Over the last week FriendFeed has being the hot topic of the online world, soaring in popularity after an already strong start from its launch on February 25. FriendFeed allows you to see all of the online activities of the people you like or admire, who choose to share that data. So for example I have created a FriendFeed for Ross Dawson that brings together a summary of blog posts I’ve written, what I’ve bookmarked on del.icio.us, shared on StumbleUpon and Google Reader, videos I’ve posted on YouTube, pictures on Flickr, profile changes on LinkedIn, and songs I’ve loved on Last.FM. There are currently a total of 28 services that people can include in profiling what they are doing online.
On one level, this provides a quite staggering depth of visibility into what people are doing, and ultimately who they are as people. I’ve written before about the role of exhibitionism in allowing Web 2.0 to flourish, and this is evident once again in FriendFeed. Of course, it is supposed to be primarily about keeping track of your friends’ rather than strangers’ lives, and the reality is that all of this information is available anyway. It’s just that it has been brought about into one place. Not just that, it is a community itself, allowing comments and other ways to respond to people’s content directly, rather than going back to the source.
While there are other competitors in this space, including SocialThing! (see ReadWriteWeb’s comparison), the availability – and success – of these services is a fundamentally important transition in the online world. The reason why Facebook has been so successful is that it allows people a quick way of keeping in touch with what their friends are up to. Once either all the feeds are available from people’s current social network activities, or people start updating their profiles and activities in a more open format, social networks will be a completely different space.
What this comes down to is that FriendFeed or similar services have the potential to transcend social networks. Since Facebook is basically an aggregator of your friends’ activities on the site, it is quite possible for that information to exist and be aggregated outside of social networks. The strongest argument for all of this flow of social information to exist inside a social network instead of in a broader sphere is giving people greater control of their privacy and information. However there is still a high degree of control with FriendFeed, where you can choose to share your feeds either publicly, or only to selected friends.
This whole space is often called “lifestreaming”, describing how all of the information generated in people’s lives is streamed out to be made available. Just over a year ago I wrote about how Emily Chang had created an early implementation of a lifestream. I thought that:
For me, what this suggests is a world in which many people choose to expose all of their activities to the world. Del.icio.us is a great example. People used to favorite websites on their PC. Now many are happy to do it publicly, so other people can look at what they choose to make note of. Very importantly, this exposing of behaviors provides the foundation for Web 2.0, in that it provides input to allow collaborative filtering and the creation of “collective intelligence”. It seems that many people are thinking about and putting the mechanisms in place to expose all that we do, including our activities in socializing, entertainment, work, and more. Clearly not everyone will choose to expose their activities, yet many will – this has been proven over the last few years. From an enterprise perspective, implementing these kinds of exposing mechanisms inside organizations will allow far more effective knowledge work and business processes – but only after substantially new workflow and systems are put in place to synthesize this plethora of valuable information.
With the massive rise in popularity of FriendFeed over the last week, driven partly by a (now highly out-of-date) list of A-listers with FriendFeeds, momentum is very strong. The latest move is to implement a search function, both within individuals’ feeds, and across the site at large. As VentureBeat points out, Twitter – probably the primary lifestreaming application up until now – doesn’t have a search function yet. FriendFeed can now be a place not just to feel connected to your friends’ lives, but also a place to be in touch with what is going on. In some cases a search on FriendFeed will be far more useful than a search on Google. Techcrunch thinks that this now makes FriendFeed a ‘destination site’.
I can also see extraordinary implications for how this wealth of information can be used, not least in enabling a far richer degree of collaborative filtering, as I wrote above. Correlating people’s tastes across information, video, music, and more will absolutely help us to identify what will be most interesting to us in new and more powerful ways.