Unraveling Obfuscation

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

Will FriendFeed be the next FriendFeed?

Posted by Todd McKinney on July 6, 2008

The reason I ask this question is that nobody can argue with the premise by saying “NO! They’re different!”. There’s a lot of discussion going on lately about “service x” is the “service y” killer, or I’ve got 95,000 followers on “service z” in just two days (63.23% of service x after 10 years), etc… Some of these questions seem interesting, some of them pointless, and still others are just a silly cry for attention.

The common denominator

image In nearly every case when some web service is being compared to another there is always someone, and often multiple someone’s, who jump into the discussion and expose the truth that the two things are in fact different. Often, this pronouncement seems to be made in a tone that implies the discussion should just end now because the answer has been found. No point in continuing. Quite similar to finding the rosetta stone with the number 42 prominently chiseled on it, we now know that the question was pointless because someone just figured out that Twitter != del.icio.us.

What’s really going on

There is a fairly useful idea that is often employed in analysis that is called “compare and contrast”. It is a way that humans can recognize patterns, extrapolate functionality, and synthesize ideas. Consider it to be the same thing as a thought experiment. In order to get value out of a question such as this, the items being compared need not be identical. In fact, if they were identical THAT would be a reason to quit talking about it. I mean really, WILL Google be the next Google? They have feature parity, and the exact same user base, and they even share a URL. Yes, I can say with reasonably high confidence that Google has a great shot at being the Google of tomorrow. Have either of us learned anything from that? I doubt it.

Consider something that has nothing to do with technology. Take apples and oranges. Lots of folks use this one to imply that you’re comparing something that can’t be compared. But what if? What if an orange had a skin like an apple, that didn’t taste disgusting, and was easy to bite through? It would be something else, neither orange nor apple, but it might be something I would want. That is the point of all these compare and contrast questions – it’s like “fusion” cuisine and it’s one of the easiest ways to come up with something new. Take two things that are not the same and combine the best of both. Do you like what you ended up with?

Here are some technology examples of the same kind of thing. When Steven compares Twitter to Windows, I learn something. It gives me a perspective that I can immediately grasp, and it’s an angle I hadn’t considered. When Alan Stern discusses a missed opportunity by del.icio.us, it immediately resonates with me. I remember the potential that service had. Thinking about how I use friendfeed today leads me down the path of “what could del.icio.us have done to get me there with their service?” Would it look different than friendfeed? Probably. Can I learn something by connecting the dots? You bet.

STOP IT – I know they’re different

In an appropriately subtle way, I would like to suggest a simple 12-step program for those that feel compelled to enlighten the world that an egg is really not a baseball. The first few steps go something like this:

1. Admit that you have a problem.

2. When the urge to point out that the letter “R” is not even remotely like the letter “V”, give other people a little credit. A blind cat could figure that out.

3. Take 10 deep breaths and step away from the keyboard.

…additional steps as appropriate to get to 11

12. Once you’re OK, come back and say something useful.


All right, you people can really say anything you want. Freedom of speech and of expression are valuable stuff. I just wanted you to know how it comes across when I see it.


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