Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why does FriendFeed work ?

I have been using FriendFeed for a while and I have to say that it works surprisingly well. It is hard to define what FriendFeed is so the only real way of understanding it is to try it for a while.

One common way to define FF would be as a life-stream aggregator. Each user defines a set of feeds (blog, Flickr, Twitter, bookmarks, comments, etc) providing all other users with a single view of all the online activities of that user. Anyone can select how much to share (even nothing at all) and subscribe to a number of other users. Each item (photo, blog post, bookmark) can serve then as spark for discussions. The users can mark items as interesting or comment on them and this propagates to all other people that subscribe to you. In addition we can select sources to hide if for some reason there is a particular part of a user's activities you don't enjoy. All of this creates a very personalized view of whoever you elect to interact with online.

I still find it striking that there are so many long threads of discussions around items that we share in FriendFeed, sometimes more than in the original site. A couple of examples:
Google code as a science repository (discussion in FF, blog post)
Into the Wonderful (discussion in FF, slideshare site)
Bursty work (discussion in FF, blog post)

Why does it work so well ? One possible reason could be that a group of early adopter scientists happened to get together around this website creating the required critical mass to start the discussions. Still, most of those commenting were already participating on blogs so that might not be it. There might be something about the interface, maybe it is the ease of adding comments and that these comments can be edited that increases the participation. Ongoing discussions get bumped higher in the view so every new comment brings the item back to your attention. In this way you know who saw the item and who is thinking about it. A bit like talking about a movie you saw or a book you read with a bunch of friends.

Anyone interested in the science aspects of it should check out the Life Scientists room with currently around 85 subscribers. Here is an introduction to some of these people, in particular on what they work on. Connecting to other scientists in this way lets you see what are the articles they find interesting and discuss current scientific news. Even maybe start a couple of side-projects for the fun of it.