February 09, 2010

How Google Buzz Validates but Marginalizes FriendFeed

When FriendFeed debuted on the scene in late 2007, it was one of the simplest ways to aggregate all of my updates from the social outposts I have all over the Web, see friends' updates and have a discussion around their shared items. Now part of Facebook, the product continues to have an extremely loyal, albeit relatively small, community, who embraced the technology and made it a platform for social interaction. The site, which was among the pioneers of real-time streams and the surfacing of popular items, has seen its technology mimicked and imitated by many, but its complexity helped to reduce its total impact, contrasted with single-purpose sites like Twitter. Today's Buzz announcement from Google brings many of the things that made FriendFeed great to a new, more mainstream, audience.

At the beginning of 2009, I wrote a provocative list of things I hoped FriendFeed could do to grow and keep new users. Chief among these hopes was the first point: "FriendFeed Must Have a Lite Version for New Users". While FriendFeed's support of fifty-plus social services was great for a power user like me, the sheer noise on the service, exacerbated by constant updates from likes and comments, could be a serious challenge. At the time, I suggested this "Lite" version should feature "blog postings, Flickr photos, and native FriendFeed entries", with additional services being opt-in, not opt out. It didn't happen.

Fast forward a year, and you see Google launching Buzz, in combination with Gmail and other services, with integrated support for a few services, namely: Flickr, Picasa, Twitter and Google Reader. You can share YouTube videos and direct links as well, but gone is the wide array of one-off services. And the immediacy of sharing in Buzz couldn't be more simple, with integrated high quality photos and video in line. Buzz, in effect, is what I hoped FriendFeed Lite would have been to a large degree, even if it means using that service will require my rebuilding the social network in a new place.

In this new world, as I mentioned when I talked about how aggregation sites are not becoming the traffic leaders, contrasted with single-use social networks, the need for a dedicated aggregation site, like a FriendFeed, Cliqset or Arktan, is largely being eroded by the adoption of similar functionality by companies including Facebook and Google.

While I may have turned to a site like FriendFeed previously to aggregate all my data in one place, and find updates from others, Google Buzz brings the same benefits to a centralized location where people are already engaging - their GMail, on Google.com, and in their mobile handsets.

As I was more than happy to share frequently through this blog and on other networks, FriendFeed made sense to me and continues to be among the most polished and versatile networks on the Web. I have even said I would use the site if I were the last one to do so. But I believe people are looking to consolidate the number of properties in which they engage online with friends, and they may flock to Google Buzz in the same way they have flocked to other sites like Facebook and Twitter.

If FriendFeed were to debut in a world where Google Buzz and Facebook already existed in their current incarnations, there would not have been much hope or need. FriendFeed, alongside other products, helped pioneer many of the features that you see today in Buzz, including the aggregation of content from social sites, and integrated likes and comments. There is no question the Google team had a high level of respect for what FriendFeed was doing, and Google employees, current and former, were among the most visible, active, users. Now, they have brought the best elements of FriendFeed into Google, validating the promise of what FriendFeed was and could be, but further reducing the need for a site like FriendFeed.com.

In April of 2009, MG Siegler of TechCrunch said that you would be using FriendFeed in the future, only it might be called Facebook. Now, in 2010, it again is true. You could be using FriendFeed in the future, but it will be called Buzz.