Why FriendFeed won't go mainstream (Part I)

Robert Blum got me to call him an idiot because of this Tweet: “FriendFeed only helps if you’re dedicating your life to following yet another web site.”

Chris Saad took the conversation in a different direction with this Tweet: “discussion should occur around the target object – if its a blog then in the comments – not on friendfeed.” Which, of course, got this conversation going.

That got Mobile Jones to agree with Chris Saad on this Tweet: “Chris is on the right end of this. FF is like is not in the best interests of those who create the content.” Which, of course, got this conversation going.

Rob LaGesse wrote a whole blog post about how he thinks FriendFeed is ugly: “The service is ugly (to me).  It has all kinds of crap I don’t care about in my feed.” Of course that got this conversation going.

Mark Evans goes even further and says he just can’t deal with anything else that’ll steal his attention. Of course that started a conversation over on FriendFeed too.

And to put punctuation on this whole story, Corida and others talk about the noise on FriendFeed.

All of these get to the heart of why FriendFeed won’t go anywhere other than to early adopter communities who like lots of noise.

I’ve studied tons of people’s reactions to FriendFeed. Here’s why it won’t go mainstream:

1. Only early adopters care about gluing together various social networks like I do (look at the right side of my blog, for instance, and you’ll see travel and schedule and events and photos and videos and more all glued together). Most people aren’t on more than one or two services and aren’t content creators (of everyone on Upcoming.org, for instance, only a handful of people have more than 5 events and most have none).

2. Normal people (ie, those who aren’t on Twitter 18 hours a day) don’t like noise. Even on Twitter, what’s the number one thing I hear from followers? “You’re too noisy.” FriendFeed brings tons of new noise to normal people, especially if they add a bunch of the friends that FriendFeed recommends (I’m one of them, but the others on that list are among the noisiest people on the Internet). For normal people they can’t handle the noise. It’s chaotic, confusing, and until they figure out the “hide” link they will get turned off. Usually when unpassionate or late adopter types get turned off they just hit the back button.

3. There isn’t one method of using these services. Some people just want to see their closest friend’s baby photos. Other people, like me, want to use these services like a chat room to talk with large numbers of people about today’s hottest news. This disconnect pisses both of us off and makes it less likely I’ll tell “normal users” about these services. Of course anyone who reads my blog isn’t normal, so I don’t mind telling you all about these things incessantly. 🙂

4. FriendFeed is frustrating to use even for advanced users. Here, quickly, tell me how you can see only Flickr photos on FriendFeed and block everything else. Hint: there is a way, it’s just hard to find. How about, quickly again, tell me how to see all posts that have a comment or a “like” on them. Sorry, that one isn’t possible yet. How about find me all posts from everyone that mentions the word “noise” in them? Yes, that one is possible, but to do it you gotta get acquainted with FF’s advanced search features. At Microsoft we learned no one ever uses those features. Have you figured out how to hide all Twitter messages that don’t have a comment on them yet? It’s possible too, but you gotta click on the Hide feature and play around. Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating.

5. FriendFeed doesn’t work well on mobile phones. Most people around the world use their mobile phones far more often than they use their laptops. So, if you don’t have good mobile phone interfaces you can kick your going mainstream dreams in the toilet.

6. Want to find some new friends? The recommended friends feature is pretty cool (albeit frustrating to find) but the problem is you can’t figure out why it is presenting the friends it is (hint: it presents the most popular users up front. These are the most noisy users on the service and probably are pretty geeky to boot. People like me, Dave Winer, Louis Gray, Michael Arrington, etc).

7. I can’t add new services easily. Qik, for instance, is among my most favorite data type. But how do I get that added? Oh, I gotta add an RSS feed for services that aren’t already in the system. But then the videos don’t look as nice as, say, YouTube’s or Flickr’s. That’s disappointing.

8. It pisses bloggers off because all their comments are moving onto FriendFeed rather than staying on their blogs. Watch this post, I bet I get more comments over on FriendFeed than here. Now this one does NOT piss me off. I don’t really care where you talk about my ideas and I’ll go wherever the audience goes (which is why I often commented on other people’s blogs). But they do have a point. It’d be nice if bloggers got warned when a conversation was happening about what they wrote and if there were an easy way to join FriendFeed comments and conversations into their own blog commenting systems. When bloggers get pissed off they tend to talk less about new services, which retards their ability to go mainstream.

9. Comments get fragmented, even inside FriendFeed. Why? Well, let’s say you write a really great blog post. You’ll get shared on tons of people’s Google Reader shared feeds. Some comments happen on Louis Gray’s FriendFeed. Some happen on mine. Others happen on Thomas Hawk’s. Still others happen on other people’s feeds. Everyone has their own audience which gets involved and now we have duplicate items all over the place (noise, and not the fun kind) and comment fragmentation.

Well, that’s enough. There’s more, but these are the biggies, I think. Got any other reasons why FriendFeed won’t go mainstream? You know where to leave a comment. I’ll be watching for it.

This is part I. In second part I’ll explain why FriendFeed will go mainstream.

UPDATE: We’re discussing this post over on FriendFeed too.