August 26, 2009
@ 05:44 PM

Facebook unique user chart (2007 - 2009)

Twitter unique user chart (2007 - 2009)

FriendFeed unique users chart (2007 - 2009)

With the sale of FriendFeed to Facebook for $50 million, there doesn’t seem to be much harm in talking about why FriendFeed failed to take off with mainstream audiences despite lots of hype from all of the usual corners. A good starting place is the recent blog post by Robert Scoble entitled Where’s the gang of 2,000 who controls tech hype hanging out today? where he wrote

You see, there’s a gang of about 2,000 people who really control tech industry hype and play a major role in deciding which services get mainstream hype (this gang was all on Twitter by early 2007 — long before Oprah and Ashton and all the other mainstream celebrities, brands, and journalists showed up). I have not seen any startup succeed without getting most of these folks involved. Yes, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is the parade leader, but he hardly controls this list. Dave Winer proved that by launching by showing it first to Marshall Kirkpatrick and raced through this list.

By the way, having this list use your service does NOT guarantee market success. This list has all added me on Dopplr, for instance, but Dopplr has NOT broken out of this small, geeky crowd. Studying why not is something we should do.

For the past few years, I’ve been watching services I used that were once the domain of geeks like Robert Scoble’s inner circle have eventually been adopted by mainstream users like my wife. In general, the pattern has always seemed to boil down to some combination of network effects (i.e. who do I know that is using this service?) and value proposition to the typical end user. Where a lot of services fall down is that although their value is obvious and instantly apparent to the typical Web geek, that same value is hidden or even non-existent to non-geeks. I tried the exercise of listing some of the services I’ve used that eventually got used by my wife and writing down the one or two sentence description of how I’d have explained the value proposition to here

  • Facebook – an online rolodex of your friends, family & coworkers that let’s you stay connected to what they’re up to. Also has some cool time wasting games and quizzes if your friends are boring that day.
  • Twitter – stay connected to the people you find interesting but wouldn’t or couldn’t “friend” to on Facebook (e.g. celebrities like Oprah & Ashton Kutcher or amusing sources like Sh*t My Dad Says). Also has a cool trending topics feature so you can see what people are talking about if your friends are boring that day.
  • Blogger – an online diary where you can share stories and pictures from your life with friends and family. Also a place where you can find stories and opinions from people like you when you’re boring and have nothing to write that day (Note: Blogger doesn’t actually make it easy to find blogs you might find interesting).
  • Google Reader – a way to track the blogs you read regularly once your list of blog bookmarks gets unwieldy. Also solves the problem of finding blogs you might like based on your current reading list. 

These are four sites or technologies that I’ve used that my wife now uses ordered by how much she still uses them today. All four sites are somewhat mainstream although they may differ in popularity by an order of magnitude in some cases. Let’s compare these descriptions to those of two sites that haven’t yet broken into the mainstream but my geek friends love

  • FriendFeed – republish all of the content from the different social networking media websites you use onto this site. Also One place to stay connected to what people are saying on multiple social media sites instead of friending them on multiple sites.
  • Dopplr – social network for people who travel a lot and preferably have friends who either travel a lot or are spread out across multiple cities/countries.

Why Dopplr isn’t mainstream should be self evident. If you’re a conference hopping geek who bounds from SXSW to MIX in the spring or the Web 2.0 summit to Le Web in the fall like Robert Scoble then a site like Dopplr makes sense especially since you likely have a bunch of friends from the conference circuit. On the other hand, if you’re the typical person who either only travels on vacation or occasionally for business then the appeal of Dopplr is lost on you.

Similarly FriendFeed value proposition is that it is a social network for people who are on too many social networks. But even that really didn’t turn out to be how it went since Twitter ended being the dominant social network on the site and so FriendFeed was primarily a place to have conversations about what people were saying on Twitter. Thus there were really two problems with FriendFeed at the end of the day. The appeal of the service isn’t really broad (e.g. joining a 3rd social network because she has overlapping friends on Twitter & Facebook would be exacerbating the problem for my wife not solving it). Secondly, although the site ended up being primarily used as a Twitter app/conversation hub, its owners didn’t really focus on this aspect of the service which would likely have been avenue for significant growth. For what I mean, look at the graph of unique users for sites that acted as adjuncts to Twitter versus FriendFeed’s which chose not to

There are definitely lessons to learn here for developers who are trying to figure out how to cross the chasm from enthusiastic praise from the Robert Scoble’s of the world to being used by regular non-geeks in their daily lives.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:43:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What's interesting about the first graph is that all those have flattened off. The social networking fad seems to have reached its peak.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 8:13:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Perhaps Demi Moore's experience is illustrative here.

Demi, of course, is a prolific Twitter user. She signed up for a FriendFeed account and asked the question, "Ok trying out friendfeed....any suggestions?" She got over 400 comments (I think I buried a comment somewhere in there). As of August 26, however, a FriendFeed search that she never posted another item directly to FriendFeed; her FriendFeed account basically echoes her Twitter account. Similarly (again as of August 26) her profile indicates that she has never commented on an item, or liked an item.

Now FriendFeed lovers such as myself can rant and rave about this or whatever, but the fact remains that Demi has found no compelling reason to use FriendFeed. The same holds true for millions upon millions of others who love Facebook, Twitter, AOL, or whatever.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 12:00:56 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
friendfeed was sold to buy engineers - good ones at that. but not much more.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:21:59 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I agree with everything in the post, other than the headline, which, in my opinion, is wrong. 18 months of work for a 10x ROI to investors plus millions to the founders... hard to say that's a Fail...
Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:58:47 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think the real problem with friendfeed is that very few people know what it really is.

Most of my friends fall into 1 of the following groups:

1. They have never heard of friendfeed and have no idea what it is. (the majority)

2. They think it is a specialized RSS feed reader where you create imaginary friends and add all their services so you don't have to jump from site to site to keep up with them, or sign up with a bunch of services you never intend to use just to see what your friends are up to.

All of my friends in this group have private profiles, none of them have added any of their own services, and they don't subscribe to any real people on the site. They are only subscribed to their imaginary friends. They have no idea you can follow other friendfeed users, or share things, or that they can have conversations with people they would love to talk to but never have the chance anywhere else.

They do not know friendfeed is actually a social network. They only use it as a means to keep up with their best of friends from twitter, facebook, etc, without having to actually visit those sites and get sucked into the time wasting mess that those sites can be.

When I try to explain how you can follow other people, how you can share your own activities, how you can jump into conversations and have a real blast, they act as if I am talking about some other site and that I am the one that has no clue what friendfeed is.

I can't even get them to follow me and most won't allow me to follow them so they can see what it really is. All I get is the "crazy girl doesn't know what she is talking about" sympathetic pat on the head.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:37:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Friendfeed has always had a problem boiling down to one value proposition or elevator pitch because it does many things. It's an aggregator as well as its own social network, as app103 says above. It's also a fine work collaboration platform.

It kind of burns me when people try to describe it as a Twitter client. I think if you search for Friendfeed posts with the most Likes and Comments, they will NOT be tweets. They are native posts, live chats linked to podcasts events, etc.

Most products that try to do many things don't do all of them well, or even do NONE of them well, BECAUSE they are trying to do too much. But Friendfeed is not like that. All of its many uses function exceedingly well. In the end the value proposition just boils down to: it's a floor wax AND a dessert topping.
Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:53:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare -

Just came across your post today. This subject has been on my mind as well. I think a good analytical framework is to consider what really overlapped existing alternatives (you've hit on those here), and what was new that FriendFeed could have pursued. Most start-ups seem to find a change or two in business model before they find their feet, if they end up successful.

For me, I think there was a great opportunity in monitoring the social web. This is an area of rising, and immense interest. Yet it's still in its infancy from a platform perspective. The closest we're seeing are Social CRM providers.

FriendFeed had some technological advantages that would have made it quite powerful in this arena. I talk about that, and more in Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?.

Monday, August 31, 2009 1:48:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
<i>Facebook – an online rolodex of your friends</i>
Pretty much how I use it. By the time I get on a trend it's past it's "explosive growth" phase. Except for Linux, which I discovered in 95, and left for Mac OS X in 2007.
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