April 02, 2010

FriendFeed's Fade From the View of Downstream Traffic

At the risk of offputting the remaining active members of a once-vibrant community of which I still consider myself part, or annoying the sharp developers who created a great site, and may have big plans at Facebook, any debate over whether FriendFeed as a network had stemmed its decrease in use, or if its population had simply shifted, should have been snuffed long ago. I still use the site every day, and find it best in class for many activities, but the numbers tell a story better than I could through conjecture alone. The network's slow fade shows it driving less than 10 percent of the activity to my blog it once did during its heyday. While TechCrunch's MG Siegler (a one time FriendFeed regular himself) noted the site can still be credited for a share of visitors earlier this week, the downstream effects of a stalling network with an uncertain future are stark.

FriendFeed, at its apex of visibility in early 2008 and 2009, was often criticized for its consolidation of comments and a perceived lack of downstream visitors, who opted to talk about content on the network rather than on the originating blog. But, for me, an active member who had found real value and promoted the site, the service always gave back a lot more than I took from it. In rapid time, FriendFeed was driving more traffic back to my blog than any other Web site, with the exception of Google.

FriendFeed Referrals to the Blog Are Decimated

I've never been a high-traffic blog, and disseminating my content all over the Web on different networks, without pushing ads, means I don't obsess over page views. But according to Google Analytics, in July of 2008, nearly 5,400 visitors came to the site by way of FriendFeed.com, a significant chunk. I could routinely count on FriendFeed to drive about 5,000 visitors a month, every month, for the better part of a year, as Google Analytics shows that as late as March of 2009, that number was exceeded. Only direct visitors and Google searches drove more.

But in the middle of last year, as people started to discontinue using the platform, and especially following the company's sale to Facebook, activity on the site started to fade, as did its downstream impact. This isn't to say you can't spark a good conversation there or find great people. They still exist. But the situation changed from a community driven to talk about technology to a much more casual (and social) atmosphere.

The Decline of Visits (Every 3 Months) From FriendFeed

Referrals here from FriendFeed dropped below 2,000 by June of 2009, fell below 1,000 by fall of 2009, and just barely passed 500 last month, not even entering the top ten referrals overall, eclipsed not just by sites like Twitter and Facebook, but also StumbleUpon and the different flavors of FeedBurner.

Reasons for the downturn are multiple, to be honest.

It's not just the obvious question of the site's total population decreasing. Depending on which stats engine you use, you can see the traffic at the site actually recently took an uptick, and whatever US audience they lost, international visitors picked up the slack. But for every lost active user and sharer compounds the issue - as fewer opportunities are there to be shared and to be seen. Also, the discontinuation of "10 people to follow" lists that Mike Fruchter and I were putting up on a monthly basis certainly hasn't helped. But more dramatically, the site's makeup changed. Activity within the site definitely overtook the activity outside the site, and what used to be a site that drove people somewhere else in many cases has fostered a community that keeps themselves on the site instead.

As a user who has watched the site closely for the better part of two and a half years, and conceptually knows activity has slowed as items go ignored that once would or spark numbers well below they used to, the clearest measure is the complete elimination of downstream traffic. You can't get there from here, because there's no there there. But my numbers show it wasn't always this way. When it seemed others gave up on the site, and the developers went quiet, so too did its downstream effects. For those people looking to be on the "cutting edge" or needing page views over casual conversation, they've largely known this for a long time and have had to go somewhere else.

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