Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rethinking the feed workflow - when the so-called "friendfeed" gets to my real friends

Back on April 3, 2008, I wrote a post in my mrontemp blog entitled How I Publish. The post illustrated how things that I did on one online service would show up in another online service - for example, how something that I shared on del.icio.us would end up on both FriendFeed and MyBlogLog.

The post is hopelessly out of date, but rather than redoing the entire workflow, I'll simply sum it up as follows: stuff that I do on a lot of services ends up on FriendFeed, and from there it goes from FriendFeed to Facebook. (Incidentally, this doesn't included Amplify, which I joined last weekend.)

Why? Because that's the way that I set up a lot of stuff a couple of years ago. Technically I could have all of these services go directly to Facebook, but I really haven't wanted to re-engineer all of that as long as FriendFeed remained a viable service. To do it right, I would not only have to set up last.fm, my blogs, and everything else to go to Facebook, but I would also have to set up things so that when these services hit FriendFeed, they didn't result in duplicate entries in Facebook. (I try to minimize cases in which any of my feeds include duplicate information.)

The drawback of my approach is that when all of my stuff hits Facebook, it all appears as coming from FriendFeed - which it did, but this ignores the fact that some items come from Google Reader, some from Twitter, some from last.fm, some from Blogger, some natively from FriendFeed itself, etc. The result can look something like this:

When someone views this feed, even if they're technically savvy, the results can be somewhat confusing. And if you're not familiar with how certain services work, they can be downright maddening.

For example, take the first item in the picture - the one that begins with "(The inspiration for Jesse Stay's post on the topic.) Fwd: Hmmmm. Fight!" followed by a TechCrunch link, followed by an ff.im link. A knowledgeable FriendFeed user will figure out that I found something on someone's feed on FriendFeed (in this case, it was an item in Louis Gray's feed), reshared it to my own feed, and added a parenthetical statement of my own. (If you're not familiar with FriendFeed, but are familiar with Twitter, think of it as a retweet on steroids.)

The third item in the picture is probably even more confusing. It came from Twitter, but I didn't write it. My FriendFeed page includes a search for all tweets that include my Twitter name @empoprises - the search found a particular tweet from Derrick Jefferson which was in response to something that I had written. (He was looking for some in Louisiana who could cut a black man's hair; I referred him to a barber in southern California, the place where he used to live.)

This confusion about the origin of various items is compounded by the fact that they often appear out of context - especially since my sharing activities on all my various online services can sometimes border on the eccentric. This is part of the FriendFeed culture itself; people there are accustomed to navigating around FriendFeed and Google Reader and Google Buzz and this service and that service, carrying conversations from one service to another, and generally treating the entire World Wide Web like a good plate of spaghetti.

I didn't really think of the ramifications of this, but once all of this stuff hits Facebook, it can get mightily confusing. Once someone saw something that I had shared in Google Reader (which sent it to FriendFeed, which sent it to Facebook) and assumed that I had written it. After all, it appeared in my Facebook thing as just another thing from FriendFeed; doesn't that mean that I wrote it? I can't blame the person for that.

But I didn't really think about it a lot until the end of Sunday School, when someone (I'll call him "Bill") approached me. He and I are friends on Facebook, and obviously we go to the same church, and we also have a business relationship. After Sunday school, he approached me and noted that he was often confused about all of the things that show up on my Facebook feed. I mentioned at the time that most of that stuff comes from FriendFeed, but it wasn't until later that I realized that the "all FriendFeed" appearance of everything can lead to natural confusion.

So perhaps I should rethink my workflow, since Facebook is obviously going to be around a lot longer than FriendFeed will. I don't know if I'll just feed all of the services into Facebook directly so that people can tell a Google Reader item from a last.fm item (and then somehow making changes so that those same things don't get echoed into Facebook from FriendFeed). Or perhaps I'll do something else. This will help reduce the confusion of my real-life friends - the ones that I physically see several times a month.

Again I mean no disrespect to my FriendFeed friends, but I haven't met most of them in real life. (Derrick Jefferson happens to be an exception to the rule; I met him at a FriendFeed meetup a year and a half ago.) But as wonderful as my online friends are, there are things that "Bill" and other real-life friends know that my FriendFeed friends do not know.

For example, this post is a scheduled post, written in advance, which will appear in my blog (and on FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, etc.) on Tuesday at 5:15 pm. This post was NOT being written on Tuesday at 5:14 pm, and in fact it would be impossible for me to write this post on Tuesday at 5:14 pm and post it on Tuesday at 5:15 pm.

My friend "Bill" knows why I couldn't write this post at 5:14 pm on Tuesday.

Most of my FriendFeed friends don't.

(More later.)

P.S. As mentioned above, this post was written in advance of its Tuesday publication date...and was also written in advance of FriendFeed's Monday night outage. Depending upon the seriousness of the outage, perhaps my reconfiguration may need to be accelerated...
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