What Friendfeed’s “MicroMeme” Means For You, Brands, and The Web

Bret Taylor, one of the Friendfeed founders
Bret Taylor, one of Friendfeed’s four founders

After experimenting with Friendfeed (add me) on and off since March, and more heavily the last few weeks, I decided it was time to meet Founder Bret Taylor at Friendfeed’s airy headquarters in Mountain View for a formal analyst briefing. I don’t often blog about the companies that brief me, unless I see something of particular interest.

Trends: As more social content is created, value is hard to find

Many create their own content…
Forrester’s Social Technographics indicate how people are using social technologies. You’ll quickly note that toggling the age ranges in nearly every geography that adoption of these tools is much higher among youth, although adults are also using these tools. I’ve not seen any indicators that content created on the web by consumers will decrease, sorting through this firehose will continue to be a challenge as we adopt more and more services like blogs, facebook, myspace, delicious, twitter, and whatever comes next.

…Yet finding our friends signal is challenging
The challenge is that much of the content that is created is noise to many, but signal to very few. You may not care what Michelle eats for dinner, but her immediate sisters absolutely do. With this micro conversations happening on many websites, we need to organize this content not around websites, tools or technologies, but instead …sorted by people.

Information needs to be sorted around people, not content
Unlike search tools that sort by content, the social web needs to be sorted by people, and what’s important to them. Each person has a unique network of friends, and our trust research (see graph) indicates that information shared among peers is highest.

[MicroMeme: A conversation with your immediate network about what they think is the most important]

It’s not a MacroMeme: A conversation about the things your industry thinks is important, like Techmeme, Digg, or NYTs homepage.

Friendfeed is a:
A social network
A social feedreader
A way to sort information by people, not content
Similar to Facebook’s Newspage (Dave McClure calls this an open source Newspage)
The underpinnings of yet another social graph

Friendfeed is not:
A Facebook/Twitter killer
A replacement
The end all

How Friendfeed works?
After signing up, you can can subscribe (via RSS) to your flickr, twitter, blog URL, a total of 35 services (with more coming, I’m sure). Everytime you created content on any of those publishing sites, it will now appear in your river. Next, you can connect with friends (this is a social network) to see their content.

After the streams of your content and your friends is centralized in one place, you can favorite items, or leave comments on their items and begin discussions. This has created some angst among users who feel the conversation is splintered, yet again. There are other features such as filters or bookmarking tools, Expect friendfeed to collect discussions from these many tools into one place

Lastly, the goal of Friendfeed (although the features aren’t fully there yet) are to find out what’s important within your network, by elevating the most talking about contents. A meme is an important theme or idea that is being discussed, and the goal of Freindfeed is to create unique meme’s for every user, each will be different.

Inside Friendfeed, a former car mechanics garage that was converted in web boom
An inside view of the airy Friendfeed HQ

Market Forces:

Competitive Forces
I asked Bret who the thought the biggest competition was, he responded “Email” as it was the most common method that people share information. Brew expressed he feels his service is complimentary to others, and users who feel they’ve moved away from other services were indications that they weren’t as attached as before. I noticed that because content can be added via RSS, the barriers to entry are lower than Facebook, as you don’t have to sign up through every service.

Weaknesses and Challenges
This tools is in the very early stages, it’s not been truly stress tested during an election, Superbowl, or national emergency. The spartan UI, while simple and spartan leave more advanced users with more to desire (fortunately there’s an API). It’s unlikely everyone will use this tool, only a subset of advanced social users. And perhaps most importantly, while there’s certainly a very smart team assembled, aggregating RSS feeds is low on the science isn’t new, there’s plenty of room for other competitors to enter this space, or for existing social networks with millions of users to offer similar features.

Eventual Impacts to Brands
My main role as an analyst is to help interactive marketers (the main readers of this blog) and Friendfeed right now is mainly a personal user tool. However, if you’re attempting to evangelize your company using social tools, you can create a user name around your brand and start to aggregate your brands social assets in one location. Then, you can have conversations with those that have an affinity with your company, learning and sharing with them.

Do not think of this tool as a one-way publishing systems, it’s an interactive conversation of give and take. In the long run, content created about your brand (employees or customers) will aggregate into one location, this will be particularly effective for product lines, events, and launches.

Perhaps one major challenge to brands is that Friendfeed users will share information directly with each other, reducing any unwanted noise or clutter from brands, such as invasive marketing, or advertising. To reach Friendfeed users, brands will need to: 1) create relevant content and 2) be part of the conversation. I do recall similar conversations in 2005 with the popularity of feedreaders.

What I learned about Friendfeed
Founded in Oct, 2007, This small team or 8 employees are ex-Googlers that built the highly scalable and successful Gmail and Google Maps products. They are seasoned, trained, and well, rich. They raised $5million from benchmark and two of the Friendfeed employees, some were employees at Google before it hit 1000 employees. I asked them why they left Google, and their entrepreneurial spirit was fueling them forward. Unlike Google, they are extremely open, transparent, both in company communications, as well as offering an API for developers. They believe a free service should be open towards it’s users.

What’s Next for Friendfeed
They will continue to add new features that aggregate the MicroMeme of your friends, or sometimes the friends of a friend (FoaF) in order to enhance what is important to users. They’re not looking at monetization yet, but mentioned that advertising based on social activities could be in order. More on that as that develops.

Friendfeed HQ
A view from the front: Friendfeed used to be a former auto garage

What you should do:
Friendfeed is an example of the trend the web is headed: content sorted by people, not by topic. It’s currently being used by very early adopters. If you or your company creating a lot of social content, perhaps more than 5 social sites, or your friends are, you should create a Friendfeed account and trial the service. Experiment with the service until you’re comfortable with it before promoting to your network. Perform searches on topics that are interesting to you, try the advanced search features, monitor these topics, your name/brand and engage in conversations.

Update: Part of the criticism of Friendfeed is that the conversations splinter, this has already happened, see what others are saying (and critiquing) about this post.

33 Replies to “What Friendfeed’s “MicroMeme” Means For You, Brands, and The Web”

  1. Always kind of felt like this would be in the works, but didn’t know what form it’d take. Great interview, thanks for posting your thoughts & findings.

  2. Great post, Jeremiah. I’ve been curious about the inner workings of FF for some time. I often benchmark FF with Jaiku, but now I think it might be time to benchmark Jaiku with FF. Thanks for sharing you insights. Are there any FF competitors out there worthy of a mention?

  3. Joshua

    As Bret suggests (in the post as well) it’s Email.

    Dave McClure says it’s Facebook’s homepage.

    I think that FF is something unique we’ve never really seen, so it’s an overlay on top of all other services. Not really a competitor

  4. Kudos Jeremiah. Good objective take and description of Friendfeed in this post. I was a fairly early adopter and enjoy it. I think there’s two things that should be pointed out to new so-called ‘lifestream adopters’ if they are using it for branding. It can be a big PLUS or a big MINUS depending on what you post. One feature that Friendfeed offers that I haven’t found elsewhere is the DELETE function. I would suggest that users review their own pages (and rooms) occasionally.

    Sidenote: You seem to have fallen into the same trap that I and may others have. “Freindfeed” (just above the indoor photo) … Unfortunately it’s not in the spell-checkers yet 🙂

  5. Uch. Jeremy i certainly hope brands don’t start creating “friendfeeds.” I honestly think if marketing is coming to the point where we just advise our clients to create a new account on every social tool and pretend we are a person that can then engage in a ‘conversation’ that we are in even bigger trouble than most pple think we are.

  6. Scabr.

    We agree, it should be both, but currently most content is organized by content, not people.

    Leigh, Historically, we’ve heard this same complaint with blogs, myspace, facebook, and twitter. Sorry, this is never going to end, as long as consumers move, marketers follow.

    It’s not all bad though, many are learning how to do it better, be more effective, and offering more to consumers.

    There’s a bright side to this, don’t fret.

  7. it’s funny, I checked out the site and he first thing that I notice is, that the navigation/ usability etc is as user unfriendly as google analytics or adwords.
    however, the idea sounds interesting. to problem is though, how much more do we have to bother our friends with new social stuff?

  8. jeremiah, great post as usual. quick question: what’s the difference between a pitch and a briefing? i have my own thoughts about this, but interested in hearing yours.

    cheers! silva

  9. You said you met “for a formal analyst briefing” and when I take meetings like this the content often feels more like a pitch that was prepared for VCs or marketers. In this case, I thought the content–including the info on culture, api, competition and your analysis–was less pitch and more like a discussion/exploration.

    Regarding Friendfeed’s competition being email, not sure I agree that’s where the battle or the value is. My early guess is a lot of value will come from a visualization layer over the data exhaust via APIs like we’ve seen with Twitter & Facebook dev as well as the aggregated connective tissue I.P. like we saw with Feedburner.

    Cheers! silva

  10. Thanks Mark

    The most effective pitch’s I’ve had were very short. Secondly, the longer (yet effective pitches) were conversations.

    Most companies fail miserable in this regard.

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  12. Awesome coverage, Jeremiah, many thanks. I’m slogging my way thru the many options for grappling/aggregating with Social Networks and have been just noodling with Friendfeed recently.
    I’m doing a column for ClickZ and conducting a monthly forum on Web 2.0 for the SVAMA and am approached constantly by people with new products and technology. It’s frequently overwhelming, so coverage like this is invaluable.

  13. Hello Jeremiah,

    I agree with the fact that one of the solutions is to organize the content around people, and furthermore to use friend networks (organized by nature and interests) to filter information so as to distribute it on the right channel and the right priority status. One of the reasons to explain it also is to look at the depth of the web (11 clicks someone once said) and the depth of a social network (6 degrees). It is thus more effective to search (push / pull) information through people, ideally using semantic web technologies (or the hard statistical approach of Google).

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