Facebook purchases FriendFeed – and I Mourn the loss

The big news today is that Facebook has purchased Friendfeed – a brilliant social media aggregator. Writing about this feels like writing the site’s obituary. I’ve never made any bones about my dislike (read as: bottomless hate) for Facebook, and watching a site I really do like get swallowed up by the latest Internet behemoth is like watching Austria get swallowed up by Germany circa 1938.

Unless you’re one of us (now) many social media geeks, you aren’t that familiar with FriendFeed. Certainly you know Facebook – a place where you can do and post just about anything, share it with your friends, and maintain relationships that don’t require much in the way open conversation. It’s all about your immediate friends, and perhaps some of their friends, but the level of discovery is comfortably low.

Friendfeed, however, has always been about sharing anything, anywhere, with anyone. I’ve found a number of interesting videos, photos, and news stories (including the one above, which, for the record, is NOT an example of irony,) on FF from people I did not otherwise know. All one needs to do is look at the information one takes in in a month on Facebook, and the amount one takes in on FF, and you can see how vastly the latter outstrips the former.

All the reasons I dislike Facebook are all the reasons it is popular: Closed garden environment, people jockeying to have high “friend” counts, silly Flash games and silly stories shared far and wide with little purpose or benefit to anyone. It’s like a high school yearbook come to life. Of course, people like their high school yearbooks. Why wouldn’t such a thing be popular?

Facebook also stole liberally from FriendFeed’s better social networking ideas. That “like” option for people’s posts? That’s straight from FriendFeed. The scrolling layout on wall posts is FriendFeed’s as well.

FriendFeed itself changed it’s layout earlier in the year to look suspiciously like Facebook. The changes weren’t improvements, though, as the old version allowed you to easily see where the information shared was coming from – Twitter, YouTube, the author’s blog, a Disqus comment, etc. At the time I thought these were done to try and compete with Facebook. Now it looks as though they were done to entice a suitor.

The reason Facebook is purchasing FriendFeed can’t be for it’s traffic, after all. Facebook is now, officially, bigger than God, and if God has a problem with that he will have to have his lawyers contact Mark Zuckerberg – or smite Facebook the way he did MySpace before it.

No, Facebook is going after what FriendFeed does best: Information sharing between users. Rather than continue to lift what FF does best, they are simply paying for it up front. What I fear most is how Facebook will monitor how FriendFeed information is shared, censor that which does not come from Facebook servers, (share a Facebook video on FF, but don’t bother sharing a YouTube one,) or even collecting user data even if they aren’t on Facebook while on line. If you know Facebook’s history with how it collects – and shares – its user data with others, maybe you can see why I chose the Anschluss metaphor at the beginning of this post.

But that’s all conspiracy theory stuff. What’s more likely is that Facebook will simply suck the marrow of the good ideas that made FriendFeed so good, implement it in its own Pages and Profiles, then announce one day that FriendFeed will be closed for business.

“But don’t worry! We’ve got everything about it in our new FaceFriendbookFeed!”

FriendFeed was simply too smart to survive, and the ones who understood this best, the lowest common denominator Facebook, knew it. Good for them, bad for us.

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