FriendFeed is now In a Relationship with Facebook

In a move that surprised many in the tech world, Facebook and FriendFeed today announced that FriendFeed has been acquired by Facebook. This announcement came as a surprise to those who see FriendFeed as an annoying, yet open approach to the web whereas Facebook has a history of being a walled garden, often only opening up their data streams in limited or crippled fashions.

More surprisingly, the acquisition was something like Sixth Sense where you watched the movie trying to figure out what the ending would be just to be totally blindsided as the credits rolled. Yeah, it was that sort of satisfactory “ah, you got me” moment.

friendfeed-facebookI have had a torrid relationship with FriendFeed culminating with a termination of my account, causing much angst and name-calling from the puppets who have pushed FriendFeed as the only way to have legitimate conversations on the web. From my perspective, and others, it was a noisy, troll-filled social platform that, though having good technical features like real time feeds, also provided an almost cliché approach to communication.

Where the web has become increasingly fragmented and dispersed, fans of FriendFeed often touted it’s aggregation platform as the end of disbursement, a concept that I disagree with. Such end of disbursement also marks an end to competition, if allowed, and a navel-gazing mentality that assumes nothing can be better. Competition in the market place is good, and I chose Twitter.

What this means to consumers is unknown yet. Facebook has a historic closed stance and, though opening up certain APIs such as Facebook Connect, and allowing developers to develop applications for Facebook, it still stands as a relatively closed system. In order to really engage with Facebook, you really have to be using Facebook itself or the mobile apps built for Facebook.

FriendFeed has a robust API that developers can access to distribute or repurpose the content within. It has failed in many ways by not providing a really great application ecosystem, but on paper, it is much more robust of an open system than Facebook.

Facebook has certainly taken pages from the FriendFeed book, however, making their newsfeeds real time, and integrating their “Like” feature. However, it still is not as quick or reliable, much less intuitive for the user.

In an ideal world, Facebook takes almost all of the real time, and “Group” functionality of FriendFeed and integrates it into Facebook. Lose the walled garden, and keep the API open for developers. Time will tell, however, as these two companies figure out how to be “In a Relationship” with each other.

More on this acquisition from other sources:

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.

Facebook Shows New Life and Value

A few months ago, we started to see a shift in how Facebook could potentially be used in a different way. Newsfeed commenting was heralded as a Friendfeed style approach. Initially buried in the original Facebook design, I sort of shrugged it off as just another me too approach that wouldn’t take.

Boy was I wrong.

In fact, accidentally Facebook became valuable to me again by keeping me engaged and connected to the hundreds of friends I have there.

Facebook used to be a fairly passive social community. By passive I mean, I found value in event RSVPs and occasional messaging. Certainly by all accounts, I was the exception as it seemed to be pretty active for other users as a wall post messaging system and an app platform. I block almost all apps universally as they annoy me, so I didn’t find the value. It was for these reasons that I had temporarily suspended my own account.

However, the other day I made a fairly innocuous status update, something I don’t do all that often and was surprised by the comments that that status update got. It was the first time for that for me. I was a Facebook Status Update Comment Virgin! And it was exciting! In fact, it made me want to do it again!

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End of the day, Facebook was getting boring for many users including myself. It was passive. It was blah. It certainly was a way to keep in contact with people, but showed little real value beyond that.

The new design has given some people heartburn, but even that heartburn seems to be dissipating into quiet reluctance at worst and enjoyment by others as people realize that little stuff like feed commenting is now more exposed than ever. Facebook, for me, has once again become useful.

What are your thoughts?

Young TechStars Become Grizzled TechVeterans

I’m not usually one to cover breaking news, but this demands it. Not so much because Boulder-based SocialThing is a great company or that they are a particularly good example of a great company acquired by an even greater company. Frankly, it’s neither. But it deserves a huge congratulations nonetheless.

TechStars, a YCombinator-style early incubation investment co-op(?), has a major exit by being acquired by AOL. Hats off to SocialThing and the young entrepreneurs behind it for making a very quick exit in a difficult market.

SocialThing is a lifestreaming service, much like the more popular FriendFeed. It was launched in March of this year making it all of four months old. It is so new it is still in private beta (we have an account) and doesn’t support Internet Explorer!

AOL, on the other hand, is a company desparate for relevancy. They continue to downsize announcing even more layoffs and consolidations of their business last month. Most of the business has been consolidated to Ad sales and retired to the hallowed halls of Madison Ave, though their former Dulles, VA HQ still boasts some performing products (AIM, Meebo, etc).

The feel good story here is that founders Matt Galligan and Ben Brightwell have just grown up very fast. They are no longer relegated to incubator company founders that might never make it. They have created a succcess story with an early stage exit that now makes them veterans in this space. Veterans being entrepreneurs with a successful exit (my definition, loose as it might be).

So congratulations to AOL and more importantly, the SocialThing team. Good to be grown up now.

What's Your Legacy?

Back in December, the blogging world was struck dumb when Marc Orchant passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. I don’t want to rehash all the details as you can find them elsewhere. Sufficed to say, many tears were shed over his passing.

Time heals all wounds, right? No, not quite.

Today, GigaOm announced the “acquisition” of mobile gadget site jkOnTheRun. To me, an interesting subplot was the post that James Kendrick from jkOnTheRun wrote mourning the fact that Marc was not present to enjoy the excitement of the acquisition. This in turn spurred this FriendFeed conversation.

  • Steve Rubel shared an item on Google Reader – I miss Marc Orchant
  • Aaron Brazell, Andrew Baron, Jason Calacanis, James Hull, paul mooney, Peter Dawson, David Risley, Dave Martin, matt hollingsworth and Dan Liebke liked this
  • I miss Marc too and his writings – Steve Rubel
  • me three. – Robert Scoble
  • Same here. – James Hull
  • Today is dedicated to Marc. He helped get me my first paid blogging gig and now our blog is part of Om’s network. Thanks Marc. – Kevin C. Tofel
  • me 2 – Peter Dawson
  • He would have been proud – James Tenniswood
  • @Kevin he is smiling today. – Steve Rubel
  • Steve, I think you’re right. I hope he knows the profound influence he had on so many people. I’m humbled to call him a friend. – Kevin C. Tofel
  • I miss him too! I was talking about him at dinner tonight. Gnomedex is coming up and I was thinking how great it was to see him last year at the event. I was so lucky to spend time with him. – Betsy Weber
  • Now you know why Marc has a big thumbs-up wherever he might be. :) – James Kendrick
  • yeah…. me too. i think about him when Gnomedex, CES and DEMO conferences roll around. He was a true gentleman and a scholar. still have him on my skype….. every now and then i think of sending him a note. – Jason Calacanis
  • Me too. :( Gnomedex was the last time I ever saw Marc. – Aaron Brazell
  • Aaron: you were the last person he tweeted as well… as I’m sure you know. – Jason Calacanis
  • I remember, Jason… :( – Aaron Brazell
  • I had the good fortune to work with Marc’s daughter Rebecca at PR Newswire. Rebecca and I set at adjacent desks and she was very helpful to me. I never had the good fortune to meet Marc but truly enjoyed working with Rebecca. It’s nice to know that this man who resided in the place I now live is so well remembered. – James
  • Me too. Marc was always a ray of light, always uplifting. Made you feel good about the human race. – Cameron Reilly

Of course, I was the last person Marc ever tweeted when I was in the midst of trying to quit smoking.
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To this day, I think about Marc and this conversation brought everything flooding back. I more than occasionally wonder how Sue, his wife, is doing and have often thought about looking her up and giving her a call. But, then I think it still might be too soon. I don’t know.

What struck me about this friendfeed conversation is the word “legacy”. Marc had a legacy and it has carried over past his death. Legacy is the effect you have on people when you are gone. Legacy is the weight of your presence when you are not present.

Marc’s legacy lives on as he has positively changed so many lives and those lives remember.

Right now, the conversation in the technology blogging sphere is about relevance. It is hitting a moment where survival of the fittest is kicking into gear. Currently, everyone is fighting over the Techmeme scraps dropped from the plates of a few. Who can get the most pageviews? Who can track into top positions? It’s all very short sighted.

Value is created when you are able to positively affect the lives of those around you. Maybe talking about Seagate drives is not quite as sexy as adopting children in Africa, but it changes the way that a technology manager invests money.

Discussing African American history with a historian, as we will do on Saturday evening has the potential to affect real lives. Talking about how to be like Julia Allison does not.

Legacy is the mark you leave on a society when you are blessed to no longer be a part of it. Marc left his legacy. I hope to leave mine. What are you doing to leave a mark?

Cloud Computing Does Not Spell the End for Common Sense I.T. Management

Sometimes I think I might be the only one who retains commons sense. Really. At least in the area of I.T. Management. Though we had our share of growing pains at b5media, the knowledge gained from working in an enterprise environment at Northrop Grumman was only accentuated by my tenure as the Director of Technology at b5media.

Unfortunately, some common best-use practices in developing infrastructure are often put aside by those with shiny object syndrome surrounding “cloud computing“.

Let me explain.

You may have noticed a severe hampering of many internet services over the weekend. The culprit was a rare, but yet heavy-duty outage of Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) cloud storage. S3 is used by many companies including Twitter, WordPress.com, FriendFeed, and SmugMug to name a few. Even more individuals are using S3 for online data backup or for small projects requiring always-on virtual disk space. Startups often use S3 due to the “always on” storage, defacto CDN and the inexpensive nature of the service… it really is cheap!

And that’s good. I’m a fan of using the cheapest, most reliable service for anything. Whatever gets you to the next level quickest and with as little output of dollars is good in my book, for the same reason I’m a fan of prototyping ideas in Ruby on Rails (but to be clear, after the prototype, build on something more reliable and capable of handling multi-threaded processes, kthxbai.)

However, sound I.T. management practice says that there should never be a single point of failure. Ever. Take a step back and map out the infrastructure. If you see anyplace where there’s only one of those connecting lines between major resource A and major resource B – start looking there for bottlenecks and potential company-sinking aggravation.

Thus was the case for many companies using S3. Depending on the use of S3, and if the companies had failover to other caches, some companies were affected more than others. Twitter for instance, uses S3 for avatar storage but had no other “cold cache” for that data rendering a service without user images – bad, but not deathly.

SmugMug shrugged the whole thing off (which is a far cry from the disastrous admission that “hot cache” was used very little when Amazon went down back in February), which I thought was a bit odd. Their entire company revolves around hosted photos on Amazon S3 and they simply shrugged off an 8 hour outage as “ok because everyone goes down once in awhile”. Yeah, and occasionally people get mugged in dark city streets, but as long as it’s not me it’s okay! Maybe it was the fact that the outage occurred on a Sunday. Who knows? To me, this sort of outage rages as a 9.5/10 on the critical scale. Their entire business is wrapped up in S3 storage with no failover. For perspective, one 8 hour outage in July constitutes 98.9% uptime – a far cry from five 9’s (99.999%) which is minimal mitigation of risk in enterprise, mission-critical services.

WordPress.com, as always, comes through as a shining example of a company who economically benefits from the use of S3 as a cold cache and not primary access or “warm cache”.

Let me stop and provide some definition. Warm (or hot) cache is always preferable to cold cache. It is data that has been loaded into memory or a more reasonably accessible location – but typically memory. Cold cache is a file based storage of cached data. It is less frequently accessed because access only occurs if warm cache data has expired or doesn’t exist.

WordPress.com has multiple levels of caching because they are smart and understand the basic premise of eliminating single point of failure. Image data is primarily accessed over their server cluster via a CDN, however S3 is used as a cold cache. With the collapse of S3 over the weekend, WordPress.com, from my checking, remained unaffected.

This is the basic principle of I.T. enterprise computing that is lost on so much of the “web world”. If companies have built and scaled (particularly if they have scaled!) and rely on S3 with no failover, shame on them. Does it give Amazon a black eye? Absolutely. however, at the end of the day SmugMug, WordPress.com, Friendfeed, Twitter and all the other companies utilizing S3 answer to their customers and do not have the luxury of pointing the finger at Amazon. If their business is negatively affected, they have no one to blame but themselves. The companies who understood this planned accordingly and were not negatively affected by the S3 outage. Those who weren’t were left, well, holding the bag.

Added: GNIP gets it, and they are new to the game. Even startups have no excuse.

Identi.ca and the Art of the Launch

Ask any startup. The most difficult decision leading up to a public release is when and what? Some might argue that getting funding is the most difficult but a good startup avoids funding until later, if at all. Others might argue that the difficult part is getting the right mix of people and hitting milestones. That also is important, but not as important as the when and how.

Usually, a good launch product is the result of a perceived need. Or maybe a need not yet realized – it’s hard to say for sure. There’s some black magic involved in all that.

FriendFeed launched not long ago because there was an empty hole in Twitter – that was aggregation and conversation. FriendFeed figured out that, to be successful, it was going to target that emptiness in the highly popular Twitter experience.

Disqus and Intense Debate figured that, in order to be successful, they needed to target the missing piece in blog comments – that was reputation and reputation management across blogs. The two fight it out, post-launch, over which is going to differentiate it over the other.

In these cases, the timing of the launches was critical to the uptake. Twitter started experiencing significant problems and influential early adopters began getting itchy to be somewhere that scratched their itch.

Putting aside timing, the most important part of a launch is what. It’s feature-sets. It’s determining the balance between a fully developed roadmap of features and what is needed to “hook” early adopters and get them to stay.

Take Identi.ca, the new Twitter clone that is completely open source and is timely in that Twitter faithful are really, really close to burying the hatchet and simply abandoning it altogether. The timing could not be more perfect. Folks have been talking about distributing Twitter and relieving the strain of a centralized service at one time. Open sourcing the product does this, to a degree.

However, Identi.ca gets a big “FAIL” for its launch for a few very important reasons.

  1. There is no coherent way to deal with “replies”. Folks used to Twitter realize that when there is a river of content, and that’s what Twitter is, there must be a way to manage conversations. There must be a way to keep up with followers who are talking to you. In my working with Identi.ca, there is no way to do that and, while that might be coming, it wasn’t there at launch. Very conceivably, I’ve been lost forever and I generally have tons of followers as an early adopter. FAIL.
  2. XMPP doesn’t work. The one reliable way to reply that folks on Identi.ca were talking about last night was with XMPP, the protocol used for various IM clients including Google Talk. I could deal with replies that way if it worked but at some point, XMPP stopped working. I could receive, but I could not send. A one way conversation is a monologue. FAIL.
  3. OpenID integration must be seamless. I was pleased to see OpenID supported when I signed up. Unfortunately, today, I could not login with my OpenID account. If I can’t get in, I can’t use it. FAIL.

Some would say I’m being too hard on this startup. Screw that. Perform or get off the stage. There are very obvious and defined features that must be included in a microcontent site at launch. I’m not saying an entire roadmap needs to be worked out. No, get a working beta up and get testers in there. However, without replies, without reliable “offline” access (i.e. IM, SMS or client integration) I’m not going to stick around. Finally, direct messages would be a nice feature.

While I have high hopes for Identi.ca, I will remain there only to squat on the name “technosailor”. Bye, guys.

The Mind of Dave Winer

Dave Winer has a bad reputation. He’s got a reputation for challenging anyone who disagrees with him. He’s got a reputation for blocking people by default on Twitter.

Yeah. It’s the rule, not the exception.

See, blocking on Twitter is an acceptable action. I’ve blocked people that are so troll-like, I can’t deal with them. These are people who have indicated in the context of their tweets that Christianity is responsible for pedophilia, nearly all murder and bloodshed in the world, etc. While I won’t argue that Christianity has historically included bloodshed and murder in the name of Jesus and that there are sad cases of unacceptable sexual actions in the name of Jesus, that does not qualify for an ongoing, destructive attack on a religion that has done much good, has a significant number of followers, etc. Blocked.

I also have blocked people who belligerently disparage people unprovoked. But very few, and only after a long period of time where my tolerance level have been diminished.

Blocking is an acceptable action in some cases. Most people looking to filter noise simply don’t follow people in return and if it turns out that a person is creating too much noise, unfollowing is the socially acceptable thing to do. Blocking is an ultimate action that is usually only taken when there are no other options. See, Twitter is all about opt-in. I opt to see your updates and vica versa. It’s a “pull” technology, not a “push” technology. I cannot control who hears my messages, but with a block I can control who doesn’t.

Dave has opted to take the ultimate action on gads of people, and while that is within his right to do (the action is not necessarily in question), the perception is a different story. The perception is that he is silencing those who disagree with him. Like Stalin did. Like Mao Zedong did. Like Fidel Castro did. Like the government of Myanamar is currently doing.

Dave’s inability to tolerate those in opposition to him flies in the face of his political fantasies of inclusion for everyone. Here’s a tweet where, in broad strokes, he paints the Republican party as racists. Another one where he quantifies the use of “average white person” as meaning “racist” – more broad strokes from a guy who demonstrates his own inability to get along with people.

Here’s what Dave needs to understand. While he is, without prejudice, responsible for many of the technologies we use today – RSS and blogs – he is past his time, out of touch with reality, and quite possibly a lunatic. His inability to behave in socially acceptable ways pushes him to the fringe of, not only the social and new media space, but civilized society as a whole. His knack for building technologies that someone else has created and calling them his own innovations – whether explicitly or implicitly) his getting tiresome. See Dave’s Twitter uptime monitor of May 23, 2008 vs. Pingdom’s report from Dec 19, 2007. Also see Dave’s decentralizing Twitter “idea” from May 4, 2008 is something I talked about on Twitter quite a bit months before he came up with his groundbreaking idea.

So Dave, instead of building silly apps that do nothing particularly fancy and using Comcast bandwidth, why don’t you go re-inherit your seat at the table and write a whitepaper/spec for decentralized Twitter. Think of it as a protocol, much like email, and go from there. It should include SMS gateways, APIs for handing messages around. And for a business plan, make the open APIs accessible via a pay model. You might be on to something then and it will allow you to be productive as opposed to squashing dissent and blocking people for no apparent reason.