Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Three reasons you need to stay far away from FriendFeed - a contrarian view

Kool-Aid by Brent Gilliard (entozoa) used under a Creative Commons License

This morning, Hutch Carpenter wrote a post entitled Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*. A truly evangelistic post, Carpenter points out the benefits of FriendFeed to people who have never heard of the service, and have never tried it. As a confirmed FriendFeed fanboy, I agree with his reasons. However, not every service is for everyone, and if you think of the people who are critical of new media darling Twitter, those same people would REALLY hate FriendFeed. So I decided to adopt the contrarian view and come up with three reasons why you SHOULDN'T join FriendFeed.

#1: No one is on FriendFeed

If your goal is to have conversations with many people of diverse backgrounds, then FriendFeed is one of the last places that you'd want to go. Certainly if you're in FriendFeed and are conversing with a couple of hundred friends, it seems that everyone in the world is on FriendFeed. But take a step outside of FriendFeed and you'll find that most people aren't there. Now there are certainly a lot of people on Facebook, and there are a growing number of people on Twitter. Unless you want to join every service out there, I'd suggest that you concentrate on services that actually have tens or hundreds of millions of users, rather than the small fry.

#2: FriendFeed the company has all of the bad features of Twitter the company

There have been some vocal complaints about Twitter over the past few years. Twitter does not offer rock-solid availability. Twitter changes things on a whim and doesn't consult its users. There are huge problems with Twitter's API. Twitter has no monetization plan. If you look closely, however, FriendFeed has many of the same issues.

OK, FriendFeed doesn't have nearly as many downtime problems as Twitter, but when you lose all communication with your data for a few hours...well, let's not rely on FriendFeed to be there whenever you need it. And perhaps FriendFeed doesn't need the uptime of a computer aided dispatch system, but the fact remains that FriendFeed DOES have the occasional failure. And would FriendFeed maintain its fairly good uptime record if it had 10 million or 20 million users?

As for Twitter making changes on a whim, many notice that FriendFeed does the same thing also. Now I'm not of the school that believes that all of the changes in FriendFeed's latest beta had to be submitted to a vote of the users, but you have to acknowledge that FriendFeed entered the beta period, rarely communicated what was in the beta, didn't give advance notice of new features that would be in the beta, and didn't give advance notice of the time when the beta would be turned off and the new features would become standard in FriendFeed.

Which brings us to the API. I happen to be a user of fftogo, an application that allows FriendFeed access from older-model mobile phones. The application was written by Benjamin Golub, someone who was so talented that FriendFeed ended up hiring him themselves. As I mentioned previously, FriendFeed itself has recently undergone a major upgrade, but fftogo has not. Why not? Because the API itself has not been revised, and no date has been offered for completion of this task.

I've saved the biggest issue for last. Many people, myself included, have been critical of Twitter's delay in announcing its monetization strategy. I have maintained that a monetization strategy needs to be addressed quickly, since monetization affects many other issues. A Twitter subscription service, for example, would dictate lower traffic than a free-to-use Twitter service funded by advertisements. Yet while people have been complaining up and down about Twitter's failure to monetize itself, there has been a strange silence about FriendFeed's monetization plans, if any. Are they going to wait a few years before they hire a product manager to figure a monetization strategy out?

In short, those who have been critical of Twitter's failings as a company should note that FriendFeed suffers from many of the same defects.

#3: FriendFeed is not suited to the mobile future of communications.

I've hypothesized for years that true revolutions in computing will occur when we truly take advantage of computing devices that we can carry around, or wear, or even implant. When I learned BASIC programming in the early 1970s, I had to go to a computer. By the late 1990s, I ran into circumstances in which I could carry a computer with me. By 2006, I could compute without carrying a computer, namely by carrying a phone around with an operating system (in my case, Windows Mobile), a web browser (in my case...never mind), and some web sites that were adapted to this environment.

Now I can use FriendFeed (via fftogo), LinkedIn, Google Reader, last.fm, Facebook, MySpace, and a host of other sites via this mobile phone, but all of the applications are crippled in some way. Google Reader won't let me share with notes. last.fm won't play music. Facebook won't let me play Kidnap.

Now I'll grant that there are other phones that have more capability, which is fine if you want to lock yourself into a proprietary operating system in which the hardware/software vendor has final say over the applications that you can use. (That's a whole other "three reasons" post.)

The most powerful applications of the future, however, will have a minimal footprint and an extremely clean user interface, allowing you to easily do things from a smartphone, or from a not-so-smart phone, or perhaps from a Bluetooth earpiece. Or a Coke machine.

Of the major applications out there today, Twitter comes the closest to offering this type of simplicity. Yes, I can use FriendFeed or Facebook in a crippled mode from anywhere, but Twitter can truly be used from anywhere, or by almost anything. When was the last time that you heard of a Coke machine providing updates to Facebook or FriendFeed? I thought so.

So when we have the next revolution of computing, FriendFeed and its inherent complexities will be left behind.


I hope that you read my statement at the beginning of this post.

As a confirmed FriendFeed fanboy, I agree with his reasons.

Regarding Hutch's three reasons to join FriendFeed now, the most important one to me is the tracking feature. I myself have set up various groups and saved filters to find items of interest to me. The personal content database is nice also.

However, we have to guard against the tendency to assume that FriendFeed, or whatever other service we currently love, is perfect. And even if it is perfect, it may not be perfect for everyone. And if someone decides that FriendFeed is not for them, that doesn't mean that they're bottom-dwelling pond scum.

P.S. For what it's worth, I first heard about Carpenter's post in a Louis Gray Facebook entry.
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