How FriendFeed Can Teach You About Your Friends

FriendFeed Logo

FriendFeed has been out for just a few months and has already established itself as a solid startup with an indefinite amount of potential. Founded by four ex-Googlers, FriendFeed allows you to subscribe to your friends’ updates across 35 social networks and to stay up to date with the content they’re discovering and sharing across the web.

Currently, FriendFeed supports the following social networks and tools:

FriendFeed Services

FriendFeed aggregates social news sites (Digg, Google Reader Shared Items, Mixx, and Reddit), social bookmarking sites (del.icio.us, Furl, Google Shared stuff, Ma.gnolia, and StumbleUpon), status updates (Gmail/Google Talk, Jaiku, Pownce, and Twitter), video (Seesmic, Vimeo, and YouTube), photos (from Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, and Zoomr), music (from iLike, Last.fm, and Pandora), books (GoodReads and LibraryThing), other miscellaneous web services (Amazon Wishlists, Disqus, LinkedIn, your Netflix Queue, Netvibes, SlideShare, Upcoming events, and Yelp), and finally, your own blog or Tumblr. For your blog, any URL will do, and if you are writing for a blog with multiple authors, FriendFeed parses through the authors and only features blog posts written by you.

FriendFeed: The Service and What it Offers

Just a few days ago, Allen Stern wrote about how TweetStats allows you to spy on your friends. That is, of course, if your friends are using Twitter. FriendFeed takes this idea and goes a step further. Since FriendFeed aggregates numerous social networks, it can give you a lot more information about its users, especially with regards to how and when they engage with online content. In social media spheres, it’s almost unavoidable to not engage online with content in some way. You may have stumbled upon a site a few hours ago, and now you’re actively Tweeting. Or you could be busy at work and avoiding social media altogether. By looking at someone’s FriendFeed page, you can learn numerous things about the user:

  • What interests them: What are they thumbing up right now? What content are they sharing? You can easily determine if your friends are interested in marketing, photography, books, music, web 2.0 startups, and more with FriendFeed. Take a look at my own page. What can you learn about me?
  • Their schedules: Are your friends voting up a story on Mixx at 4 in the morning? Perhaps they’re insomniacs. You never know until you check out their feed. ;) (Not all blog posts are published immediately after they’re written, but FriendFeed really does set the record straight in terms of the when of user engagement.)
  • Their commitment to social media: Are they dabblers in social media or serious aficionados? Are they addicts or do they have to get into the mood before they participate? Chances are if they’re already using FriendFeed and have begun broadcasting events from numerous social networks, they are early adopters and are more savvy than the average social media user. By studying their feed, you can learn a lot more about how important social media is to them.

FriendFeed isn’t just an aggregator, though. It’s also a conversation medium. Beyond learning about your users, FriendFeed allows users to comment on content within the site itself. You can “like” certain discoveries of your friends and even engage in a discussion.

As an example, let’s take a look at Robert Scoble’s FriendFeed (click the image for a larger view):

Robert Scoble's FriendFeed

In this screenshot, Robert utilized both Google Reader and Twitter, and the comments spread to his feed where an ongoing discussion ensued.

It’s a great system … in theory.

FriendFeed: The Catch

That brings me to the biggest downside of FriendFeed. At this time, unless you’re manually filtering out content or unsubscribing from friends whose content may not be relevant to your interests, there’s just a whole lot of information to read. You can subscribe to your friends’ feeds, but you’ll easily drown in the frequency of updates. Personally, I’m seeking out people who are interested in marketing and social media. It’s a tough decision to have to unsubscribe from individuals who are not providing me with such content (primarily because of the excess, moreso than anything else). I’d love to befriend everyone or even specify groups of friends to which I’d subscribe so that I can get updates delivered to my RSS reader (versus other updates that I would check on a more infrequent basis), though for the time being, the team has not worked that out. The best solution I have for myself is my personal Bloglines subscription to only a core group of people, but with a limitation of 200 stories maximum in queue, that fills up rather quickly. Imagine receiving over 500 updates a day and not checking your feed reader (or your FriendFeed) in 2 days. Sometimes I’m unable to follow and I feel lost. As it seems, I’m not alone.

Twitter: FriendFeed

Conclusion

Overall, however, FriendFeed offers something other social networks do not: aggregation of the finest social media sites (with the exception of one of my favorite sites that I emailed the team about several weeks ago: Sphinn). However, I imagine that integration with other social networks is in the pipeline. In the meantime, there’s a lot to learn about your friends from FriendFeed (and even your friends’ friends), and it’s something that everyone should consider using, if only to keep yourself abreast of news through your friends by discovering what they find interesting. Regardless of the concern over the sheer abundance of updates on the site, the idea of FriendFeed to combine all of your online activity in one centralized location is the right one.

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