Spokeo and FriendFeed

Popular blogs covering the Web2.0 movement as well the larger web community seem to believe that Spokeo and Friendfeed are competitors. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that Spokeo is about the network while Friendfeed is about the community.

Having now used both services for a while, I thought I would spend some time pointing out the differences between the two and why you might still wind up using both Spokeo and Friendfeed:

  • Spokeo is opt-out and Friendfeed is opt-in:

When you sign up for Spokeo or Friendfeed, you are offered the ability to import your address book from various providers. The first crucial difference appears here – Spokeo then searches each of the services it supports for the public profile of a person on your address book and pulls it into your Spokeo page. FriendFeed on the other hand, searches within the universe of FriendFeed members only.

Spokeo’s approach means that you simply cannot avoid being lifestreamed on Spokeo – the only way to avoid Spokeo is to flag your profile as “private” on every site you use. Even then, bits of your profile are always public and will be picked up by Spokeo.

Friendfeed on the other hand limits is search in two ways – one, it limits itself to people who sign up to Friendfeed. Theoretically, you could add profiles manually from other sites in anticipation, but it’s hardly the giant vacuum of data that Spokeo is. More importantly, Friendfeed will only display content from profiles that you tell Friendfeed about.

Obviously, Spokeo’s approach feels a lot more stalker-ish, but there is an one important difference:

  • Spokeo puts conversation at the source, Friendfeed keeps it locked up:

Spokeo is an aggregator plain and simple. If you wanted to favourite, comment or share content in any way, you have to be a member of the site the content originated from. Silent stalkers would love Spokeo, but for everyone else it’s really an RSS reader in disguise.

FriendFeed of course is all about the conversation – every social aspect of the content it aggregates is replicated within FriendFeed and inevitably, it is the community that grows up around this aspect that draws more people in.

  • Spokeo’s UI reflects it’s functionality; Friendfeed is schizoid

Since Spokeo is clearly an aggregator, it provides lots of flexibility around how you want to see content. Two key features in Spokeo I love:

1. Group friends into different categories

2. See only new updates.

I especially love the second feature because at a glance, I can see who has updated and follow up later if I want to.

FriendFeed on other hand can’t seem to make up it’s mind – It encourages you to track all your friends and other people you might be interested in; but mashes everything together in a river-of-news style that doesn’t facilitate easy scanning nor does it allow you to pick up where  you left off.

When Greasemonkey scripts are required to add basic functionality to a lifestreaming site, something is seriously broken.

Breaking News – Friendfeed have just launched a beta of the new site UI and the no. 1 change? Ability to group friends into lists.

  • Spokeo can filter noise; Friendfeed can’t

I’m a little bit torn on this, but I have to say I still prefer Spokeo’s approach on this. After Spokeo is done adding various services to each friend you add, you can go in and remove services that you think add too much noise, while keeping everything else. Perfect if you follow someone on twitter and Spokeo.

Friendfeed of course offers no such control. If you follow someone on Twitter and Friendfeed, get ready for duplicates. Of course, there have been interesting conversations in Friendfeed around some twitter posts, but the noise far outweighs the signal.

Again, the Greasemonkey script for Friendfeed I’ve linked to above allows you to “filter” services but it doesn’t work very well. Here’s hoping something happens in the new beta for this problem.

In the end, Friendfeed and Spokeo each solve very different problems. Friendfeed offers a way to build conversations around disparate content in a way that wasn’t really possible before. Spokeo allows you to manage the fragmentation of social networks across your address book. To each his own.

A final slightly long PS: Jason Calacanis’s decision to quit blogging has attracted it’s share of derision, but almost all the authors figure this is because Calacanis has a giant ego. Be that as it may, you have to admit the guy has some street smarts in building the first truly significant Blog network. This is a man well aware of how communities can be monetized, something he points out often during discussions on Twitter’s business model on TWiT.

Yet, here he was – seeing the community he had built up on his blog fragment into multiple conversations on Twitter and Friendfeed. Trying to stem the flow, he jumped into both services enthusiastically and very quickly built up large followings both on Twitter and Friendfeed. I’m guessing at some point he realized that he had built up a community again, but the people who could monetize these were Obvious and Friendfeed itself.

I believe that is why he stopped blogging and started an email discussion list – the community is under his control and as long as no-one scrapes the email and puts in on a discussion board, there is little chance of the conversation fragmenting. And monetization? All it takes is an ad in the footer of the email.

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