What if the solution to having too many social web services was another social web service? That’s FriendFeed, a yet-to-be-launched service from some former Google (GOOG) employees that I’ve been trying out this week.
Yup, you’ve got to enter in your friends again, and upload a profile pic. But then you depart FriendFeed to do the things you normally like to do — upload photos, write 140-word broadcasts about your life, listen to music. Your friend, also a FriendFeed member, goes and does the things he likes do to — update his Netflix queue, write full-length blog posts, Digg stories he finds interesting. Through FriendFeed, you’re kept apprised of one another’s activities.
Say he starts writing reviews for Yelp — he doesn’t have to tell you about it, you just start seeing it show up in your FriendFeed. You get an aggregated feed, in one place, of everything all of your friends do, while you can push out an aggregated feed of everything you do onto a blog or social network (click on the thumbnail on the left for a screenshot of the setup, and the one below the jump for the public site feed). It’s a Facebook news feed for the whole web.
FriendFeed was just recently pulled together — it’s currently running a private beta test, incorporating, and closing funding all at the same time, co-founder Bret Taylor said in a phone interview on Wednesday. Taylor said he built the tool on the side while working as an entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark Capital with fellow ex-Googler and FriendFinder co-founder Jim Norris. “We became addicted enough to scrap what [else] we were working on,” is how he described the origins of the company.
The funny thing is, in some ways FriendFeed makes the web less social — stripping away the community features that make specific sites special. But it also makes the web more social, by emphasizing your real-world connections rather than relationships built around common interests or objects, and bridging together the little online islands where we express ourselves.
Taylor said early users tell him that “it’s not really about socializing in the traditional social network sense, it’s really about finding things to watch or read or listen to when you’re bored or waiting for something to happen.”
So what is FriendFeed, a big-picture idea or a side project? The question, said Taylor, is “Can we take the whole web and sort of project it through your social network?” Co-founder Paul Buchheit added, “We’re just trying to glue together the web.”
And if the impetus was improving on the Facebook news feed, what’s to keep Facebook from doing the same thing itself? “We want this to be open in all directions,” said Buchheit, citing various blog widgets and iGoogle modules. “It’s not a destination.”
With what appears to be a few hundred users in the beta, it was hard for me to find 10 people I knew on FriendFeed, and thus hard for me to see how useful this product really is. Still, we can’t be entirely uncritical: these are closely watched ex-Googlers we’re talking about, and they’ve already received a writeup in the New York Times. For me, some potential concerns that come to mind include private and public distinctions, and filtering loads of little alerts and activity records into something that’s not overwhelming. There’s also a risk of becoming too abstract — for instance, a FriendFeed item of a blog post that was Dugg could have at least three separate groups of comments.
Oh, and at some point this little project might have to make money!
Funnily enough, FriendFeed is not the only startup from former Googlers we’ve profiled today. Also check out my post on NewTeeVee about Ooyala, a video syndication and advertising platform.