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Merging of Worlds, Look Out!

As most know at this point, Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. There seem to be 50 plus posts on the topic on Techmeme. Mixed reviews at best on this one. From my reads, most seem more negative slanting. Scoble is excited but thinks this is end for Friendfeed as we know it. I would agree (with the this being the end part), Facebook clearly has no interest in running a separate brand and best we can hope for is to have full open data streaming into the Facebook platform. Louis Gray is watching and comments in a funny “girls in high school” parody. Steve Rubel has an interesting take that this is the next step towards true lifestreaming.

Quick take on first glance:

  1. Can’t blame the Friendfeed team.  They built a great product and an exit to Facebook makes good shareholder return sense.  The fact the price tag was $50M really shows how bad the economy has taken a toll on liquidity.  I would think based on recent history, Friendfeed would have gone a higher price tag even sans revenue.
  2. Can’t blame the Facebook team.  As Scoble mentioned, Friendfeed was a lead innovator in the social stream space and Facebook was “borrowing” many of the innovations coming from them.  They are acquiring a great team that knows how to execute that should only continue to help them build their continually improving platform.

Personally, even while it may make sense for both teams, I can’t help to be a bit negative on this one when I probe into it a bit more.  Some of my concerns can be remedied with time, some not.

  1. I would have liked to see Friendfeed to continue to evolve with more runway, they were doing some great stuff even if their penetration was only into the real early adopters.  It would be neat to see if they could cross the chasm just as Twitter did.  But perhaps they understood that it was too complicated for the mainstream.  This one we’ll never know, the writing is on the wall that Friendfeed will be absorbed fully.
  2. I am concerned regarding innovation and also the number of players.  Louis Gray made a great point when he expressed a concern that there could be four major players, Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.  We need more independent companies doing stuff in the space.  Time will play out here.
  3. Friendfeed never developed into a business model (perhaps this is why selling makes sense).  I always thought that their platform while fantastic for consumers had a great revenue opportunity for the enterprise, there is big revenue in the B2B collaborationa and communication space.  No one has won there yet and current market toosl do not satisfy the need fully.
  4. I need more than one stream in my lifestream.  As Rubel comments, lifestreaming is upon us with this acquisition.  Here I am not so sure.  I need more than one “sub-stream” in my lifestream in Facebook.  Fred Wilson removed everyone and made Facebook his private lifestream for exactly this reason.  For him, Facebook is personal and Twitter is everyone.  For me, I am going through the same conflict.  I have personal and some business people (that I actually know) in Facebook.  This creates a gray area between Facebook and LinkedIn.  I don’t know (in person) many of the people I interact with on Friendfeed; I don’t want them becoming “friends” yet on Facebook.  Already, I don’t like the fact that former business colleagues can see on Facebook what my former high school friends are posting in my news feed if I comment on it.  This whole area is an issue and is ripe for innovation.
  5. Facebook permissioning.  I know many of you are going to jump on point #4 above and say “Lou, Facebook has good privacy controls and you just need to manage the groups”.  Okay, maybe so but it isn’t clear to me on how to do this.  Is there a manual?  If you need one, there’s the first problem. It needs to be easy and straight-forward, right now it is not.   If I haven’t figured this out yet how can I expect my mom to creating multiple lifestream groups in the Facebook system.  One “newsfeed” to rull them all does not work.  Facebook may be the one to crack the code here in lifestreaming but it is beyond what they are doing now and is beyond what Friendfeed was doing too.  There needs to be innovation around easy management of the “different faces of one’s life”.  I will write another post fully on this.  But suffice it to say, the Friendfeed integration could get messy for many.  Time will tell.

So, time will tell on where this heads.  Not only for the integration of Friendfeed and Facebook functionality and follower lists, but also in the entire lifestream space in general.  Time will tell on where this puts Twitter and how quickly they potentially move to Google as Kara Swisher outlined yesterday.  Look out, lots going on and much more to be on the look out for.

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“Mob Rules” & Power of Networks

Mark Pesce, a consultant based in Sydney, is someone I’ve just started recently following on Twitter. He recently gave a good talk regarding Twitter which discusses the emergent use cases of the service and its global impacts. He topped it with his closing remarks at Web Directions South 2007. He gave a fantastic and insightful talk called Mob Rules which discusses the power of networks and how the networks (the mob) always find a way to the solution where “value” lies.

It isn’t just Twitter or FriendFeed. It isn’t always technology. It is about People and the power of People networks. The power of people networks (and their needs) will drive the technology because technology in many cases will be used to find the solutions to “appease the mob” and their needs. Really gets to the heart of some of the key issues of what is making social networking so pervasive today and all of the lately hyped social software so important.

Recommend checking the video out, worth the time if you are interested in stepping back and thinking about some of the themes and under-currents that are driving a lot of the change we see on the net and will continue to see. You can also check out Mark’s blog at the human network.

BTW, if the fisherman story doesn’t raise an eye-brow about how the world is changing before our eyes, well….

. Social Fatigue .

At first I thought it was just me. Then I asked a couple of colleagues at Dow Jones and several echoed my sentiment. I believe I am experiencing what I was calling ‘social fatigue’. I simply reached a point of personal saturation for social software. How many social applications can one user use at one time? I’m sure Jeremiah Owyang is developing a Forrester study on the topic. And today, I came across the article ‘Facebook fatigue’ kicks in as people tire of social networks in The Register. ‘Facebook fatigue?’, so it isn’t just me.

Facebook continues to impress me as it is still sets the standard as the complete social platform. The news feed is a great feature. And the power of the platform itself, often the topic of discussion and a place where numerous developers have already built into its frameworks. And the group functionality (sometimes) and events calendars have also proven helpful. However, for me, it simply isn’t scoring enough on utility. I only find myself using it once a week, not once an hour. The passing-along karma, the beers with wings, the happy hour invites, the groups for “everything under the sun” has me thinking about the topic of ‘social spam’. And even the amazing pace at which I can consume Scrabulous games has simply starting caused me social software fatigue.

And more social software enters the picture like Tumblr and Seesmic. Each with their unique take and value proposition, a multi-content type micro-blogging service and video email/conversation respectively. It will be interesting to see how each develops traction with their user base. And there are many others which is really incredible. So as these new ventures enter the picture, I ask: Is and should consolidation in this space begin? Will we see the functionality of these ventures merge quicker in the social networking space at the same rapid pace that we saw the new offerings launch at the speed of Web 2.0. Has this consolidation already begun like WordPress launching Prologue earlier this week?

Time will tell. But if I am experience fatigue and I immerse myself in the web everyday, social fatigue must be real. So alas, I find myself back to finding the highest level of utility in LinkedIn, still in my opinion the unheralded social networking site for business use, and Twitter, the social component I had initially questioned its utility but now use throughout the day.

Opinions? Thoughts? Social Energy? Social Fatigue? Yes? No?

[Update 2/1/08:  Jeremiah Owyang commented that he is not currently doing a study on the topic of social fatigue but that it is a trend to watch.]

Virtually Within “Column Inches” of the Social Network

This morning, I was discussing the company Doppelganger with Simon Bradstock, VP of Corporate Products at Dow Jones. The main point of conversation was how far extending the social networking paradigm is extending and now we are witnessing the merging of social networking with virtual reality. Wow!, an $11M third round funding for a company “offers programmed virtual worlds for the teen demographic.” The virtual world and social networking space is white hot right now.

The conversation led Simon to inquire, “How many column inches have been dedicated to Second Life?” I am almost embarrassed to say that my response was “What’s a column inch?” In fact, upon hearing the term, I immediately thought about architecture or World War I military tactics. It certainly did not trigger a written publication. According to Wikipedia, a column inch is:

“A column inch is a measurement of the amount of content in published works that use multiple columns per page. A column inch is a unit of space one column wide by one inch high.”

So, this led us to question as to whether “column inch” has now become a quaint term such as “horsepower”. I work for Dow Jones and I did not know the term. Does it actually show how much we’ve become a digital culture and have moved so far from traditional media. Is it one of those small signs that lead some credence the all the questioning as to the future of the newspaper such as Henry Blodget‘s recent post, Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed. (I happen to not agree with the completely bleak outlook; I do agree that newspapers will have to emerge with new models to survive in the digital age.)

Additional coverage of Doppelganger:

Facebook and AOL

A couple of days ago, I read a post by Jeff Pulver entitled Facebook: Evolving beyond being “Just a Social Network”. His comparison of Facebook and AOL, calling Facebook potentially the “new” AOL, immediately struck a contemplative cord with me. What strikes me
as so fascinating how similar the two stories are.

In the late 90’s, AOL was still a darling of the web. But its strategic issues really were showing themselves with their “walled garden” approach while the “open” web was growing, thriving and becoming a true disruption to their destination business. One could say that having everyone come to AOL was a large factor in the difficulties they ran into.

So here we are in 2007, Facebook is all the rage and creating for themselves a “new” garden. Are we heading into a scenario where much of social web experiences are found in the Facebook environment. I find it very interesting that at a high level, Facebook is in fact doing exactly what
AOL did in the past.  Now, granted, an open API architecture where developers are consciously tying their solutions and services onto the Facebook platform is quite different. In fact, I am not criticizing their solution in any way, I think their strategic move to “open up” could be a brilliant one and really changes the playing field particularly for vertically-oriented social networks.

But the premise remains the same, you can go to the web (or in this case the “social” web) but you need to come to Facebook first. Perhaps Jeff was on to something with his question, “Is Facebook the “new” AOL?”, indeed.