Gillmor Gang: Inside FriendFeed

Gillmor Gang podcast features special guests Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor, the creators of FriendFeed. Steve Gillmor tries to persuade them to clone Twitter.

Dan Farber
3 min read

The Friday Gillmor Gang podcast featured special guests Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor, the creators of FriendFeed. Along with Twitter, FriendFeed has become a poster child for the next wave of communications tools favored by the cybernauts.

Steve Gillmor seems to think that Twitter will become the predominant messaging backbone for the social Web. If the company behind Twitter can't make it happen, Gillmor suggested that FriendFeed should do it.

Buchheit, who was employee No. 23 at Google and suggested the now famous "Don't be evil" motto, said that FriendFeed wasn't designed to kill Twitter. "It's about making services you already use more useful," he said. "We think of FriendFeed not so much about displacing services, but about making them more useful."

He characterized FriendFeed as a content discovery tool, allowing users to view content through the eyes of the people they know. FriendFeed also allows for comments and has "Rooms" for groups of people to gather, as well as application programming interfaces that expose all the data in the system. Twitter is more of a messaging service.

Taylor said he created FriendFeed because what he defined as the nucleus of his online activity was different from that of other friends. "Over the past five years with the proliferation of syndication and APIs, the data isn't necessarily siloed."

Gillmor tried to make the case that most people don't use a lot of services. Buchheit agreed that most people use one service, but added that not everyone uses the same service. "Part of what makes FriendFeed so powerful is that we all use different services, such as Google Picassa, Flickr or SmugMug (for photos). You can see them all even though users are using separate services," he said.

Gillmor and Robert Scoble recommended that FriendFeed support XMPP(Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol--an XML technology for real-time communication), which would give it Twitter-like capabilities. "We want to pull in data and make it available anywhere, such as in iGoogle gadget, Facebook, and RSS feeds. Adding XMPP would fit in logically," Buchheit said.

The FriendFeeders said they plan to add a blocking feature. "We are adding features as users request them," Buchheit said. "We have been thinking about the right way to implement blocking for FriendFeed and it's a bit more complex (than Twitter blocking)." Nor does FriendFeed have the track feature of Twitter (which has been disabled of late), but it has search, which Buchheit said provides equivalent functionality.

FriendFeed's developers are also working on improving the user interface, which suffers from information overload. Buchheit said they are testing summarization of the best content from a period of time, so users don't have to sift through to find the best stuff, and combining items that are duplicated or related.

They also maintain that the fragmentation of conversation by having separate comments for each entry is one of the best features. Users don't necessarily want to participate in aggregated public forums, preferring to converse within the social groups they care about. For example, you might not want to combine co-workers comments with your mother's comments, Buchheit said.

Listen to the Gillmor Gang podcast.