Last night instead of watching another installment of Gossip Girl on the CW, we decided to bite the bullet and do something we had been meaning to do for weeks but put off (no, not taxes) — we took a deep breath and signed up for a new profile on Friendfeed.com.
The impetus for this newfound bravery was that Friendfeed unveiled a new beta yesterday at 9 am PST and after being the site-launch equivalent of seduced by Tech enthusiast Robert Scoble in the hallways of the Web 2.0 expo, we couldn't wait to try the novel feature people had been whispering about, “real-time” comments — i.e. comments that showed up as they were posted. Like Neo taking the red pill, we clicked the “entry-level” comment box and typed our first “update” and all of a sudden a barrage of dialogue flung forth in, yes, real time.
We were dumbfounded: How did they find us? Why were things updating without having to control-R incessantly? And more importantly, how did one DM? It sucked being a n00b for about five minutes but like diving head first into a cold pool, the sting wore off eventually. Friendfeed is basically the 2009 version of a chat room, except that all the discussions revolve around content you post from other social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, so on and so forth.
What's cool about Friendfeed is that it is currently the social media tool most like an actual real world community — i.e. posting is heavily participation based. As ur-friendfeed user Scoble told me earlier today, “To feel good about Friendfeed you have to participate… until your friends get on, you're not going to care.”
While it's been drawing the ubiquitous comparisons to Twitter as well as the requisite ennui-soaked Techcrunch post, Friendfeed is, as Scoble put it, “an entirely different thing.” Friendfeed founder Paul Buchheit summed up it's purpose succinctly: “On Friendfeed, everything you post is a little discussion area, every conversation it's own little chat room.”
Perhaps this is why the site is addictively engaging; the real time beta shows you what your friends like as soon as they like it, as well as their pictures, YouTube picks, blog posts and recommendations. With the “friends of friends” feature you get clued into to clusters of people you might not have known about and as social media expert Sean Percival (whose “Friends of Friends” flashmobbed me as the “Welcoming Committee”) advises a person making the transition from Twitter to Friendfeed, “Twitter is more about reading and @ replies, to truly get the best out of Friendfeed you have to comment and like as much as possible.”
Buchheit reiterates, “What's valuable on Friendfeed is the discussion.” One of the things we were able to do was tweet a discussion we were having on Friendfeed and have people join our chat from Twitter. Buchheit describes the site's thrust as “putting emphasis on the people and the content that they're sharing” and “deemphasizing the how it got there.”
The beta launch was an effort to “clean things up” i.e. making it easier for people to post their RSS feeds and perform simple tasks like adjusting the speed of real time web, which can be a problem if one has subscribed to too many people. The new beta, according to Buchheit, aspires to help community members filter their profiles to “subscribe to what you want subscribe to” and “hide the people you want to hide… We want the site to work for everyone.”
With Facebook slowly becoming an innavigable beast and Twitter crashing over five times per day, it's pretty cool to have the option to “adjust volume on what you actually want to see.” But like anything else in beta (which includes Twitter in some people's opinion) you'll have to dive in and see. Scoble (whose, for some reason, highly controversial FF avatar at the moment is the Incredible Hulk) says, “It takes time for people to get use to this new type of social media/chatter form.”
If anyone is feeling brave enough to try it, dive in here.