Facebook Acquires Friendfeed and Jumps the Shark: Why real time is a Red Herring

Facebook's Twitter envy has gotten out of control.  First they redesigned the interface to make the whole Facebook experience much more about conversational feeds--like Twitter--and now apparently they've just acquired Friendfeed

It's not surprising.  Clearly Benchmark looked at the flat traffic of Friendfeed and realized that without a revenue model, and with a post money valuation undoubtedly in the teens, Friendfeed wasn't going to raise a next round at any kind of pleasent smelling pre money.  I wonder if they got their money back.  What's the current price of an engineer these days?  Still a million a pop?  With a team of 12, maybe they salvaged something, and I'd even bet they all broke even.

Whatever they paid for it doesn't matter at all, because their cost of capital is a joke.  The valuations that Facebook has been able to raise money have been astronomical.  So whether they gave cash or stock, it's all a drop in the bucket for Facebook.

What's more problematic is the company's indication that they share a vision with Friendfeed.  This is the "vision" of Friendfeed that has seen essentially flat traffic since January--the vision of everyone drinking from a firehose of the completely unrelated social media apps of everyone they know all at once without any context. 

And mainstreamers think Twitter is too much?  Someone should aim Friendfeed at them!

Here's a photo!

Here's a song!

Here's an article!

Good thing Friendfeed never spread much past the Techcrunch navel gazing fanboys, otherwise someone we care about might have gotten an eye poked out. 

Real time is clearly hot, though--and while the peak of the Friendfeed buzz was clearly behind it, the demand for real time anything couldn't be higher.  It seems like every other day that another Twitter client gets funded or a startup completely changes it's product model to chase after what's happening right now.

But is what's happening right now really that important?  If you're a day trader, perhaps--but with everyone else, I'm not so sure.  I think real time is going to be a real let down for a lot of people.

The problem with many real time apps is that they lack focus and context.  Even with Twitter itself, users need to build in focus and context to get value out of it.  While it's become an integral part of the communication infrastructure--that's what it is--infrastructure.  It's hard to just login to Twitter.com and  get immediate value.  Build in a couple of saved searches, group the people that you follow into "competition" or "media", and now you're cookin'.  Layer on apps and communities like StockTwits and you've got gamechanging services, but just the feed itself is just a dumb pipe. 

More and more I've been feeling like Twitter is just the UGC equivilent of a big telecom--owner of a hugely critical pipe but perhaps a total commodity compared to the value of the services people can build on top of it.  The transatlantic cables changed communication forever, but the businesses that made use of it, in aggregate, were worth much more than the business of owning the cable.  Don't get me wrong--the telecoms are still multi-billion dollar cap companies and I have no doubt that it's investors will make a boatload, but pipes often fancy themselves more than just a pipe--wrongly. 

That's why I can't understand Facebook's insistance on chasing Twitter.  It's already a pipe--a social pipe--the social pipe.  If I had to be the social pipe or the real time pipe, I think I'd rather be the social one.  Social makes stuff more relevent to me than "now" does.

Compare that to Foursquare, which I just made the homepage of my mobile browser.  When I login, I get to see where all of my friends are right now.  Simple, perhaps, but infinately valuable for a specific purpose.  Foursquare's laser focus and geographic context makes its data that much more useful.  When I login to Twitter, I don't even see my friends answers to "What are you doing?" anymore.  I get Foursquare checkins and blog link shares and loves from Last.fm and Follow Fridays--all at the at the very moment they post something, not at the moment I need it.

By stripping away the services that create focus and context, Friendfeed seemed to want to compete in the race to the bottom of the value chain.  The more and more these services just open up to everything and everything, the more they feel like... a phonebook.  That's certainly what if felt like when my second grade teacher found me on Facebook to ask if that was the same Charlie O'Donnell from Brooklyn they interviewed in the paper and on the news about this weekend's helicopter/plane crash.  Twenty five years ago, she would have looked me up in the white pages, and now she checks Facebook. 

The more my Facebook feed gets cluttered with Friendfeed-like all-inclusiveness, the less useful it's going to be on it's own.  I don't want to listen to music and see pictures and read quotes and play games in real time just as my friends are doing it.  Don't get me wrong--having all that piping in the ground makes the game playing and music listening that much more fun and useful, but for those apps.  I want to watch a TV connected to a big fat datapipe... I don't actually want to watch my TV while sitting IN the pipe.