Online Aggregation – a la FriendFeed

If you read regularly, you’ve probably begun to wonder where i’ve been these past few weeks. I’m not blaming you.

Between FriendFeed and exams there aren’t enough hours in the day.

FreindFeed itself is great. Being able to aggregate so much data in one place is very useful. FF ( as FriendFeed is shortened to) supports 35 ( or more) services directly and more through the use of the RSS feed(s) that you can add.

Robert Scoble is the prime example of this. The sheer amount of online output the man generates makes you wonder if he ever sleeps.  Go on, click the link and admire this river of news, posts, tweets, videos and photos. Then take a look at how many friends the guys has- well over 10,000 people as friends ( people that either are subscribed to him or he subscribes to). FF has a Friend of a Friend feature that add some of his friends posts to your home page on FF. This gives you a tremendous amount of noise to wade through.

And combine this with all your other friends. This gives you a long, long river of news to read through.

However, FF is not a true social networking site. It aggregates data from a huge amount of sites. But your Friends are nothing more than people you’ve subscribed to for their feed. Its rather like saying that because you have a subscription to the NYT you are their friend and they’re yours.

To reinforce the point there is zero information about you save a picture – which suits me as you’ll notice I don’t have an About Me page ( I’m thinking about putting one up, though). And I’m dithering on what picture I should put up.

Jennifer Woodward Maderazo made the point that its very personal having all this information in one place. Possibly. It depends on what information you share. Robert Scoble and Thomas Hawk have no problem with this – they’re subscribed to practically every service available. I mean, its darn interesting to see what photos Thomas favourites on Flickr. I’m sure its possible to figure out his taste in photos and his political leanings from his content. Even how he likes Mac and  Microsoft solely for its Windows Media Centre.  But there is no real, personal  information being shared here.

On Jennifer’s second point about no real interaction – come on!! I comment more in FF than outside, often commenting as a post comes in, and as part of a conversation. I like a lot as well ( comments and likes are another way if discerning peoples taste – but no real information is there. See above). If there is anything to suggest its no otherwise the case, its that comments don’t follow items as they are ReShared or posted within FF. This inevitably leads to fragmented conversations and a reduction in interaction. Also blog and FF comments should be synced in some form that will lead to even more interaction.

And Jennifer’s last point about information overload is just plain wrong. We have fine grained control of what turns up in our feed. from hiding friends of friends completely to hiding on a per-friend-per-service basis ( you can also blanket hide a service entirely – so no Twitter tweets show up from any friend, ever).

The Flickr favourites feature I mentioned above is a compelling reason to join Flickr ( I’m with SmugMug and intend to stay – you’ll see my photos show up).

One thing that is surprising is that FF is slowing taking attention share away from Google Reader. Not just when it comes to commenting, but I post links that I find interesting. Steve Rubel, for example, tweets and posts links fairly often that point to interesting material – I share some. But those don’t show up in my Shared items to your right ( from Google Reader Shared items). I’m thinking of some way to integrate them together using the FF API.

Another reason is the Imaginary Friend feature. I currently only have one at the moment – MarsPhoenix. If that sounds familiar to you its that lander NASA just put on Mars’ north pole. Its got two blogs and a twitter feed. This Friend combines them into a one feed with posts from both blogs mixed in with the numerous tweet updates and makes it dead easy to follow via FF or RSS. These appear as fart of my feed on the FF homepage along with everything else, making it doubly useful.

FF is literally Google Reader gone wild (rather than Twitter). Its subscriptions based. And, one up on Google Reader, shares all of your online activity back to the community. Its not even Digg (I can’t remember the last time I logged in to Digg).

Many belive that Robert will be going on about another service in a few months time. But FF has the traction ( its many services and thus audiences that it serves) and the leverage (the huge number of adopters it has at the moment) to survive. It straddles the difference between a true, thoroughbred networking site like Twitter ( or Facebook, if you prefer) and the disconnected consumption of content of a RSS reader. Its perfectly situated to bridge the gap between all these disparate services.