I’ve written before about how the various aspects of our lives drive us to use multiple online personas, and that this is a shortcoming of social networking sites today. What I’m referring to here is that we all wear multiple “skins,” and to represent these personas online one needs separate profiles on separate social networking sites for our professional skin, our hobby skin, our family skin, our community skin, and so on. This is a problem of social networking sites today, and I’ve argued that it’s an architectural problem.
A new site that’s getting lots of attention recently is FriendFeed. FriendFeed is a site that allows a person to register the social sites that they use, and FriendFeed aggregates the activity from those sites so that you can see what your friends are doing (or vice versa).
FriendFeed launched in February of 2008, and simultaneously announced $5M in funding. It has enjoyed high accolades, and has even been called “this year’s Twitter.” Depending on your view, that could be an accolade and maybe not, but it certainly implies a lot of attention.
The aggregation of multiple social networking site personas sounds like a step in the right direction with respect to the problem statement given above, so once again I volunteered to be a cyber guinea pig and tried it out for myself. After looking this over for some time now, I’m questioning the utility in FriendFeed’s approach.
Once creating an account on FriendFeed, one has the option of choosing from a menu of “services”, which is a list of social sites including Blogs, Bookmarking (del.icio.us, StumbleUpon), News (Digg, Google Reader), Status (Gmail/Google Talk, Twitter), Video, Photos, etc. When you or anyone in your friend list posts something on those selected feeds, an entry is created on your FriendFeed homepage notifying that this has happened. If you think of Plaxo Pulse, the presentation is very similar.
There are two problems with this in my opinion. First, the integration interface of FriendFeed is specific to those sites listed on the services menu. I cannot, for example, create an entry for my personal web page. Nor is there an option for Plaxo. I suppose we have to wait for FriendFeed to progress through the array of sites out there and one-by-one integrate with them before we can include those on our personal profiles. I doubt that a given user is really subscribed to more than a few of the services on the menu, so in a real use case the amount of content to be consolidated by FriendFeed is likely to be limited.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I don’t know how to use this for anything beneficial. I mentioned Plaxo Pulse as a reference. FriendFeed is sort of an extension of the Plaxo Pulse concept, bringing together your accounts and the accounts of all those on your friends list into a running activity log. With no offense aimed at any of my friends on Plaxo, a very limited amount of what I see from friend’s activity is of interest or value to me.
Be reminded here that I’m in no way trying to slam FriendFeed. Indeed, FriendFeed may not have even intended to address the problem I’ve posited at the outset. That being said, in my opinion the utility of the service is, well- it’s just not there. While I’m grateful to see an attempt at consolidating online personas, I think that architectural changes to social networks need to take place to deliver a utilitarian consolidation of online personas.
Let’s hope that Socialstream is closer to the mark.