May 01, 2008

Participate. Participate. Participate. Repeat.

Some of the most confused buzzwords in Web 2.0 are those of aggregation and lifestreaming.

As evidenced by the many different sites that have debuted offering a single location for differing online activities, harnessing together RSS feeds from Web services and presenting them as one, delivering a base foundation for aggregation is not all that hard.

Plaxo did it. Profilactic did it. Iminta did it. Socialthing did it. FriendFeed did it. Facebook is starting to do it.

But simple aggregation is not enough. What FriendFeed got right very early on in the game is that it's one thing to get all the services in one page, and quite another to make them interactive, so friends can talk to friends and peers can show peers what they like. Back in November, I wrote, "I first became interested in FriendFeed as the service could aggregate friends' Web activity in a single place. But in recent weeks, it's grown to be much more."

FriendFeed became more because of two things: participation and discovery.

FriendFeed let me respond and interact with the services my friends were sharing. It also allowed me to discover new services, new friends and new sources for information. Through FriendFeed, I've found new blogs to read, found new online social circles, and engaged in real-time with people who are completely unreachable, even by e-mail or Twitter.

Now, as the early adopter crowd has found the FriendFeed religion, despite the occasional grumpy holdout, they're now finding that the real potential in FriendFeed, as with other Web services, comes through participation. It's one thing to passively aggregate your online activity in a single place, and quite another to thoughtfully add comments and like items you find interesting, and think your friends will. Robert Scoble, now as prominent a FriendFeed advocate as I ever have been, has highlighted this factor in The really interesting FriendFeed page to watch tonight, where he notes FriendFeed has set up separate "discussion" pages that aggregate comments and likes. (His | Mine)

Google Reader became the leading RSS feed reader for me not just because it was a strong, quick, offering, but because of the shared link items blog. Twitter is actually useful due to tracking of @Replies and the ability to see others streams intermingled. But to sign up to any of these services to broadcast, and not to participate, shortchanges the process.

There's a reason I've made more than 1,200 comments in FriendFeed since signing up in October, and why I've "Liked" almost 700 different items. It's not because I have a bot set up to do my dirty work. It's because it helps both those I follow, and those who follow me. Take away that participation, and FriendFeed becomes as quiet as a library, and just about as exciting.

So if you're not quite sure where to start with FriendFeed, with Google Reader, with Twitter or any other social network, get started and participate. That'll make all the difference.