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.

Why Google News has no noise

I’m a noise junkie. I used to be a news junkie, but I’ve hung out with the world’s top journalists enough now to see that the good ones are noise junkies. They are the types that head into a crowded party and listen to pitch after pitch (noise) and drunken story after drunken story (noise) to find something that their audiences will find interesting (news). I’m not the only one who likes the noise: Hutch Carpenter defends the noise too.

Last year I got a tour of the Wall Street Journal’s West Coast printing plant. They print 60,000 copies an hour. At the end of the tour the head pressman said “I’ve been reading this six hours before you did for more than 15 years now and it hasn’t helped yet.” Why? Cause the news isn’t where the action is: the high value bits are stuck in the noise.

I’ve been studying noise and news now for quite a while. I’ve been wondering why sites like Google News and TechMeme have no, or little, noise? Tomorrow I’ll tour the New York Times headquarters in New York to pick up even more tips of how they make sure noise doesn’t sneak onto its pages.

First, let’s do a little definition of the difference between news and noise. The noise examples were pulled off of Twitter in the past few minutes.

NEWS: tens of thousands dead in China quake.
NOISE: BrianGreene: some pirate is playing old radio nova tapes on 92FM dublin, with old jingles and old ads. adverts for rent a 20″ TV 48p a day (48 pence!)

NEWS: Janitors go on strike.
NOISE: flawlesswalrus: @craigmod Iron Man’s fun times. Enjoy!

NEWS: Facebook blocks Google
NOISE: dmkanter: organizing my igoogle homepage

So, how come services like Twitter and FriendFeed have so much noise? Who likes the noise? Who likes the news?

I like the noise. Why? Because I can see patterns before anyone else. I saw the Chinese earthquake happening 45 minutes before Google News reported it. Why? Because I was watching the noise, not the news.

Let me ask you something. Do you think Walt Mossberg will wake up tomorrow and worry about what’s on TechMeme or Google News, or will he sit through yet another boring PR pitch from some gadget company trying to find something unique to tell his readers?

The news is in the noise. Which is why Twitter is crack for newsmakers. There’s no better place to find noise, er news, than on Twitter. Even on FriendFeed there’s less noise than there is on Twitter (if you subscribe to both). Why? Because of the “Hide” link and clustering. I can put 156 Tweets in my Twitter follower’s faces, blocking all other Twitterers from getting to their pages. But on FriendFeed? All my Tweets are clustered together and blocked from view unless you expand them to read them all.

So, anyway, how does Google News and Techmeme keep the noise from hitting their pages?

Google News: Only tracks sites that have “teams” of people working on them. That usually means there’s an organized effort. That alone blocks 99.9% of bloggers and Twitterers from even being considered.

TechMeme: requires multiple “votes” by an elite to get on the page. Even a link from TechCrunch (which is the #1 “voter” on TechMeme) won’t get you onto Techmeme. You’ve gotta have something else to go with that link.

Google News: the more “big city newspapers and news sources” that cover something, the more likely that story will get to the home page.

TechMeme: watches signaling from key members on Twitter and Google Reader. If enough people who are on the TechMeme Leaderboard Twitter and share an item on Google Reader you’ll see the item pulled onto the page.

Both Google News and Techmeme: only stuff in past 24 hours gets onto the page.

What differentiates Techmeme and Google News? Google News only considers news from news teams (mostly, only a few blogs are there among hundreds of thousands of newspapers, TV stations, magazines, and news blogs like Huffington Post). Techmeme? Looks at Twitter and Google Reader for signaling mechanisms (what news is getting hot) but mostly considers blog posts and professional journalism that have gotten the attention of a limited number of “elite” bloggers/journalists. Techmeme gets news from sources that aren’t always professionally run sites, which is the biggest differentiator. Techmeme could be said to have more noise than Google News, which is what makes it more interesting than Google News — to me. To my dad? I bet he’d like Google News better because it only has news, no noise.

The problem with both Google News and Techmeme? New ideas and new people won’t get onto the page easily. You have to convince multiple people who control these sites that your stuff is important. In Google News’ case you’ll probably have to publish your news on a site that already is added to Google News’ database. That’s one reason why I see Dave Winer’s stuff only when he writes for Huffington Post show up there. Convincing someone like Huffington Post that you’re important enough to publish is pretty hard and takes building up a reputation and an audience of your own.

If you’re looking for new faces and new conversations that haven’t yet gotten to be important enough to get onto Google News or Techmeme, then FriendFeed and Twitter are far better places to hang out.

Getting on TechMeme? You better convince someone near the top of the TechMeme leader board (getting me to link to you doesn’t really matter unless someone in the top five also links to you) to talk about you and link to you. That’s really hard. Why? Cause we don’t agree on what’s important. You can see that come out in last Friday’s Gillmor Gang. Heck, we’re yelling at each other on the phone. You think we’re going to decide to link to you? Hah!

I know Google News and TechMeme will get more of a mainstream audience because all they report is news, but excuse me if I spend a lot more time over on Twitter and FriendFeed swimming in the noise.