were confused about the name of the company, since "FriendFeed" didn't seem to bear any relation to what the company actually did. There were rumors that AIG was going to change the name, but a new name hadn't been selected yet. While one AIG executive publicly stated that "iComm" was a leading contender, other anonymous sources dismissed the notion.
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