Web/Tech

Louis Gray Nails the FriendFeed Dilemma

Whether you adore FriendFeed and don't get why your friends don't, or you're one of those friends who just doesn't get the hype, you should check out this post by Louis Gray on what FriendFeed needs to do to grow. (And, I'll add survive.) I'm one of the users he describes that has a good number of followers and has a ton of data pouring into the site, but almost never goes there. This graph absolutely nails my experience:

"New users signing up to FriendFeed, by default, see all updates from all friends who they are following, as well as updates from friends of a friend. This means that even if you start out following only a few dozen people, be they those automatically synchronized with your Facebook account, or recommended well-known Silicon Valley digerati, you can be flooded with updates from Twitter, Blogs, bookmarking sites, external commenting sites, BrightKite location notices, photos from Flickr and other sites, videos from YouTube, and even items from Amazon.com wish lists. And not only do you have to see all this from the people you know, but you'll even have to see updates from friends of those you know, if your friends have made an action on their updates.

What needs to happen is that FriendFeed must tier their offering, for "small", "medium" and "large" consumption. The Lite version would probably start out with blog postings, Flickr photos, and native FriendFeed entries. The default behavior should be that you would need to "opt in" to see a service, rather than be forced to opt out or hide every single one of them as FriendFeed adds them. FriendFeed already supports more than 50 different services, but the excitement this may bring to power users is just overwhelming to new folks."

As Louis suggests, FriendFeed has done nothing to reengage me as an inactive user with a lot of followers. Worse: I've reached out to FriendFeed's founders as a reporter for a get-to-know-you meeting more than once and never even received an email or call back. This is not an ego thing, I hardly get all my emails and phone calls returned, trust me. And frankly, I didn't doggedly pursue it, because I'm not sure my non-blog audience does care about FriendFeed. But I bring it up as a news flash for FriendFeed: You are a startup, that doesn't want to pay for a marketing department. I write a column and host a show that reaches millions and millions of people outside the echo chamber who have never heard of you. Why would that not rank a call back? Job #1 when building a consumer web business is to build something worthwhile, which I think conceptually FriendFeed has. Job #2 is to promote it. It's not rocket science.

As Louis says, the company has instead relied on bloggers and tech publications to spread the word. That is myopic and naive. It's one thing to be a lean startup with no marketing department. It's another to pretend even the biggest cheerleaders in the Valley ecosystem will be enough to make your company a mainstream product. After all, early adopters tend to treat Web startups like fads. It's the "real people" who build a sustainable, real business. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook-- they all get that and that's why they don't cater features to the Valley elite's power users.

I'm predicting a modest acquisition in someone's future, with a price tag that decreases as the brutal 2009 wears on. That's a shame for a company that had a bright future and a good product, but it goes to show it's as much about execution as it is idea and attention.

Comments

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Friendfeed is too concerned with your 'Job #1' to worry about your #2.

Just so I have my facts straight: You are an accomplished, published author who has last year's date for her copyright on this page, a Web 2.0 and start-up expert with a link on the same page to a service that no longer exists, and other than using FriendFeed as a dumpster for your stuff have never engaged the service to contribute, and you wonder why you don't get a call back. Perhaps the FriendFeed team wishes to deal with someone more professional?

As crude as James comment is above, he is correct. There are so many bloggers like you, Robert Scoble, and others who keep talking about the "valley elite" and how no one outside the Bay Area knows anything about whats happening on the ground. This is nothing more than self-importance run amok.

Do you really think people like my tech-competent (but not geeky) friends care about FriendFeed? No. For them keeping a computer running spyware/malware free, checking their webmail, instant messaging, navigating spam, browsing shopping sites, conducting informal research on a random topic , and doing a few other things is work enough. They don't care about FriendFeed because they doesn't care about "stalking" (as they call it) every person's life online. If they go to a dinner party or a wedding then they expect someone will email them a link to the photo album or someone will attach the pictures to the email itself and skip the public photo album. Maybe if the Facebook Java photo uploading applet works without crashing they'll upload their pictures to Facebook. They don't need a social RSS feed telling them this stuff nor do they have time to monitor it every day. For them even the Facebook feed is too much information, too detailed (stalkerish), and moves too quickly because, heaven forbid, they forget to login 10 times a day to see what's happening.

Unfortunately there are a ton of people out there who feel the same way and these are the "millions and millions of people outside the echo chamber" who just don't care about aggregating their personal lives online. First of all its way too much work to keep everything in sync across all the dozens of services out there. Even though I'm an uber geek I've practically given up because I have a life to live outside cyberspace. Secondly, what benefit do normal people get when they sign up for FriendFeed? Not much. Facebook, Myspace, email, and IM already provide enough functionality for the non-obsessed person.

Lets forget all that though and focus on your "if you don't talk to me then you won't ever get anywhere post." It's sad. It's pathetic. It's arrogant. It also seems to be working out for you because I would have never cared to read your blog nor would I have cared to comment if it wasn't for this display of silly self-importance. Sadly, even if FriendFeed responded to your desperate need for attention, you still wouldn't be able to overcome the unimportance of FriendFeed to normal everyday people.

Why is your marketing proposal all about charging the users?

I think you are correct. Having tried FriendFeed, to date, I haven't experienced the great conversations which Scoble refers to - just information overload. I think I understand where the value is but it seems like a lot of work to get to.

I am certainly not one of any elite, San Francisco based or otherwise.

I use Friendfeed simply because it helps me to forge new links to folks that write stuff I find interesting; it helps me to keep in touch with people locally, nationally, and internationally.

On top of that, I also find it fun. How you put value on good old fashioned honest to goodness fun, I don't know, but does everything in life, have to have a 'value'?

Or simply tier the services. I know I clicked on about everything I could at first. After the rush I streamlined it...a lot!

Lacy tries to get some juice from the rise of Friendfeed (triple nomination in the Chrunchies 2009).

See Paul Buchheit (Friendfeed's founder)'s answer to Lacy: http://friendfeed.com/e/f3685b34-fbe9-727b-5ffc-f9cf003c1d6d/Louis-Gray-Nails-the-FriendFeed-Delimma/

To be fair, I don't know the inner workings on FriendFeed the company. Perhaps you or Louis have insight. But there's certainly the PERCEPTION that FriendFeed isn't engaged in marketing activities.

The more interesting story is how I happened upon your post. Yes, it was in FriendFeed...but I found it via a Google Reader reading of various feeds from FriendFeed. And I was doing THAT because Sean McBride suggested it in response to a Joshua Porter post that made some of the same points that Louis made. Basically, I needed Sean McBride's trick to find your post; otherwise, I may never have found it.

Many have reacted to Louis' (and Joshua's) ideas by saying "I don't want FriendFeed Lite." Unfortunately, they don't realize that FriendFeed must address both the established users AND the people (like you) who don't want to use the service the way it was currently designed.

how ironic... I did a google search for the words Sean McBride and friendfeed and this is what came up. I'm researching the relationship between the Alist and terrorist sympathizers. Google seems to think that the group of people talked about in this post have some kind of connection to Hamas sympathizers.

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