August 10, 2009

A chat with the co-founder of FriendFeed

A chat with the co-founder of FriendFeed from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaToday came word that Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, is buying the microblogging service FriendFeed.

This is interesting on a couple of levels. First, it provides further proof that Twitter — the microblogging platform that has taken the world by storm this year — is truly not for sale. Second, it ratchets up the faceoff between Facebook and Google for supremacy in the social networking space. The four co-founders of FriendFeed are all ex-Google employees. Co-founder Paul Buchheit (above), whom I interviewed a few weeks ago at the UGCX conference in San Jose, was the creator and lead developer of Gmail. He also suggested Google’s now-famous motto “Don’t be evil” in a 2000 meeting on company values according to Wikipedia

FriendFeed In this 10-minute interview, a relaxed Buchheit talks about the company’s origins and launch in October 2007 from the very simple idea of “letting me know what’s going on with my friends” (one co-founder came at it from the premise of “friend alerts”).

Early in our talk I asked Paul what differentiated FriendFeed from Facebooks’s personalized news stream and from Twitter. He said that FriendFeed tends to be more content- and communication-oriented, encouraging people to share tidbits about what’s going on with them, instead of alerting people what Facebook group they’d joined or whether they’d been bitten by a zombie.

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FriendFeed’s premise is quite similar to Twitter’s, and I should have asked Paul about how Twitter has successfully leveraged an outside developer community by letting coders build applications on top of its platform — and why FriendFeed hasn’t taken a similar approach. But we did get into some of the differences between the two services. I like how FriendFeed threads discussions, in a way similar to forums and bulletin boards, letting people chime in on interesting conversations and providing some context. You can also “Like” a posted item, which is an easy way of conveying your approval.

FriendFeed’s chief value adds

I told Buchheit that I think of FriendFeed as an uber-aggregator of my social networks: my blog posts, Flickr uploads, Facebook status updates and Delicious bookmarks. That’s how people who aren’t heavy users of FriendFeed probably see the service — as a huge time saver, freeing you from having to manually post those things. Buchheit acknowledged that but countered, “We actually think of it as making it very easy to share things with your friends and to have enjoyable discussions. The aggregation part is not the purpose as much as a mechanism.” FriendFeed, he added, is about enabling people to share ideas, opinions, discoveries and small moments that you want to share but don’t want to write a long blog post about.

Another compelling feature of FriendFeed is the ability to create private or public “rooms,” or groups. Some of my geekier friends always want to get a discussion going in FriendFeed’s private rooms. I blong to FF group such as Social Media Club, RWW, Graphics N’ Design, Twitter and Persian Cam, which Paul turned me on to. Serendipity is a central part of the site’s experience.

This morning Robert Scoble did a quick audio interview with Buchheit about the company’s sale to Facebook. (Listen to it on BlogTalkRadio.) Here’s Robert’s FriendFeed thread about it, and here is Paul’s feed. “We’re completely committed to serving the users of FriendFeed, we don’t want to leave them stranded,” Paul tells Robert.

The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon: “Facebook paid nearly $50 million for the company, in a combination cash and stock offer, according to people familiar with the matter.”

No one knows how this will play out, though I think it’s likely that FriendFeed will eventually be folded into Facebook.

FriendFeed in the news

First Interview After Acquisition With FriendFeed And Facebook (TechCrunch)

The Cost Of FriendFeed: Roughly $50 Million In Cash And Stock (TechCrunch)

Facebook Just Bought FriendFeed (RWW)

Facebook Acquires FriendFeed (PC Magazine)

Is FriendFeed the Next Conversation Platform? (

Paul Buchheit’s blog

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JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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