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.