Unraveling Obfuscation

ob fus cate – 1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy 2. to make obscure or unclear

Archive for June, 2008

Drift Diving in (cyber)Space

Posted by Todd McKinney on June 29, 2008

Strange but true, for those who may be wondering if I died or something, you need not fear the worst. There are a few cobwebs collected on the blog here, but I somehow managed to still remember the password. That’s a big win in my book.

So, where’ve you been?

First, before we just jump back in to me spouting off about something, I think a quick update is in order. I’ve been completely consumed with the enormous task of delivering software for the last month or two. The really, really good news is that this effort is paying off. It’s quite thrilling to start seeing some buzz around our product and the company. We’re not completely past crunch-time yet, there’s a mountain of work on my plate. Hitting a couple of critical milestones has, however, given us just enough breathing room that I’m starting to think about stuff like mowing the lawn and eating regular meals again. Blogging falls somewhere in there.

Can you get to the point already

Fair enough. I know it’s bad form to go on and on about not posting. It really bugs me when people do it.

Mark Evans is a writer who continually says things that resonate with me, and he often captures my imagination with an idea that challenges my assumptions and makes me think. I read Mark’s “love affair with FriendFeed” post, and spent a bit of time thinking about it. Ultimately, my opinion differs from Mark’s because FriendFeed for me is a service that is quite useful. I believe it has the potential to be both mainstream and HUGE. As is often said in these discussions, everyone has a different experience with the service. That fact is a real plus for FriendFeed. Personalization and customization are critical to being flexible enough to meet a wide range of needs.

Specifically Mark criticized a couple of things about the FriendFeed experience. First, there is the noise level. I have to say that I was pretty concerned about this at first, but sometimes it is best to just let go and enjoy the ride. image Initially, the stuff I saw on FriendFeed was a nice manageable bit of thoughtful conversation. Mostly this is because I was subscribed to about five people. The experience changed pretty noticeably after I took Louis Gray’s advice and started subscribing to everyone that looked interesting. Is it noisy? You bet. Is it valuable? I would have to say yes. Surprisingly the noisy version is even more useful to me than the more civilized chat I used to have among a few people. That’s where the “drift diving” idea in the post title came from. You get dropped off where there’s a nice current, and amazing things just float past. You don’t even need to put much effort into it.

Secondly, there is the shiny thing syndrome that Mark mentions. This aspect, if it came to pass would matter to me quite a bit. One of the things that I find compelling about FF is that it enables me to follow and participate in conversations with people that are very interesting and influential. If the swarm of “digerati” suddenly abandoned the service it would definitely lose something. I’m pretty confident, however, that there’s a lot of staying power to the service. This does seem like a pretty good yardstick. If all of the fans and cheerleaders move on to something else, perhaps there is not enough compelling value to the service to hold people’s attention. Time will tell on this one.

What’s so great about it then

In one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” concepts – FriendFeed is driving us in the right direction. I don’t believe that this is THE be-all and end-all service, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far. imageThere is a confluence of capabilities that I need that all intersect right where FriendFeed lives. The killer aspect of FriendFeed is NOT in the aggregation of multiple services and multiple people.

The thing that makes it useful is that it enables the closest thing we’ve got to friction-free conversations. The aggregation of feeds is a necessary component that brings in source material, but is not the point in itself. Rather than having to run all over the web chasing a bunch of links, I get to see and participate in conversations that people I like to follow around are having. It changes the focus of the conversation from a post on a blog somewhere to a group of interesting people talking about a bunch of stuff. Twitter almost does this, but unless you’re following half the population of California, Twitter can be like a surreal scavenger hunt just trying to figure out who said what. On FriendFeed, they all get nicely organized, like this.

The feel of conversation in FriendFeed is just completely different than comments on a blog. Rather than having one person pontificate and everyone else discuss, it raises the commenter to a more equal participant. There isn’t a feeling of having the discussion be below the fold. The discussion is the content.

Also, this conversation is not just about things I write. I read a lot more than I write (obviously). Being able to quickly share things I read and find interesting was enabled with Google Reader and other rss aggregators quite some time back, but this always left me feeling kind of unsatisfied. Did anyone even read it? Did they understand what I liked about it? Being able to see what the writers I like are reading is also pretty amazing.

Finally, there are more things I think the FF team has done well, but I just want to point out another possible contrast. Mark asked if FriendFeed is the “next Facebook”, or just something we’ll soon grow tired of. I think it won’t be the next Facebook. FriendFeed does not feel at all like a walled garden.


Photo credit nieve44 and Steve Deger


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