FriendFeed Isn’t The Next Google – It’s Just The Next… FriendFeed

Steve Rubel says FriendFeed could be the next Google. I think he might want to step outside his bubble and reconsider.

Wait – what’s FriendFeed?

 FriendFeed That question, right there, my friends, is why I think Mr. Rubel is wrong. First, though, a little on FriendFeed in case you don’t know much about it.

FriendFeed is a “lifestreaming” service – a tool that aggregates what you’re doing online. If you write a blog, share photos through Flickr, post updates on Twitter and vote for things you like on digg, FriendFeed lets you pull all of that into one place – into a ‘stream’ of information. FriendFeed also lets you subscribe to other peoples’ lifestreams, letting you you stay up-to-date with what your friends are doing online.

Layered on top of that, FriendFeed allows you to show which posts in other people’s streams you like and to comment on them. It also lets you post messages directly to the service.

So what does Rubel think?

Essentially, Steve Rubel argues that FriendFeed is turning into a personalized, recommendation-based search engine for him. He bases it on three trends:

  • The rising influence of peers (see my post on Edelman’s Trust Barometer for details on that)
  • 90% of the online population conducts searches online
  • Young people are happy to post their lives online

I’ve probably over-simplified here, but that’s the gist.

Bursting the bubble

Bubble The problem with Rubel’s idea is scale. FriendFeed is small – Rubel acknowledges as much, noting that it has just 300,000 active users right now.

The difference between our opinions is that Rubel thinks that FriendFeed could become as big as Google, whereas I think it’s for those firmly within the social media bubble. It’s neat, but it’s a shiny object and the main people who seem to be getting a lot of value from it seem to be the A-listers with huge lists of contacts. That doesn’t make it a game-changer.

To make a “lifestream” worthwhile, you need to use several other services. It has an additional barrier over other web 2.0 sites – you need to use other services, and heavily, before FriendFeed gains value.I do; Rubel does; most people don’t.

If you’re not in the bubble, or on the leading edge of the “Millennials,” you (a) wouldn’t even see a need to pull this stuff together and (b) wouldn’t get any value out of it anyway.

What’s more, other tools have provided this functionality for a long time.

Google Reader long ago became my number two search engine for new media stuff – it lets me search trusted sources for information. What’s more, you don’t need the people you trust to use Google Reader for it to work. With FriendFeed you do (ok, you can get around that, but only über-geeks would even think of doing that).

Similarly, lets you search through the sites other people have bookmarked. Again, it has fewer barriers than FriendFeed – people just need to use, not a bunch of sites, for it to be useful to them. You don’t even need to sign up for yourself to search it.

Maybe things are moving in this direction. Who knows, maybe Google, Mahalo, etc will move to a more recommendation-based system. I just don’t see FriendFeed as part of that outside the bubble.

FriendFeed is a good service, for its market. However, it’s not the next Google. It’s just the next… FriendFeed.

What do you think?

(Don’t get me wrong here – while I’ve never met Rubel, I have a lot of respect for him. I read his stuff on a bunch of channels (including FriendFeed). I just think he’s off base with this one.)

(Photo credits: cambodia4kidsorg, tarotastic)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.