The [Non] Value of Friendfeed

Over the past year or so, I’ve fiddled around on Friendfeed. Sometimes actively, sometimes passively. The notion of aggregating all social content into a single place is an enticing value add to anyone who spends time on multiple services across the internet.

As I’ve thought about the value of Friendfeed and it’s potential to be a market disruptor, I’ve come to realize it’s not. I operate much like other “non personal” brands do. I monitor reputation, mentions, links and traffic. I make decisions based on what will help me get more business for my company and increase key metrics of success. As a result, the value I find in Friendfeed, as a technology platform, is limited.

Twitter is a highly valuable tool for me, mostly because the mobile integration is highly important and integral to the service. Twitter was built to be a mobile tool. While there are services that will allow Friendfeed to be used via mobile (and by mobile, I do not mean iPhone), it was not built with mobile as a key cornerstone. As such, it does not behave in a way that is friendly to me as a mobile professional.

As a measure of mentions, however, Friendfeed shines beyond other aspects of it. Though there is not a significant marketshare of people using Friendfeed, thus making even it’s shiningest feature somewhat dim, it is built on the concept of aggregation and so having search feeds and other monitoring mechanisms on Friendfeed is hugely valuable for businesses.

Where Friendfeed breaks down is its community. Though many (perhaps most) of Friendfeed users who are active are okay, there has been a much larger proportion of people, as compared to other platforms, that use the platform for nothing more than troll behavior. They disagree just to disagree. They argue just to argue. They call names just to call names. Hardly something that is productive for a business to be involved in and as an early adopter of technologies, I decided to call it quits.

Comedy ensued.

In fact, not only did comedy ensue, but my point of trollish behavior was demonstrated on numerous occasions in the epic length thread.

Robert Scoble, perhaps the most vocal critic of me, accurately figured that I was giving a big middle finger to the community. He is correct in that I was sending a message to Friendfeed that, “If you want to be valuable outside of a very small early adopter, tech-heavy community, you need to find a way to be valuable to those people on the outside of “the group”. Right now, that value is missing.

At this time, I cannot suggest to a major media organization that they should use Friendfeed for anything other than monitoring. I cannot suggest that a small business can have productive dialogue with customers via Friendfeed. I just can’t.

Certainly, Friendfeed has done a lot in recent months to enhance the experience with a new look and feel, real time commenting, etc. But they haven’t done enough. At some point, Friendfeed needs to show community value to businesses if they are going to be successful.

I am tremendously grateful for the kind words and the pleas to not leave Friendfeed. Truly, I did not know I had the kind of impact that some have suggested. Thus, I’ll give it a week. I’ll decide next week if I want to kill Friendfeed or not. If I have to make the decision today, I’ll leave. But if it’s truly valuable for all those people to keep me around, then prove it. If you’re okay with the community being the way it is, then that’s fine. Best of luck to you and I’ll see you around the web. However, if my presence is that important, then show me value. Don’t make me find value. Show it to me. I’m willing to be wooed back.

But right now, I don’t see the benefit of investing time and energy in a platform that has little ROI for me and my business.

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FTC to Close Loopholes in Blogger-Marketer Relationships

Late last night, I came across an AP article that indicated a long awaited smackdown was coming from the FTC regarding paid reviews on blogs. Digging deeper into the article, it seems that the issue is not so much paid reviews as it is proper disclosure and verifiable claims.

In the blog world, we are subject to increasing amounts of “freebies”, particularly as our individual or demographic influence grows stronger. Companies want to get involved and get bloggers on their side, spouting their reviews and influencing opinion. As a disclosure, I participated in a Sears promotion, have been provided VMWare software on a “view” basis and was given a pair of Joe’s Jeans. Early on, I was also provided a cell phone from Sprint. That’s about the extent of the freebies I received. In terms of reviews, my policy has already been defined.

In some sections of the blogosphere, it’s reached a tipping point.

Meanwhile, some readers of Outside the Beltway see the move as indicative of future malfeasance by the federal government.

The problem is, this enforcement measure is just that – enforcement. There already are fair trade regulations on the books that dictate appropriate ways for businesses to engage in commerce – whether marketing, communications, disclosures, advertising, etc. These regulations already exist to protect the consumer. As with many industries, new media was a disruptive introduction and businesses are left trying to figure out how to compete in a new landscape.

The medium changes, but the business does not.

Businesses are still subject to FTC regulations that protect the consumer from the overrun of over-capitalistic companies trying to beat the competition at the expense of the consumer. This new regulation will simply update existing regulations to more specifically clarify that, hey, yes, companies have to play by the same rules when it comes to bloggers too. Companies should be enforcing their legal requirements on anyone peddling their goods in a quid pro quo or financial exchange. This is fair trade.

Deeper in, we see the same kind of attention and connection to affiliate marketing – the online business tool that allows a blogger to sell a product or service on behalf of someone else, and make a commission on it. While I don’t endorse eliminating affiliate marketing, I do find it borderline seditious and would not mind stiffer requirements on it’s use. For example, there should probably be an LLC or other legitimate business entity behind the use of affiliate marketing to ensure that paper trails and accountability can be traced.

Either way, this sort of thing requires some kind of enforcement, I think. It doesn’t feel right. On the flipside, this feels completely right from an ethical standpoint.

Update: Caroline McCarthy of CNET has more. Everyone keeps talking about the freebies. I want to know more about the affiliate crap.

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How Location Based Services Saved My Life

Sitting here in Automattic offices in San Francisco, I find myself lovingly caressing my Blackberry which, for a short time yesterday, I believed was separated from me for good. Turns out I lost it the night before and was having phantom spasms over not having it in my pocket to check email, twitter or do other activities I would normally engage in with my long-time partner and friend.

As I arose from my grogginess yesterday morning, my first instinct was to reach for my Blackberry to ascertain important overnight occurrences. You know, such as what drunken text messages I might have sent or had sent to me, what the final score was on the Red Sox game or who was talking about me on Twitter. It’s a hard habit to break so when I realized my phone was nowhere to be found, I panicked.

Then I remembered Google Latitude, the new mostly useless location based service announced earlier this year. Google Latitude has a small piece of software that can be installed on [supported] phones. It uses GPS or cell tower triangulation to pinpoint the location of a person. As I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, the only option I have is cell tower triangulation. So I can be pinpointed to an area.
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In a stroke of brilliant genius, I logged onto Google Latitude from my computer in the hotel. There were only so many places the phone could be. The last place I wanted to see it was in the back seat of the cab that had given me a ride home the previous night.

Fortunately, I was pinpointed (inaccurately because it was more my phone was pinpointed in Fisherman’s Wharf at the In n Out Burger that I had enjoyed a west coast delicacy the night before. I thought.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the In n Out Burger, the store manager did indeed have my Blackberry and I was able to carry on with my life.

This is a great example of how location based services can actually be useful. Instead of simply inviting the stalkerati or providing an unnecessary window into the life of the user, it is a good way for employees or assets to be tracked inexpensively. If you run a courier service, company-issued phones with Google Latitude might be a handy way to streamline your business operations.

Google Latitude is not the only “homing beacon” service out there. Tomorrow, with the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple is also introducing “Find my iPhone” with MobileMe which will pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen iPhone. Clearly a different benefit to the argument of value surrounding location based services

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