Facebook buys FriendFeed: Is this a big deal?

The massive social network confirmed on Monday that it has acquired the aggregation start-up after TechCrunch reported the rumor. Be it known: This acquisition is about talent, not product.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

Surprise! Facebook has acquired FriendFeed, a Bay Area-based social-network feed aggregation start-up.

"Facebook and FriendFeed share a common vision of giving people tools to share and connect with their friends," FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor said in a release. "We can't wait to join the team and bring many of the innovations we've developed at FriendFeed to Facebook's 250 million users around the world."

TechCrunch reported the news on Monday, a matter of minutes before Facebook confirmed the acquisition.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: This is not as ridiculously huge of a deal as the Silicon Valley hype machine is going to have you believe.

Basically, FriendFeed has been coasting on a lot of hype and not a lot of mainstream recognition, and it's not a bit surprising that it would be seeking an exit at this point. Facebook acquired it for its talent; prior to FriendFeed, Taylor was part of the team that helped launch Google Maps. So the real story here is that Facebook made the rather expensive hire (and we don't know the terms of the deal) of some very talented former Googlers. FriendFeed's co-founders "will hold senior roles on Facebook's engineering and product teams," according to the release, and the rest of the company's 12 employees will also join Facebook.

This would also be consistent with Facebook's minimal past acquisition history: the company bought little-known start-up Parakey two years ago with the primary objective of getting its founders, the creators of the Firefox browser, on board. It's also well-known that Facebook tried hard to acquire Twitter--which would've been a far more significant acquisition than FriendFeed--and was turned down. (Well, there was also ConnectU, whose assets Facebook acquired pretty much just to get that pesky lawsuit off the table.)

The release from Facebook repeatedly hinted that this is about talent more than product.

"Since I first tried FriendFeed, I've admired their team for creating such a simple and elegant service for people to share information," Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in the statement. "As this shows, our culture continues to make Facebook a place where the best engineers come to build things quickly that lots of people will use."


"As we spent time with Mark (Zuckerberg) and his leadership team, we were impressed by the open, creative culture they've built, and their desire to have us contribute to it," FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit, another ex-Googler who was instrumental in building Gmail, "It was immediately obvious to us how passionate Facebook's engineers are about creating simple, groundbreaking ways for people to share, and we are extremely excited to join such a like-minded group."

But Facebook director of product Christopher Cox said to CNET News later, "I wouldn't call it a talent acquisition." He elaborated, "We really have a vision that's focusing on Facebook being not just a destination but being a service...We think FriendFeed's been focused on how that's going to work in an open way, and that's something we're excited about, not just the people but the product they've built."

FriendFeed earned praise from prominent voices in Silicon Valley--most notably Robert Scoble--but its aim to aggregate all of a user's social-networking activity feeds in one place didn't catch on with the mainstream. But Facebook eventually began to mimic the FriendFeed model through upgrades to its central "news feed" feature, letting members pull in select third-party updates.

Bret Taylor said that FriendFeed wasn't shopping itself around. "We weren't up for sale. We had a healthy amount of financing and a really efficient company," he told CNET News. "As we noticed our products were really converging in terms of product vision, we started having casual conversations with Facebook."

It's not clear what will happen to the FriendFeed service, because it sure sounds like Facebook is eager to get its team onto the engineering fast track. "FriendFeed.com will continue to operate normally for the time being," a post by Taylor on the FriendFeed blog read. "We're still figuring out our longer-term plans for the product with the Facebook team."

Taylor elaborated more to CNET News later on Monday: "Anything that we would do would be more of a transition, not shutting down. I think our users have invested in our product by putting their data in it, sharing it with their friends...We absolutely wouldn't shut (FriendFeed) down."

More to come...last updated at 2:04 p.m. PDT.