Not long ago, Nick wrote about FriendFeed, which makes a feed out of various internet sites similar to the way Facebook creates feeds out of its applications. He suggested that it was possibly a shoe-in for Google’s continuing efforts to create an expansive, completely open social network. Yesterday, I was sent a beta test invitation for FriendFeed, and I spent a few hours today playing around with it.
FriendFeed does what it attempts very well. I was quickly able to add things from sites like Last.fm and Google Reader’s Shared items, and they began broadcasting quickly along feeds. I was also able to see a page with my friends’ feeds, which worked well, and gave me a nice idea of what they were up to. The site’s design actually reminded me of Facebook first, in that it is not AJAX-intensive, but manages to streamline everything in a way that’s intuitive and quick. If this is in fact Google’s attempt at creating a feed, it’s a very well-done one; if not, it’s a great service in its own right.
But does it compare to Facebook’s feed? In a word: no. While it is a very useful service, and one that makes public information broadcasting very easy, it’s not anything nearly as personalized and functional as Facebook’s service.
First, Facebook is designed to be very personalized. I see my friends doing things on the site, and there are enough people on Facebook to make my feed meaningful to me. Facebook’s algorithms are well-designed and show me more information from people I’m friends with than with people I don’t know as well. As far as I could see, FriendFeed does not currently have that sort of personalization.
Another thing Facebook can do is this: it provides varying levels of interactivity. If my friend comments on a photo, I’m less likely to see it than if that same person posted an album. If I’m tagged in that album, I almost always get a feed notification. FriendFeed only offers one feed per site, which leads to an imbalanced feed. This might not last – many sites offer multiple feeds for various things, which could be used to create a more weighted stream – but for now, Facebook reigns supreme for personalization.
FriendFeed doesn’t control the content it’s drawing from, which makes things difficult. On Facebook, I can comment on something in my feed and it goes through back to the original content. On FriendFeed, comments will no doubt only show on Friendfeed, making it less useful and slightly more unwieldy as a centralized tool.
Finally, and most importantly, Facebook is a closed service. While I am a staunch supporter of open formats such as OpenID and RSS, a closed system like Facebook is able to simplify things immensely for its users. I don’t need to aggregate Flickr and YouTube for the majority of my friends, when I can just add Facebook’s photo and video applications. They automatically show up in my feed, and I can access them from one place.With FriendFeed, I can see a variety of programs. I cannot use them from FriendFeed itself, however. Facebook offers centralization, which is a huge draw for most. Also, Facebook’s viral portion – that of advertising new applications – loses value on FriendFeed, when the applications being added are plain RSS feeds from common sites. (In any event, alerts to new feeds added have not been evident to me so far.)
Is FriendFeed a bad service? Not by any means. Though I haven’t used it for long, it’s simple enough and powerful enough for me to imagine it being my one feed generator to link to in profiles and blogs. However, it is by no means as powerful a tool as Facebook’s feed generator. If FriendFeed is aiming to be a standalone site, then it succeeds marvelously. (It would do better, of course, if it allowed Shared Items from Facebook – that goes without saying.) If it really is attempting to be Google’s answer to Facebook’s feeds, though, it requires a much more integrated interface to even start to compete.