Facebook Buys FriendFeed
A few hours ago I learned that Facebook had acquired one of my favorite current little playgrounds on the internet FriendFeed. There’s been no talk on the price they paid, but if I just threw a total guess out of left field I’d say it was somewhere around $100 million. That’s just a guess. I’m sure the real number will come out soon enough. While I’m sure that this deal is a fantastic one for the founders of Friendfeed (who were probably already multi-millionaires from their earlier roles at Google and now just became that much richer) I’m not feeling so positive about it for the actual users of FriendFeed.
In the blog post announcing the acquisition, Bret Taylor wrote: “FriendFeed.com will continue to operate normally for the time being. We’re still figuring out our longer-term plans for the product with the Facebook team.” To me that sentence right there is the kiss of death for FriendFeed as a stand alone service. In actuality, the FriendFeed team probably has a very good idea what things are going to look like in the longer-term and I’m guessing that it doesn’t include FriendFeed operating as a stand-alone little playpen outside of the great gates of mother Facebook.
No. In time it is likely that little by little at first (but completely and entirely eventually) FriendFeed as we know it gets migrated and merged into Facebook. Techcrunch put it more directly in a quote attribute to FriendFeed Co-Founder Bret Taylor and Facebook VP Chris Cox: “Taylor and Cox say that the Friendfeed product will live on independently, and eventually Friendfeed will be merged into Facebook.”
While the million or so estimated monthly uniques that FriendFeed gets are a drop in the bucket to Facebook, in that number are still a lot of super active users and Facebook will certainly do what it can to keep them. But Facebook didn’t buy FriendFeed for the users. Facebook, frankly, could care less about FriendFeed’s users. They bought FriendFeed for two reasons. 1. The superior technology and ideas that it represents for life-streaming (many of them already blatantly copied by Facebook). and 2. Even more significantly, the talented small group of employees that built FriendFeed. A talented group of ex-Google employees.
I spent a few hours this afternoon on Facebook after the announcement playing around on it. I hadn’t checked in with my Facebook account for a while and so mostly I just had a lot of clean up to do. 34 friend requests to approve. 270 or so group invitations to ignore. 90 or so Facebook fan page requests to deny. A bunch of facebook email spam to delete and other legitimate messages to answer. And worst of all, what felt like thousands of little Facebook app requests to have to deal with. The stupidest little app requests you’ve ever seen. Most of which felt confusing, broken, and hard to block or ignore.
FB: You have a pokemon request. Me: Block This Application FB: Something went wrong. We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can. You may be able to try again. Sigh.
Now hopefully the FriendFeed team will be able to have a positive impact on the whole Facebook experience. I can’t imagine that it can get much worse. But… Facebook is a huge, huge, monster at this point. Getting things done there or changed for the better will be super hard to do. There will be new pressures of having to deal with the influence of advertisers in page design as well as having to try and keep all of those app developers who develop those insipid little apps happy. I suspect that even with the positive influence of the FriendFeed team that it will be far too little to have enough of a positive impact on Facebook to make it really usable.
There are of course lots of other problems with this deal for FriendFeed’s users. Some users use Facebook for their real life friends and family and FriendFeed as something totally different. They purposely want two places to play. And they like having one where their mom and brother sister and cousin and high school girlfriend aren’t hanging out watching everything they do. Facebook is also blocked at a lot more jobs than FriendFeed is. So some people will likely end up losing their daily does of screwing around on the company nickle in the end.
Then there is the whole pesky issue of censorship. One of the things that I really liked about FriendFeed was that it seemed totally and absolutely free of censorship. On the other hand we have Facebook who thinks that breastfeeding moms are evil and must be purged from their system.
A lot of people, including my friend Robert Scoble, seem positive on the deal. But others are negative. Blogger Dave Winer put it very simply: “FB buying FF is bad news for FF users.” I suppose we’ll have to see how it all shakes out in the end, but I do feel sort of sad today, like we did in fact lose something that had so much amazing potential to be something so much bigger than even Facebook. That may be pie in the sky thinking, but that’s how it felt sometimes.