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Facebook is buying Friendfeed for an undisclosed amount of money. Mountain View, Calif.-based FriendFeed was started by co-founders Paul Buchheit, Bret Taylor and Sanjeev Singh, all ex-Googlers, and raised $5 million in Series A funding from Benchmark Capital and its founders. Facebook is said to have paid over $50 million for the company – $15 million in cash and rest in stock. The question is, why does Facebook want Friendfeed?
No, this deal is not about Twitter. It is about Google — to be more precise: Google vs. Facebook.
The Problem of Plenty
The impetus behind the deal is twofold: our ability to publish more and more information in real time and the resulting explosion of data on the web. These two trends will soon make it nearly impossible to deal with the resulting information overload. I call this the problem of plenty. As a result, the current seek-search-consume popularized by Google will eventually hit its outer limits — and when that happens, Facebook wants to step in and take the leadership baton.
As I have written in the past, content creation, distribution and consumption are amid a sea change. Whether it’s photos, videos, tweets, status updates or whatever…the content is getting constantly atomized. In order to consume it all, we need to find smarter tools for content consumption. FriendFeed is one of them. “It’s a Facebook news feed for the whole web,” Liz Gannes wrote in her initial profile of FriendFeed in 2007.
|WHAT THE WEB IS SAYING:|
|Louis Gray: So what’s happening to this Valley? Is it as dire a situation as it sometimes seems? Are we really going to end up with four mega-companies: FaceBook, Google, Microsoft and Apple? Because if Google or Microsoft can weasel their way into acquiring Twitter, that’s sure how it will seem.|
|CNET: Basically, FriendFeed has been coasting on a lot of hype and not a lot of mainstream recognition, and it’s not a bit surprising that it would be seeking an exit at this point. So the real story here is that Facebook made the rather expensive hire (and we don’t know the terms of the deal) of some very talented former Googlers.|
|Paid Content: Facebook has hinted in the past that it was interested in making an acquisition. In raising $200 million from Russian investor Digital Sky Technologies in late May, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new cash opened the possibility of “strategic options.” And Facebook also reportedly made a bid for Twitter last fall.|
|ZDNet: It shouldn’t come as a major surprise that these two companies would join forces. After all, there’s a lot of overlap between the two, though FriendFeed is one-up on Facebook with the real-time updates, compared to the Facebook updates that need to be refreshed. And really, how many friend update services do we really need?|
|AllThingsD: It is a logical fit for the huge social networking site, which has lagged behind microblogging kingpin, Twitter, in the real-time news, search and status game of perception in Silicon Valley.|
|Search Engine Watch: The implications for search could be big. Facebook has been testing search for its live feed. This is most obviously an attempt to compete with Twitter, but the FriendFeed acquisition could be a game-changer.|
“Can we take the whole web and sort of project it through your social network?” co-founder Bret taylor told Liz. Well, that is precisely what they are doing with this merger. Facebook was initially trying to make a go with its own news feed, but got distracted by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with Twitter.
However, by acquiring FriendFeed, Facebook has course-corrected. If you look at the rapidity with which many of us are uploading information on Facebook — 1 billion photos a month, a billion pieces of content shared every week, 30 status updates a day — you know that the problem of plenty is only going to get worse.
The good news is that Facebook bought a solid team to solve this problem. This is no different than its decision to buy Parakey, the company started by Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt. Hewitt has been the driving force behind Facebook’s iPhone efforts. You can expect a repeat with FriendFeed — though the FriendFeed founders’ pedigrees will make a difference on the org chart.
If Facebook had consummated a proposed deal with Twitter, it would have gotten a lot of eyeballs and presence on the open real-time web. And it would have cost about $500 million in Zuck Bucks! With FriendFeed, Facebook gets access to the Twitter universe and a talented team made of programming all-stars. Buchheit invented Gmail, while Taylor helped build Google Maps.
FriendFeed’s unique ability is to foster conversations — not a massive user base. If Facebook can take this capacity to “converse” and marry it to its mobile clients, what the company will have on its hands is a true interaction platform, befitting today’s always-connected life. This will give it a further boost against Twitter, a small, but fast-growing, micro-messaging company.
“We really didn’t have any need to sell the company, but we were talking to (Facebook), and we saw we had a similar vision,” Buchheit said. Despite being a generously funded company, FriendFeed has remained an insider curiosity, failing to catch the imagination of mainstream users. In comparison, Facebook is a household name, and rival Twitter is on its way. FriendFeed has been challenged by its ability to engage average users.
It Is About the People
After many attempts, I had to give up on FriendFeed, despite being impressed by the technology the company had built. This deal gives the FriendFeed team (and technology) a much bigger stage. Buchheit wasn’t shy about the fact that together the two companies can actually become a force in the emerging world of real-time information.
FriendFeed has built a real-time information aggregation platform that is impressive, to say the least. Facebook’s news stream will benefit from FriendFeed’s real-time expertise. When I asked Buchheit about the likelihood of this happening, he and Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, declined to comment on the specific product plans. For now, FriendFeed is going to exist as a stand-alone entity.
The FriendFeed team — ex-Google programming rock stars — just out-executed Facebook and kept launching new features at a breathtaking pace. “We have been longtime fans of Friendfeed and their product innovation,” said Schroepfer. “For us, the draw was the team and their ability to build faster than anyone else.”
Frankly, for Facebook, after having copied so many of FriendFeed’s features, buying it was the right thing to do.