The State of the Social Web: Facebook & FriendFeed, Google… oh and Twitter

by Sherif

I was wrong about FriendFeed
FriendFeed A couple of weeks a go I was having a chat to a friend about FriendFeed. I’m a big fan of FriendFeed (see some previous posts) and think it does a good job at helping you solve a problem of being able to manage and follow multiple online social profiles at once. Not only that, but it’s semi-recent upgrade with direct messaging and real time search updates made it an even better Twitter alternative. It has all the ‘Microblogging’ features Twitter has to offer and a whole lot more. I would also argue its better written, with some great brains behind it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that using a remote key (or better known as an API Key) for third-party apps accessing your account using an API. Still today I cringe at every single Twitter-based site/service I use that asks me for my Twitter username and password (Although, I must say Twitter’s recent implementation of OAuth has been great to see).

In saying all this, I wasn’t chatting to my friend about how good FriendFeed was, but rather how I thought that FriendFeed needed to re-invent itself.

The thing I couldn’t see FriendFeed doing is breaking past the early technology and social media adopters into the critical mass of users. What seemed to be happening was that Facebook was implementing all the FriendFeed features after FriendFeed had done all the hard work of coming up with the idea and testing it out. TechCruch described it as the “Friendfeedization of Facebook“. More so, colleague of mine put it quite nicely:

“FriendFeed is becoming the Opera of social networks”

When you look at the stuff Opera browser is coming out with, you sometimes wonder why it hasn’t got a bigger following.

Now I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert as to why FriendFeed couldn’t break past the early tech-adopters stage – because I don’t. I’ve read lots about people saying timing had a lot to do with it. There has been lots of suggestions saying FriendFeed’s time-to-market was much earlier then when it was actually needed. Others have said that its all because of the critical mass of Facebook and other social networks that FriendFeed never got a critical-mass following.

Well lets put all these thoughts aside – it doesn’t matter any more – Facebook just bought FriendFeed. I think that’s all that FriendFeed needed to get the critical mass.

Facebook to Twitter: “bring it”
Friendfeed FacebookSo if you can’t get a large community to come to you – why not go to them? I think this is what will will happen now that Facebook bought it. That’s all that FriendFeed needed. Facebook over the last few months has been opening up big, allowing users to share content form multiple sites and vairous online profiles into their personal activity stream. FriendFeed will only make this better for Facebook – because activity streams is it’s bread and butter. Not only does his acquisition benefit Faebook in terms rich features, but also talent. Facebook just got them selves a whole bunch of gun Engineers. Some say that maybe that’s all that Facebook wanted! Who knows.

Now remember Facebook tried to buy Twitter? Supposedly for 500 million – which to me sounds ridiculous! Either way – Facebook has now positioned itself to potentially kill Twitter. Facebook recently introduced the “share with everyone” button – allowing you to post status updates to the public. They are still yet to expose this feature via their API, but you would think the purchase of FriendFeed will only help them. Add to this the press we read about ‘Facebook Lite‘ – and it doesn’t take half a brain to work out the competition is on!

How can we forget Google?
Now just because Google’s Orkut isn’t as popular in Western countries doesn’t mean Google’s social efforts are going unnoticed! Some recent big announcements by Google clearly show they are still in the social space:

  • iGoogle: Gets Social. Opening up the whole of iGoogle to your Google Contacts and all the OpenSocial containers.
  • Google Reader: More social than ever, in fact – it’s become very FriendFeed like! Here are some examples:
    Google Reader implements following, liking and people searching
    Reader Real-time updates with PubSubHubbub.
    Reader “Send to” and Sharing features
    … and who said RSS is dead?!

  • Google Wave: – With Google Wave, everything on the web becomes Social. I really think we can’t underestimate the power that Google Wave might have in the social space when it becomes available to the general public.
  • Google Photos (Picassa): They recently announced an “add contributors” feature making Google Photos a great way for people to share and contribute to common photo albums.
  • Gmail: Google makes Gmail more social my allowing you to share your tasks with others.
  • What does this mean for Twitter?
    In light of all this, Twitter has copped some big blows lately. Some that just spring to mind:

  • Security
    This Mashable article sums it up nicely. Twitters long history with accounts being hacked and most recent denial of service attacks – its not looking good.
  • Spam
    Twitter is fighting a constant battle with Spam. You read articles like this and wonder – how much of Twitter is actually Spam? To me – it feels like a lot. I would at least get anywhere from 3-5 followers a day that are spam. Now I don’t get any spam followers trying to follow me on Facebook – Why is that? Twitter has some work to do.
  • Noise
    Twitter has a lot of noise. When you read articles like this that suggest 40% of all Tweets are ‘babble’ – you aren’t surprised. Compare this to FriendFeed or Facebook – and how they deal with noise. They let you group users, “like” posts and choose to have “more” or “less” posts from specific people. They seem to be dealing with the noise quite well.
  • There are some big positives for Twitter:

  • A lot of existing applications – It’s API learning curve is nothing compared to the Facebook API. Meaning the entry barrier is extremely low to get in and there is a large stack of existing Twitter applications.
  • Users. Twitters user base is big, and continues to grow. Not only so, but the Media in general love Twitter – because it’s instant
  • API Improvements. The big one here is the Twitter Geo Location appearing in Tweets via the API.
  • Where is it all headed?
    At first I was glad that Twitter didn’t get bought by Facebook, but part of me know seems to think that Twitter missed the boat with Facebook. Twitter now has a steep hill to climb, especially given its recent security and spam issues. Facebook not only just bought itself a whole lot of talent – but a really well written application which will allow them to further extend their services – and become more “Twitter like”. Google – well, although they seem to be a bit quiet when you look at things like Google Wave you can be sure that there are some big things about to come in the social web.