Five years from now, we’ll look back on this and laugh. Or at least some of us will. Others are decidedly more cranky these days. But the great FriendFeed–Socialthing war will seem trivial compared to… whatever meme we’re obsessing over in five years. The funniest part of all this hubbub is that the CEOs of both companies don’t even view each other as competitors. After talking with both Matt Galligan at Socialthing and Bret Taylor from FriendFeed, it’s clear that the two companies are approaching a very real problem – information overload – in very different ways. In fact, it’s entirely possible for someone to use both services at the same time, with virtually no rips in the space-time continuum.
As Taylor noted, the end goals of the two companies are their key difference. FriendFeed is about content discovery and applying social solutions to the problem of information overload. Socialthing focuses more broadly on a user’s entire digital life, in an attempt to make sense of the myriad networks out there. FriendFeed is bringing the conversation in, while Socialthing is broadcasting it out. FriendFeed has morphed into a separate social network while Socialthing wants to help consolidate all the networks you’ve already built. FriendFeed, tomato; Socialthing, tomahto.
What was so striking to me today, after talking with them virtually back-to-back, was the similarity of messaging. It’s almost like they met in a backroom over the weekend to get their stories straight. The two companies dovetail quite nicely and, if the right conversations happened, I could see FriendFeed plugging its stream into Socialthing. That isn’t to suggest that FriendFeed is somehow lesser. But whether they intended it or not, FriendFeed has become a go-to social network. It’s one of the most vibrant and consuming networks I’ve ever been on. Perhaps that’s because it isn’t crowded with super-pokes and relationship quizzes. It’s stunningly simple, an aspect some aren’t fond of. But Taylor recognizes the power in this simplicity. While FriendFeed does intend to build out the product per user feedback, they’re also mindful of staying true to a basic app that has charmed a legion of tech-weary testers.
Socialthing, on the other hand, doesn’t yet have its fanbase, so is lacking in the fervent free press that has accompanied FriendFeed. Just officially launched last week at SXSW, the service boasts a slick iPhone app and a UI with a bit more polish on it. I also really like that you don’t have to import your social graph; it finds it for you. (But doesn’t take it quite as far as spammy Spokeo.) Socialthing is working to solve a problem that has become urgent for many in the last couple of years – disparate social networks scattered hither and yon – and they’ve taken only the first baby steps. It’s a company worth keeping a close eye on, as they’ve come closer to cracking the code than any company I’ve seen to date.
As for FriendFeed, we need to start classifying them in a different category. FriendFeed isn’t interested in managing your digital life; they’re interested in taming the content flow by showing users what their trusted friends are reading and recommending. The ad-hoc social network that has sprung up is an interesting exercise in the social graph. But it all comes back to the content. After talking with Taylor, I’d instead match the company against another competitor – Persai. Finding relevant, interesting and unique content among the millions of pages hitting the Web each day is an equally important problem to solve. So if we have to start wars, we should find new competitors for FriendFeed and Socialthing. They’re two innovative companies tackling two separate but equal technological problems.