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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 last.fm 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 http://friendfeed.com/iphone/. You can do most anything you can on the desktop web version. There’s also http://fftogo.com 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!

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Blog

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.

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Advanced Twitter Fu: Become a Master

Everyone talks about Twitter. It’s hard to describe why people like it and use it so much. You have to use it, and connect with some people, to really see why it’s worth it. If you’re looking at it from the outside, like watching the public timeline, it’s going to seem stupid and useless. That’s because, used like that, it is.

BUT.

If you know what you’re doing, Twitter is a REALLY POWERFUL and REALLY COOL way to connect with people. You can find basic, “entry level” explanations about why you should use Twitter everywhere. I even wrote such a post a couple of months ago (which includes the excellent “Twitter in Plain English” video, which you must watch if you haven’t already). The rest of this post is going to assume you have a (very) basic understanding of what Twitter is, and how it works. If not, go read my previous post, watch the video, and come back. I’ll wait. πŸ™‚

The Twitter Fu is Strong With This One

What I want to talk about here is some advanced “Twitter Fu” – techniques for “power users” (I hate that term), and people who are ready to start taking advantage of some of the really remarkable things you can accomplish with it. This isn’t comprehensive, of course, but I do speak from experience. What I’m going to write about comes from my daily use and experience with Twitter (which started in July 2006, making me an old timer in the Twitterverse. Most importantly, I want to show some ways you can use Twitter to accomplish something REALLY remarkable – connect up people in a community (or build a new community) with strong ties.

Here’s the reason I think all of this is so important. My job, and Intel Software Network‘s mission, is to build community. Community grows from connections made between people with a common interest. One way people make connections is through conversation. Real conversation in their natural human voice, with another human. You can’t have a conversation with a corporation. You just can’t. This is why I’m always harping on conversations, conversations, conversations! Twitter (and blogs, and other net tools, too) makes it easy to have more conversations, and thus build more connections, with other humans. You increase your “human surface area” – the ways people can connect with you. If you’re a software person, think of it as exposing a new API endpoint for people to hook into and use. And when you have more and more of these human connections, a really cool thing emerges – community. See how that all ties in?

Enough philosophical background. Let’s get on the the real, practical things you can do to become a high level Twitter Fu Master.

Grow Your Network, Carefully

Twitter is useless without following people. But it’s worse than useless if you follow people you don’t know. The public timeline, while it may be an entertaining peek into what the entire world is saying, isn’t going to do anything to connect you to those other people. Your network is the heart of Twitter. Guard it jealously. Follow people you know (either in real life, or through online interactions, or whatever). Don’t follow people you don’t know, or who you don’t have any reason to follow, other than because they followed you. In other words, don’t follow someone if you have no idea who they are. Reciprocating a “follow” on Twitter is NOT required, and no one is going to get offended if you don’t follow them back just because they followed you.

I did this in the beginning, and I found that it just added noise to my Twitter stream. So I pruned my “following” list down to people I had either met in real life, or knew from some other interaction. Basically, it came down to “do I have to think for more than half a second to know who this person is?” If they don’t pass that test, I don’t follow. You’ve got to keep the signal to noise ratio of your Twitter stream as high as possible. It’s hard enough only following people you DO know.

However, as commenters below have reminded me, it can be fun and useful to add new followees based on who the people in your network are talking with. You’ll naturally get to know new people through Twitter, and your network will grow. This is a good thing. I just think you should be careful, and no go crazy and add everyone and their dog (or cat) without a reason. Or, as @scobleizer says, “You are defined by who you follow.” πŸ˜‰

Use a Desktop Client and Your Phone

There are two times you’ll want to use Twitter: when you’re at your computer, and when you’re not. For when you’re at your computer, I highly recommend using a desktop client application, which makes your Twitter stream kind of like an IM conversation. It’s always there, you can pay attention to it, or hide it in the background. But having a desktop client has lots of advantages over using the Twitter.com web page to engage with your network.

There are lots of desktop clients to choose from. I personally use and love one called Twitterrific, from Craig Hockenberry and Icon Factory. It’s Mac only, but I love it because a) it’s beautiful, b) it uses Growl for notifications, and c) I’ve been using it since it came out, and I’m used to it (inertia is a powerful thing). If you’re not on a Mac, or for some reason you don’t want to use Twitterrific, there are some awesome clients that use the cross platform Adobe AIR runtime (Windows, Mac, and now Linux). Spaz, Twhirl, and Alert Thingy are worth a look. They all do pretty much the same thing, but some offer features like integration with FriendFeed, Jaiku, Pownce, etc. Try them all and find one you like.

A desktop client is for when you’re sitting at your computer (which, for me, is most of the day). If you’re anything like me, you have a whole bunch of browser windows or tabs open at any given time. It’s worth it to have Twitter outside of that, in its own place. You can see the stream of conversation in your network flow by, hop in and tweet or reply to something, and get alerted when there’s a reply or direct message directed at you. If you need to concentrate, and avoid distraction, just hide or close the app.

When you’re away from your computer, use Twitter on your phone. Any cell phone that can do text messaging is a great Twitter client. Just enable your Twitter account to work via text messages on your phone. You have full control over what alerts/incoming messages you receive (all, direct, etc.). I follow so many people that the volume of tweets is just too much to deal with in text messages (not to mention expensive!), so I only get a text message from Twitter when I receive a Direct (private) message. But, even if you get no text message alerts at all, it’s important to set this up, so you can SEND tweets from your phone. Then, get in the habit of doing it.

If you have a phone with a web browser (iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, or whatever), you can use the Twitter mobile web interface at http://m.twitter.com. It’s fast, light, and provides an easy way to both read your tweets and post new ones from your phone. Depending on the device you have, there are other options. iPhone owners should check out an amazing web-based Twitter interface for iPhone called Hahlo (and rumor has it there will be an iPhone version of Twitterrific as soon as Apple launches the iPhone App Store – I can’t wait!). For BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, there are free applications you can install on your phone to use Twitter. I haven’t used any of these, so I can’t really make a specific recommendation, but do some Googling, ask around on your Twitter network, and you can probably find one that you like.

Integrate Twitter With Your Online Life

Remember how I said that the whole point of all of this is to increase your conversational surface area, to make it easier for people to connect to you by conversing with you? To aid in that, you’ll want to include hooks/links to your presence on Twitter from the other places where you interact with people.

At the very least, put a link to your Twitter page on your blog and in your email signature and on your business cards.

Beyond that, there are a ton of great options for integrating your Twitter “microposts” (as I call them) on your blog, from a simple javascript badge to more complicated integrations (like the way I do it on my blog, which I explain “how and why” in this post). You can make this as simple or as complex as you want. Go nuts. But do it.

If you use social networks like Facebook, chances are there’s a way to integrate your Twitter conversations. Facebook lets you connect your tweets with your “Status” updates on Facebook, and vice versa. I haven’t used them, but there are ways to integrate Twitter with your MySpace page and I’m sure there are more. Again, do some Googling, and ask your new most valuable knowledge sharing tool, your Twitter network.

Don’t Miss Any Conversations

Twitter lets you direct a message at a specific person in two ways. First is the direct “D” message, which sends a private message that only the recipient can see. This is kind of like a short email. The second, and far more common way is the @reply. You can indicate that a tweet is for a certain person by typing @theirusername. Twitter turns that into a link to that person on Twitter, and TRIES to bring that message to their attention. But they way they do it is broken. It doesn’t work if the @username part isn’t at the beginning of the tweet. It doesn’t work if they don’t have their Twitter settings configured to show them “All @ replies”. If you want to be a Twitter master, you have to take a couple of extra steps to make sure that you don’t miss any messages directed at you using the @ sign.

This is where third party search tools like TweetScan and Summize come in. I’m assuming you’re using a feed reader/aggregator like Google Reader (you ARE using an aggregator, aren’t you? If not, we need to have a serious talk). If so, you can use TweetScan or Summize to do a search for your username, then subscribe to the feed for those search results. Presto – you’ll know every time someone even mentions your name on Twitter, whether you’re following them or not. At the very least, you need to do this. But search is powerful, and can do some other cool things, too.

For some reason, people often misspell my username on Twitter, or just make up some @username that has parts of my name, but isn’t anywhere near correct. No problem. I just set up search feeds on Summize to look for jabancroft (the correct name), bancroft, jbancroft, and joshbancroft. That way, I hear what people are saying about/to me, no matter how badly they butcher my name. If you know of common misspellings of your username, you should subscribe to search feeds for those, too.

Also, if there’s a specific topic, company, or product name that you want to track on Twitter, to see what people are saying, you can simply create a search feed for that word/phrase and subscribe to it. Twitter has a “track” feature, but it only works if you get updates via text message or IM – it doesn’t work if you use the web or a desktop client app. I have a few search feeds on Twitter – one for “Intel“, for example – that let me see everything people are saying, good and bad. Can you think of something that would be useful for? If you can’t, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

But Wait! There’s More!

Wow, this post got long. But I still have more to say. Specifically, some techniques about building groups and communities of interest on top of Twitter (something it lacks the native ability to do) using some simple tricks, and mashup tools. The online shoe seller Zappos.com has been getting a lot of press lately for their use of Twitter, and I’ve been involved in a couple of really cool mashups in the Portland geek community, like PulseoFPDX.com. How is this useful, rather than just interesting? Besides being a peek into the “stream of collective consciousness” of a particular group of people on Twitter, it’s a great way to find people to connect with. You know, build community by connecting with other people you know and have something in common with.

And I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve, too, so stay tuned! πŸ™‚

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