Robert Scoble had an epiphany on one of the key problems with FriendFeed’s design that he now realizes now that he’s no longer a fanatical user of the service in his post The chat room/forum problem (& an apology to @Technosailor) . Robert writes

Twitter got lists.

This let us throw together a list of experts. For instance, I put together a list of people who have started companies. Compare that feed to your average Facebook feed and you’ll see it in stark black and white: your Facebook feed is “fun” but isn’t teaching you much.

It becomes even more stark when you do a list like my tech news brands list. See, this is NOT a forum! It is NOT a chat room!

No one can enter this community without being invited. Now compare to FriendFeed. We could have built a list like this over there, but it would have gotten noiser because of a feature called “Friend of a Friend.” That drags in people the list owner didn’t invite. Also, anyone can comment underneath any items on Facebook or FriendFeed. That brings people into YOUR life that YOU DID NOT INVITE!

Again, at first, this seems very democratic and very nice. After all, it’s great to throw a party for the whole world and let them drink your wine and have conversations with your kids. But, be honest here, would you rather have a private dinner with Steve Jobs, or would you rather have a dinner with Steve Jobs and 5,000 people who you don’t really know?

As someone who works on a platform for real-time streams for a living I always find it interesting to compare the approaches of various companies.

I agree with Robert that FriendFeed’s friend of friend feature breaks a fundamental model of the stream. In an earlier post on the problems with some of FriendFeed's design decisions I pointed out the following problem with the feature

FriendFeed shows you content from friends of friends: This is major social faux pas. It may sound like a cool viral feature but showing me content from people I haven't subscribed to means I don't have control of who shows up in my feed and it takes away from the intimacy of the site because I'm always seeing content from strangers.

One of the things I’ve learned about how people interact with activity streams and news feeds is that it is important to feel like you are in control of the experience. FriendFeed’s friend of friend feature explicitly takes that away from users. I can understand why they did it (i.e. to increase the amount of content showing up in the stream for people with few friends and as a friend discovery mechanism)  but it doesn’t change the fact that the behavior can seem like a nuisance and even lead to lamebook style socially awkward situations. 

However unlike Robert I don’t really agree with his characterization of the differences between streams on Facebook versus Twitter. On both sites, I as a user choose who the primary sources that show up in my stream are. Facebook is for people I know, Twitter is for brands and people I find interesting. I find both sites fun but I agree that I’m more likely to learn something new related to work from Twitter than from Facebook. Whether I am “learning” something new or not isn’t what’s important but whether I feel like I’m getting value out of the experience. As Biz Stone wrote in a blog post on Twitter's new terms of service 

At the start, critics often said, "Twitter is fun, but it's not useful." At one point @ev responded dryly with, "Neither is ice cream."

Although comments in the news feed on Facebook bring people I didn’t explicitly add into my stream, they are often OK because they are often people who I consider to be part of my extended social network or at least are on topic. This would never work on Twitter with retweets being shown inline (for example) since anyone can follow anyone else or retweet their content which would lead to the same sort of chat room/forum noise that Robert decries in his post.

Looking at the sketches from Twitter’s Project Retweet

I don’t think Robert’s concerns about retweets polluting the stream are warranted. From the above sketch, it just looks like Twitter is fixing the bug in the retweeting process where I have to use part of my 140 character quota to provide attribution when retweeting an interesting status update. This leads to interesting behavior such as people keeping their tweets under 125 characters to enable retweeting. I have to admit I’ve wondered more than once if I should make a tweet shorter so that it is easier to retweet. Project Retweet is fixing in a way that encourages an existing user practice on the site. That deserves kudos in my book.

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