FriendFeed Is Getting Ripped Off

I know I have been quiet this week, but me and the family were moving again (don’t ask). Obviously, it has been an interesting week on the internet. Twittergate got tons of coverage for better or worse, but I am not really going to talk about that.

What I am going to talk about is the new Google Reader features. Google Reader is going even more social now. You can now easily follow more people, create groups of people and like items (instead of or in addition to sharing items). I have already seen a lot of “like” activity and I have a bunch of new followers and friend shares. Most of the coverage regarding the new features compare Reader to the Facebook changes. This is completely bizarre. Even when Facebook made their status updates more public and feature laden, it was compared to Twitter.

From what I have seen, only Louis Gray has seen the real source of innovation, FriendFeed. Disappointingly, even Louis barely gives credit to FriendFeed:

And don’t think Google Reader isn’t watching what is happening on other networks. The team has added on to the ability for friends to make comments on your shared items, enabling a “Like” feature, found not just on Facebook, but on FriendFeed and Socialmedian as well.

FriendFeed has had comments and likes for what seems like forever. They also have various “friend-of-a-friend” settings to determine how you see information. They were also the first ones to throw all of this into a real-time stream. Twitter has none of these features, but that is also why it is popular. Twitter is simple, I mean really simple. If Twitter is the equivalent of a high school diploma, FriendFeed is a Master’s degree. FriendFeed is definitely more complicated for new users and you have to create a brand new network of people. The real problem is that FriendFeed is too far ahead of the curve. They keep throwing all of these great ideas in front of people when they really aren’t read for them. FriendFeed may be a victim of timing in the long term. What do I mean by that?

Take a look at Facebook. They built a large userbase with a few features like the news streams and the wall posts. They saw Twitter and FriendFeed, and moved towards the status updates. Then they added comments and likes to the update stream. Then they made it more real-time. Most recently, they started changing everything to be more public. So, why am I complaining? If you look at Facebook today, there is very little difference between what they offer and what FriendFeed provides.

Google Reader is now doing the same thing. A few months ago, Reader added comments which basically fell flat. However, the new features have enabled a more social environment. Being able to find people more easily means you can quickly build your network. The ability to “like” items seems to be more amenable to most users as well. Most mornings, I see shares from only a few people. The sharing does not seem to have changed yet, but I am seeing a bunch of likes already within the first few days, and more comments as well. This is another case where an incremental improvement makes a huge difference.

So, FriendFeed is getting all of its features copied and they are getting very little credit for it. I hope that they continue innovating, because it will eventually pay off. They also have several evangelists in people like myself, Louis Gray and Robert Scoble. As more established sites copy FriendFeed features, FriendFeed has a harder battle to fight. They also have an excellent team, so they are well equipped moving forward. Now, they need one killer feature to reach their tipping point. By the end of the year we will see what the future holds for FriendFeed.

23 thoughts on “FriendFeed Is Getting Ripped Off

  1. The idea may have been most prominent in Friendfeed, but the ideas of commenting and sharing items are not unique – maybe only in their first-dibs usage of “Like”.

    However, it should have been obvious this was going to happen. Anyone competing against Google is in for a tough fight, and Google Reader is in prime position to dominate the “social hub” – moreso than FriendFeed.

    By adding small features like this, they continue to expand Google Reader’s realm of influence and will probably outwit, outlast, and outplay everyone else.

    That’s just how it is.



  2. Kyle,

    I was not targeting the specific features of commenting or sharing, but the combination of features and the display of those features is absolutely unique. Even “likes” are not entirely original as they got their start with things like Diggs.

    Google Reader (and anything google) is definitely in a good position to dominate. However, I think Facebook could be much bigger because the network is already built. Incremental changes on Facebook have made it a completely different platform, and better news sharing and aggregation are really the only things missing.


  3. Though its true that Friendfeed is serving as the advanced technology group for the rest of the social media sphere, in the end I don’t think the adoption of features by Facebook/Google Reader/twitter poses the real threat to friendfeed. The real threat to friendfeed is in not delivering a compelling service. The technological underpinnings matter less than the experience those underpinnings deliver.

    I’ve been on friendfeed for over a year now. friendfeed’s fast-twitch real-time updating is very impressive, even my wife thought it was neat the first time she saw it. That real-time update also encourages an astonishingly short attention span: just try going to the next page of older posts, by the time you get there most of the items on it will be the things you were just looking at that have already fallen off the first page.

    Its very difficult to try to keep up with what people are saying unless you park yourself on for vast amounts of time each day. It doesn’t lend itself to casual use, and to really achieve mass market popularity it needs to provide a good experience for casual users.


  4. Great, insightful post! It’s business as usual where companies with deeper pockets can and will catch up with the nimble startups by ripping off popular features. But it’s not just large companies copying features from smaller companies, it’s also going the other way, because FriendFeed’s new design looks a lot like the Twitter interface.
    That being said, I think your post is a wake up call for all startups. Innovation by itself won’t save your business, protecting popular features from getting ripped off, either through patents or other, until you reach critical mass is key.
    Even I am waiting with bated breath to see how FriendFeed fares in the next 6-12mths, given these latest developments.


  5. The innovation cycles are getting faster and faster. FriendFeed, Facebook and other sites have “like” features. It was only a matter of time before Google added the feature to one of their properties.


  6. DGentry

    I totally agree that FriendFeed is not for a truly casual user. Even though I am addicted to it, I do not park myself on it all day. As with any service, you need to find what works best for you and how to balance it with other services.


  7. Mia and Bill

    Yes, the innovation cycles are getting shorter and that makes it very difficult to determine who did what first. I am not sure if there is a way to protect some of the innovation (besides patents), and maybe the best defense is to grow as quickly as possible.


  8. I still don’t know Friendfeed are going to compete. The maintream are not going to shift from Facebook or Google anytime soon. Although it may shock us techies how slowly the big guys are adding rich social functionality (much of what FF already has to offer), many users have no idea what there missing and even complain when a new and improved framework for managing and sharing their information is thrust upon them.

    However I’m excited to watch the events unfold. FF have an incredible team of guys, way more experienced than I will ever be, who obviously have some big plans. Nevertheless, I don’t think any amount of evangelizing is going to help them as the juggernauts incorporate the same features and simply maintain and expand their already massive userbase. I’m probably going to use the rich featuresets of FF with my Students, but I’ll be damned if I can get anyone else to buy into friendfeed yet.

    As far as keeping up with FF, I would find it so much easier if they had some sort of marking system like google reader. The stream can be overwhelming, but some quick and ‘simple’ filtering can tone that down.


  9. nEtVolution,

    FriendFeed filtering, grouping and searching is actually top notch. I do think evangelizing can help, but the masses need to see that blogs can be good sources of news and opinion. That is a hurdle that will be immensely difficult.


  10. This is a very good post and truly there is a foundation for FriendFeed to become recognized for the proper innovations. The shame is that if they haven’t filed for their unique process that Google or Facebook probably have something at about a patent pending level.

    I enjoy FriendFeed and the people on it. That logical flow to me makes more sense than even a Facebook. I do and will continue using both, but it’d be nice if FriendFeed would continue being innovative attempt to register their uniqueness in order to keep some of their competitive edge and more closely define their USP.


  11. Rob – Every time someone scrapes my content, I write it off to ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. My impression is that the crew at Friendfeed are simply waiting until they’re content with their own product. Twitter blitzed because of a multi-media spin started at CNN followed by a variety of other factors that fed on themselves. FF is the future and there’s no doubt in my mind that when THEY decide it’s time to unleash it, it will be a MAJOR player. BTW – If anyone ‘owes them’ it’s Facebook.


  12. James

    I am not sure how much could be patented when it comes to FriendFeed, and it is possible that it was already looked into. They still have the advantage of continuing to improve, and then being copied.


  13. Charlie,

    Google Reader may have been the current focus of the post, but I did try to include Facebook in the group of copiers. I guess I was just not obvious enough. However, I am not sure that I would equate scraping blog content with copying application features. Even for a pro blogger, scraping is a nuisance, but copying features can put another application out of business.


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