Imitation Is…

Back in February, a group of former Google employees launched FriendFeed, a site that allowed users of multiple social networking sites to aggregate feeds of their data from those sites into a single stream that could be shared with their friends, so for example my account on FriendFeed aggregates my blog and my Google Reader shared items along with feeds from BrightKite, Del.icio.us, Facebook, Disqus, Flickr, LinkedIn, Pownce, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Twitter, Upcoming, Vimeo and YouTube. Thanks to a handy Facebook application, I could also pull the contents of my FriendFeed feed into my Facebook account, bringing in those friends and family whose social networking only reached as far as the walls of the Facebook walled garden.

Then back in May, Facebook added a new feature, importing data from third-party sites into the mini-feed – albeit with a much more limited selection of sources (hence why I’m still using FriendFeed).

One the big draws of FriendFeed – and ironically one of it’s biggest controversies, is that it provides the ability for other FriendFeed users to comment on items in the feed. This results in conversations taking place initiated by the posting/sharing of an item. The reason for the controversy is that if the initial item is a blog posting there is quite often a separate conversation going on back on the blog, and whilst there are ways to link the two, some bloggers do not like the separation of feedback on their content. Anyway, a month on from the first set of Facebook mini-feed changes, this week Facebook announced the addition of mini-feed commenting, leading to accusations that they are copying FriendFeed. Again from my point of view it’s not up there with the FriendFeed implementation due to the lack of services it is aggregating, and the fact that it is all within the walled garden of Facebook.

Having said that, FriendFeed isn’t all conquering either. Although I quite often use the site, the feature where it shares FriendFeed items liked by people I am following quite often throwing up some gems, I’m still regularly logging on to SocialThing! The two are subtly different in what they set out to achieve – fundamentally SocialThing! is aggregating feeds from my contacts on social networking services, rather than aggregating my feeds for someone else to subscribe to. The big downside of FriendFeed is that if a particular friend I have from a service such as Twitter is not on FriendFeed I have to manually create what is called an imaginary friend in order to be able to view their feed in FriendFeed. Whilst that may seem fairly straightforward if you consider the number of services and the number of potential friends you could have on each service the size of the job starts to grow rather a lot. Over on SocialThing! if I add a new Twitter feed or Flickr account their content just starts appearing in my account without any further intervention from me. There are some third-party solutions around, but fundamentally with FriendFeed if you expand your social circle, you end up having to duplicate the addition if that person is not already on FriendFeed.

So who is going to win out? Facebook has a big advantage in terms of numbers, but how many users really know about the aggregation and commenting features? Since Facebook is very reliant on having a captive, easily target-able user base, it is important for them to try and keep up to stop people going elsewhere – in their world they’d rather you didn’t post your pictures and videos somewhere else, but it seems they’ll now let you link to them to keep you using their service. However much like their photo and video applications, the mini-feed aggregation is not nearly as good as the specialist services like FriendFeed and SocialThing! FriendFeed has a burgeoning user base, and the current reliability problems at Twitter are starting to push conversations from there onto FriendFeed. SocialThing! is still in beta, and whilst it lacks some of the conversation features of FriendFeed, is a lot easier to handle, and certainly enhances using the other third-party services rather than bringing in another.

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