Sunday, August 16, 2009

The FriendFeed acquisition in alternate universes

It's Sunday night in California, and I just finished listening to the pre-recorded Ffundercats episode number 42. (You can listen to it by going here.) If nothing else, the podcast captures for a moment in time the initial reaction of many people to Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed - namely, utter shock, followed by anger.

For the record, my first online reaction to the news was not my jilted post, nor was it my failure post. Actually, it was a brief comment in my mentionspam post. So what was your reaction?

It's fair to say that much of the reaction to the FriendFeed acquisition was based upon the company that did the acquiring. As I listened to the Ffundercats podcast, almost a week after it was recorded, I made a point of noting some of the key words that Josh Haley and Johnny Worthington used while they discussed the announcement. While the first words that I recorded related to FriendFeed itself - words like time, passion, friends, and community - Johnny Worthington subsequently inserted a phrase that related to Facebook - "walled garden."

As I write this post, I'd say that much of the negative reaction to Facebook falls into three camps. First, people don't like Facebook's policies, whether it's the prohibition from using aliases, or it's the limits on the numbers of friends you can have, or one of Facebook's other policies. Second, people don't like the stuff that goes on within Facebook, whether it's a super poke, or me gifting you with a cow in Farm Town, or the incessant number of surveys on Facebook. (One of my theater friends became noticeably less active on Facebook after voicing some complaints about the number of surveys that were showing up in his feed.)

The third is the "walled garden" issue. Now some people like walled gardens, because they don't necessarily want people looking into the garden. Do people really need to know how clueless I am about the music my daughter likes? But to a committed FriendFeed lover, walled gardens are inherently evil. The idea that people can't even see your conversations seems like a terrible thing. (Ironically, several months ago FriendFeed users were complaining because their conversations COULD be seen. Memory is selective.)

So it's fair to say that much of the negative reaction on August 10 (August 11 for Johnny, Duncan, and others) was because it was Facebook that acquired FriendFeed. Which begs the question - assuming everything was equal (the leak to Arrington, the simple issuance of a press release/blog post, etc.), would people have reacted differently if SOMEONE ELSE had acquired FriendFeed? Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing.

Actually, there is.

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 (ro prosecute us all), and so forth.

[11:00 - Whoops, a little Freudian slip there. In addition to misspelling "to," I failed to make an edit. Initially, the line above said "one where the RIAA acquired FriendFeed (ro prosecute us all)." When I moved the RIAA down to the next paragraph and put Apple in this paragraph, I forgot to take out the parenthetical statement. Or maybe Apple wants to prosecute us all also.]

But those planets aren't the most interesting ones. Neither were the planets where the RIAA acquired FriendFeed, or AT&T, or the Obama administration, or Perez Hilton, or Paris Hilton.

No, I went to planet 65534, where AIG acquired FriendFeed.

Yeah, AIG.

It was an interesting scenario. On that planet, the resulting Ffundercats podcast was equally volatile, although it was the American contingent that was angry on planet 65534. "First off," stated Josh, "how did AIG get 50 million dollars to buy FriendFeed? And second off," he continued, "what are they going to do with it?"

Unlike other acquisitions on other planets, 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. The meat of the blog post announcing this read as follows:

While FriendFeed has always excelled in allowing you to communicate with people, the introduction of the FriendFeed Secure Communications Kernel allows you to communicate with organizations in a secure manner. This not only allows you to manage your banking and investments from your FriendFeed account, but also allows you to 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.

In this alternate universe, I was passionately against the idea:

As we noted in last year's US presidential campaign, you can't put lipstick on a pig. And I don't care how talented these ex-Googlers are, FriendFeed was never designed to host secure communications. Frankly, this sounds too much like the "walled garden" that everyone says that FriendFeed imitator/competitor Facebook is, only more so.

My opinion, however, was definitely in the minority (as it is on almost every planet, incidentally - you don't want to venture to the alternate universe where everyone thinks like me). Here's what Robert Scoble said:

For the last several years, including my time at Building43, I've looked at ways in which these new tools can benefit enterprise users. Leave it to FriendFeed to find a way to really benefit the enterprise. CEOs don't care about what you ate for lunch - they need efficient ways for people around the world to collaborate in an easy-to-use, secure environment. FriendFeed has always featured collaboration and ease of use, and these new features are just what FriendFeed needed to establish itself among the Fortune 500.

It's still August 16 on planet 65534, so technically it's too early to tell whether I'm right, or whether Robert Scoble's right. But we'll see.
blog comments powered by Disqus