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 Bit.ly by showing it first to Marshall Kirkpatrick and Bit.ly 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.