You’ve Got a Friend(Feed) in Me

Here’s my July/August column in Information Today Magazine.

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The title of this column is based on the main track from the soundtrack to Toy Story. The song, written by Randy Newman, portrays the kinship that the characters Andy and Woody (and later Woody and Buzz Lightyear) formed and solidified through helping each other, being there for one another, and surviving together. Friendship is epitomized by a sense of trust, sharing, and caring.

On the web, I think it’s easy to make friends (see My Space, Facebook, and Twitter) but hard to sustain them. While communication is easy, sometimes it’s too easy: We invite so many people into our world that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with what everyone is doing. Some people (including me) have started to reject potential new friends so we can concentrate on those we already have.

Keeping Up With the News

Your friends have blogs, Twitter accounts, del.icio.us accounts, photos on Flickr, Amazon wishlists, stories they Digg, stories they share on Google Reader, and more. The list can be infinite. If you can think of a Web 2.0 product, there is a sharing mechanism in place. To keep up with everything that your friends are doing now, you have to read what they blog, read the Tweets they write, see photos and stories they post, and check out the links they share. There has to be an easy way to do this, right?

Enter FriendFeed (www.friendfeed .com). Built by former Google engineers who know about great web products (see Gmail and Google Maps), FriendFeed lets you keep up with everything that your friends do online, with an extra 2.0 kick to keep things exciting. There are also third-party applications that make the Friend-Feed experience even more useful for the end user. But let’s start at the beginning.

Signing up for the service is free, of course. First, place all of the services you want to share with others in your account. The FriendFeed folks make it so easy that you don’t have to locate feeds for your accounts to add them into the mix. For example, for Flickr, just use your username; for Google Reader, add your shared items URL; and for Twitter, use your username. Once you have these set up, your FriendFeed page has been created. For example, you can see mine at www.friendfeed.com/stevencohen.

Now that you have all of your content in one place, start grabbing your friends’ content. One of the easiest ways to do this is to search for their names. You can also have FriendFeed look up your Gmail, hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail address book and find fellow FriendFeeders, which you can then import into your account. (This service is very user-friendly.)

Commenting on the Content

When you have your contacts in place (you can also add more as new friends sign up), just log in and you will see all of the new content produced by your friends in reverse chronological order, which is similar to the popular RSS aggregators. The social aspect comes into play when you start reading the content. If you enjoyed one of your friend’s pieces of content, click the button that says "like." This will now show up on the lists of everyone else who follows this person. You can also comment on the content. (In fact, many conversations take place on Friend-Feed when they would previously take place on the systems that FriendFeed wants to bring together.) If you want to follow a friend’s Twitter and blog posts but not their Flickr pictures, use the "hide" feature. This will hide all future Flickr photos from that user (although this can be undone).

FriendFeed also lets you post directly to your personal page without having to use your various services. This enables FriendFeed to meet its mission, which is "to keep up-to-date on the web pages, photos, videos and music that your friends and family are sharing. It offers a unique way to discover and discuss information among friends." In fact, the concept is so simple that every time I log in, I slap myself on the forehead and mumble, "Why didn’t I create this service?"

Sharing Space With Like-Minded Librarians

Recently the folks at FriendFeed created a feature called Rooms, which enables like-minded users to be a part of a smaller community within the larger one. For example, there is a library-related room called Librariology (http://friendfeed.com/ rooms/librariology), where like-minded librarians can share content in that space. This was an obvious addition to the great service FriendFeed already supplies.

Will FriendFeed become the new killer app? I don’t know. But it is easy to use, it never goes offline (unlike Twitter), and I have actually started going to my Friend-Feed page before launching my Google Reader in the morning. And if you know my addiction to RSS, that’s a big deal.

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