A Tale of Two Communities

If you’ve checked out my FriendFeed stream in the last few weeks, you may have noticed the emergence of a glaring theme in my online activity. Its name is Facebook and it has commandeered my life.  There are pages upon pages of Facebook status updates in my FriendFeed and not much else. (Excepting the glut of old YouTube favorites that just popped up yesterday. That’s an odd bug.) Though I can’t pinpoint precisely when this shift occurred – some time over the last month my time on FriendFeed has dwindled to zero while Facebook has become an always-open tab – I can tell you precisely why. My friends are on Facebook.  My real-world, send-Christmas-cards friends. For the most part, they’re people with which I share history. I want to see pictures of their kids and reminisce over embarrassing high school pictures. While it can be fun to argue politics with strangers on FriendFeed, at the end of the day it’s simply more fulfilling to connect further with people I’m personally invested in. And I’m reasonably sure I’m not alone in this sentiment, particularly among mass consumers.

What’s more interesting, though, is that no one on FriendFeed comments or likes my Facebook entries. They sit forlornly on the FriendFeed page, a sure sign that my attention and energies have moved elsewhere. It’s like a tacit acknowledgment among FriendFeed users that Facebook is an entirely separate world unto itself. Or perhaps my status updates are just boring.  The point is that these two worlds, so similar in so many ways, seem to be at war with each other. To FriendFeeders, Facebook is a sheep-filled home of tech noobs and FriendFeed is, well, no one on Facebook seems to understand the point of FriendFeed.

The irony in all of this is that Facebook’s increasing appeal of late, at least for me, is features it has modeled directly after FriendFeed. (And some would say I’m being kind with my phrasing.) The ability to comment on any feed item in Facebook was implemented several months ago but seems finally to have settled in among users. And just yesterday I noticed a Live Feed tab on my Facebook page, allowing me to follow all my friends’ activities on the site in real time. You know, for those days when you’re bound and determined not to accomplish a thing.

Regular readers know that I’m an ardent fan of FriendFeed. For a time right after its launch, I wouldn’t shut up about it.  It was and is a great example of clean, intuitive, oiled-machine technology that adds a vibrant community layer to flat Internet content. But the fact remains that the community on FriendFeed is still by and large tech sophisticates and early adopters. And the community on Facebook is everybody else. Facebook currently has over 120 million users, 70 million of which were added just this year. Rant and rave all you want about the site but name another social media service that has achieved such numbers. The trick, of course, is to translate those numbers into revenue, something Facebook has yet to figure out. As Dan Lyons pointed out in Newsweek a couple of months ago, Facebook is only managing about $2.50 profit per user – per year. That’s not a particularly rosy profit forecast in the midst of a recession.

So you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Facebook is a thriving community of mass consumers, in search of a viable revenue path. FriendFeed is a brilliantly built technology in search of a thriving mass-consumer community. Let’s put the peanut butter in the chocolate and call it a day. Facebook gets great technology of which it is obviously enamoured and FriendFeed – who it should also be mentioned has no current definable revenue path – gets the mainstream spotlight it so richly deserves.

Granted, the two companies coming together would require adaptation from both;  Facebook would need to implement a design change, first and foremost. But part of the reason the merging makes sense is that the changes needed aren’t drastic. Add FriendFeed in a layer over your existing Facebook page, perhaps a dynamic window that emerges with a mouseover, so that users can maintain some separation of the two networks. Or go for the complete merge and allow Facebook friends to pull other online activity into their newsfeed.  The ultimate result is without a doubt a richer community for users. And from a business standpoint, almost unparalleled insight into the user base. If the two companies can’t figure out what to do with virtually complete profiles of each user, social media is in deep trouble indeed.

The virtual friends that I’ve really connected with on FriendFeed have eventually become Facebook friends. It’s a natural progression in the 21st century. Once you get to know someone better, you invite them a bit further into your world. So why not skip the middle man and complete this circle?  The recession has yet to set in completely; social media needs to gird itself for survival. What better way to do that than create a site that brings us the best of both worlds?

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3 Comments »

  1. shellee said

    I just got a friend request from my mother. Seriously.

    Recruiting real world friends to Facebook has been much easier. They check it out and see a value to it. Efforts to lure any of my “normal” friends to FriendFeed have failed miserably. I think putting the peanut butter in the chocolate could help both companies immensely. FriendFeed could break out of the bubble and Facebook could cultivate some real social capital.

    I’m sick to death of the pillow fights and mob wars but would love to pull that energy into discussing interesting stories and ideas on the web with those circles of friends.

  2. […] “a modest acquisition in someone’s future.”  Hmmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before… Paul Buchheit, FriendFeed investor and founder, then has his say, requesting that folks […]

  3. […] been a long-time fan of FriendFeed and certainly understand the disappointment of a service’s community insiders. […]

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