How I Use FriendFeed, and Why I Love It

This post came out of an email conversation I had with a friend, who was asking why I like FriendFeed so much. He’s an active social network user, so it wasn’t a newbie question. Rather, he was wondering how I integrate it with all the other forms of connectivity we have – Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook, etc. My reply to him got kind of long, so I thought I’d repost it here for everyone to share. πŸ™‚

(Update: In case you’re wondering about FriendFeed’s pedigree, Marshall Kirkpatrick has this fortuitously timed piece over on ReadWriteWeb about the guy that built FriendFeed – Paul Buchheit, former Google employee, the guy who built Gmail in a day, and then built AdSense in a day. FriendFeed is no rickety side project.)

In the beginning, I didn’t really “get” FriendFeed. I signed up for it, piped in all of my stuff (Twitter, blog, photos, etc.), but never really used it much. Why would I go to yet another social network to read the stuff I was already seeing elsewhere? What changed it for me is when I happened to pop in to FriendFeed, and noticed that stuff I was sharing was being discussed on FriendFeed, a LOT, and I was completely missing out on the conversation. That’s when I decided that I needed to make it part of my “regular” routine.

I keep FriendFeed open all the time in one of my “standard loadout” tabs (along with Gmail, Google Reader, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). I usually end up looking at it anywhere from once to a few times a day. One of the great things about it is that the order of stuff is not strictly chronological, like Twitter, but also weighted by activity/conversation – if something is getting a lot of comments and/or a lot of “likes”, it will bubble up to the top. This makes it REALLY easy to find what’s “hot” or interesting among the people I follow.

As far as the problem of duplicate posts from Twitter, “noise”, etc., one of the most brilliant features of FriendFeed is its filters, and ability to selectively hide stuff. For example, I still pay attention to Twitter, because I follow tons of people there that aren’t on FriendFeed (though I could create Imaginary friends for all of those, it’s not practical). To avoid seeing double tweets from the people who are on both FriendFeed and Twitter, I can tell FriendFeed to hide all tweets, UNLESS they’ve been liked or commented on. That way, I still see occasional tweets, but ONLY when there’s some extra value (likes or comments). Otherwise, I never see them. Hiding is VERY flexible. You can hide each type of message (tweets, photos, Facebook, whatever) from everyone, or just from specific people, and you can conditionally show them if they’re getting activity on FriendFeed, or just hide them altogether (I hide most updates from everybody – I just don’t care what you’re listening to. Sorry. πŸ™‚ ). It’s easier to show you how this works in person than to explain it in words, but trust me, it’s dead simple to hide stuff you don’t care about in FriendFeed. Mine is very tightly customized to show only the stuff that my friends are doing that’s interesting to me, and nothing else.

I use FriendFeed a lot on my iPhone, too. They have a nice iPhone web interface at You can do most anything you can on the desktop web version. There’s also if you have a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, or other web-enabled phone. I haven’t found any good iPhone apps for it yet, though I’d love to see one come out. There are a couple (BuddyFeed, I think, is one of them) that are kind of awful. But in the mean time, the iPhone interface is quite good – it’s often my “home” page in Mobile Safari (along with Google Reader).

Another feature I love is the “best of” view. Say I haven’t been paying attention to FriendFeed all day, but I still want to see if there’s anything “hot” that my friends are sharing or discussion. You can click “best of” to see the most shared/discussed/liked items for the day, week or month. It’s a GREAT summary, and really helps with my “Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)”. πŸ™‚ Works on either the desktop or iPhone version.

You can also create lists of friends, to filter. So I have all of the people I know from work in one list, and I can view only their updates if I want. Same for people I know from the Portland geek world. And family. And developers. And “People I’ve Never Met In Real Life”. Friend lists are very powerful (and something I wish Twitter had!).

You can also create groups (these used to be called Rooms), which are good for discussion specific events/topics. I’m sure there’s going to be at least one good BarCampPortland3 room on FriendFeed somewhere.

Like Twitter, FriendFeed’s usefulness depends on having a clean, relevant list of people you’re following. If you’ve already built that carefully curated list of people on Twitter or elsewhere, you can take it with you to FriendFeed. Not too long ago, they released a Twitter importer that will look at who you follow on Twitter, and let you easily start following them if they’re on FriendFeed. Very handy. I wish they’d released it before I went and spent hours doing it completely by hand. πŸ™‚

You may find that you still don’t have any use for FriendFeed, and that’s totally cool. But for me, it’s become an extension of Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader. My theory of “social gravity” (“go where your friends are”) applies here – a LOT of the people I am interested in following, and am already connected with in some manner, are on FriendFeed. It makes sense for me to be there, too. I suspect you might find that’s the case for you as well, but if not, there’s no real reason to force yourself to use it, or try to convert all of your friends to FriendFeed.

Anyway, I hope that helps you understand how I use FriendFeed, and why I love it. Have YOU tried FriendFeed? Are you still scratching your head, trying to figure out why you should keep using it? Or have you given up on it? Give it another chance. Try configuring it the way I’ve described (a good friends list, filter what you don’t care to see), and you just might find that the conversations and ability to easily see “what’s hot” are interesting enough to stick around. It took me a while, but now, I’d have a hard time living without it. πŸ™‚ I’m jabancroft there – feel free to follow me, and leave a comment here, or there, and let me know what you think!


More on Community Building: Hosting a Party vs Building a Building

Following up my last post on how building a community is like hosting a party, I saw a great post this morning from Doc Searls, wherein he riffs on how companies come to him all the time, and say “we’ve built this great site, why don’t more people visit it?”:

The other day I was sitting in the company of leaders in one industrial category. (I won’t say which because it’s beside the point I want to make.) A question arose: Why are there so few visitors to our websites? Millions use their services, yet few bother with visiting their sites, except every once in awhile.

The answer, I suggested, was that their sites were buildings. They were architected, designed and constructed. They were conceived and built on the real estate model: domains with addresses, places people could visit. They were necessary and sufficient for the old Static Web, but lacked sufficiency for the Live one.

This goes RIGHT along with what I’ve been saying about how community building is like hosting a party. So many people come to me and say “we’ve built this great community site. Now how do we get people to use it?” They’ve built a building. A house for the party to happen in. It’s a usually necessary first step (the party COULD happen “in the streets” on Twitter, FriendFeed, etc. without a “house” of its own), but it’s ONLY a first step.

Once you’ve got a party house, stop worrying about the house, and start worrying about getting people to come to the party and have a good time!


Building a Community is like Hosting a Party. Don’t Be a Bad Party Host!

My job and my passion is community building. More specifically, exploring new ways of community building, and teaching them to other people. Quite often, I end up using the metaphor of hosting a party to describe what it’s like to build a community. A lot of what it takes to host a great party is the same as what it takes to build a great community.

My friend and Community Rock Star, Dawn Foster, has been posting a series of must-read posts over at her blog, Fast Wonder. If you work in online community building (and if you think about it hard enough, you probably do, even if you don’t realize it), you absolutely MUST subscribe to Dawn’s blog. She’s brilliant, and speaks the truth. Listen to her, and do what she says. πŸ™‚

Her latest post is on who “owns” a community, and the tendency that companies have to sometimes act like dictators when they “own” the community (by hosting it on their site, etc.). They do things like delete any comments that they don’t like, or that portray them in a less than glowing light (rather than establishing a comment policy, and only removing comments that break one of the rules). It’s a great post, and the comment I left got kind of long, so, never being one to waste the opportunity to recycle my own words so more people will read them, I’m reposting here. πŸ™‚

Trying to get “owners” to not freak out and do things like delete negative or critical (but otherwise non-rule-breaking) comments is hard.

The company that “hosts” a community should think of itself as en equal member of the community, with some special responsibilities. When you host a community, you’re throwing the party. Sure, you build and “own” the house (site) where the party will happen. You invite interesting people to come to the party, and hopefully have other interesting people for them to talk to, and interesting topics for everyone. You can provide amusements, but not stupid party games (no one likes to be forced into doing something they don’t like at a party). You’re there in case something goes wrong, and needs to be addressed. But if you’re a good party host, you want to make sure things go smoothly, and enjoy the party equally for yourself, NOT make yourself the center of attention the whole time.

Every time I think about it, I find more ways the party metaphor applies to community building. I think in this case, with ownership, you could say that sure, a party host COULD make and enforce abitrary rules, and act like a dictator, trying to control what people talk about, because it’s “their” house or “their” party. But that makes the party suck. No one will want to stay if you start acting like that. And in the end, besides defeating the whole purpose of having a great party/community, it’s really just embarrassing. No one likes an overbearing, self-agrandizing party/community host. πŸ™‚

So, when you’re building an online community, or hosting a party in your home, don’t be “that guy”. Think about how to make the party/community more fun, more engaging, and above all, kick more ass. Everything else is just frosting.