As Facebook faces strategic questions on how much to open up the News Feed, FriendFeed – a new service that lets you stay up to date on content that your friends are sharing across the web – has been growing fast in Silicon Valley in recent weeks.
By enabling new conversations between friends that previously had to take place on different sites, FriendFeed has created a vibrant new feed that’s laden not only with “news” on what your friends are sharing (a la Facebook’s News Feed) but also the semi-private conversations that ensue.
Last week, I sat down with FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor to talk more about his vision for the service and its relevance to Facebook, Facebook users, and Platform developers.
IF: Bret, could you explain your vision for FriendFeed?
BT: FriendFeed is about sharing content. It can automatically pick up what you share on a number of sites, like YouTube for example. Everyone who’s subscribed to your FriendFeed can comment on your feed items, and this kind of discovery has driven a lot of engagement. Most of the sites we pull information from are pretty public forums, and many of our users like that they can share just with their friends on FriendFeed.
Right now, we’re seeing a proliferation of user-generated content on the web, but very few tools have helped tackle the problem of finding the video or blog post that you’ll find the most interesting. The broadcasting tools that many people use don’t work as well as filtering everything by your social network.
IF: What’s your plan for how FriendFeed will relate to the social networks, like Facebook?
BT: Most of our users are Facebook users, but they don’t view FriendFeed as competing with their Facebook experience. Facebook is more about socializing and sharing your changing relationship status, etc. FriendFeed is 100% focused on content and content discovery. We want to work with all the social networks’ APIs, but you’ll probably never use FriendFeed to find a date.
Facebook is as much a platform as a product. Rather than building every feature, Facebook is focused on building out its platform, and I think that’s the right move.
IF: How would you like to work with Facebook application developers? Do you want to offer another syndication channel for them?
BT: Yes! We just launched an API a week ago, and a number of apps have already integrated FriendFeed. We’re going to stay very standards based, and offer as customizable tools as we can.
IF: Are you syndicating the activity that’s happening on FriendFeed back through apps into Facebook’s News Feed?
BT: Yes, a couple of apps are already doing that. We’ve created an API for that too, and there’s already a WordPress plugin and AIR client to share the FriendFeed conversations around your content. We’re seeing that there’s more interest on publishing platforms than distribution channels though. Because FriendFeed conversations are naturally fragmented (there may be several different conversations about the same news story, and all are somewhat private), it’s not yet clear how people will syndicate out.
IF: How do you think about FriendFeed in the context of Facebook’s News Feed?
BT: Facebook has a lot of challenges right now keeping the News Feed from becoming too spammy, because a lot of apps are using it as a distribution channel. It’s probably the right call to be a little more cautious at this point, but I wouldn’t presume to know the problems that Facebook is solving for with the News Feed.
With time, FriendFeed content will become more divergent from News Feed content. We’re totally focused on content discovery – some bloggers are already telling us that we’re their #2 traffic source to Google.