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FriendFeed tells you what your friends are up to online

But the service requires your friends to sign up first. Will they?

FriendFeed is leaving private beta tonight and opening up to everyone. It's a potentially useful service that aggregates what your friends are doing around the Web into one big feed you can easily scan. In other words, if you've got friends who Twitter, friends who post photos on Flickr, friends who favorite videos on YouTube, and friends who tag music on or sites on, this service will keep track of them all. Except what your pals are doing on Facebook--that service was not scannable by FriendFeed in the beta version I tried.

The Web needs services like this, since it's otherwise impossible to keep track of what your pals are doing online, what with everyone participating in so many different places.

Keep up with your friends on several services.

There are big issues with FriendFeed, though. The service only really works when your friends are also FriendFeed users. That way they can link all their social feeds to their accounts so they're easy for you to pick up. You can add "imaginary friends" to add nonsubscribers' feeds on other services, one by one, to your FriendFeed account, but that's time-consuming.

There are already other friend aggregation services, too. FriendFeed is commonly compared with Plaxo Pulse, which also aggregates personal feeds and also works best when your friends have taken the time to set up their accounts with their feeds. So what do you do if you have some friends on Pulse (or Iminta or on other services), and some on FriendFeed? Is it beginning to sound like we need a service to aggregate the personal feed aggregators? Is this not getting a little silly?

The thing all these sites need is auto-discovery. If I want to track my friend Joe, the personal feed tracker I use should not require Joe to put in all his feeds. It should just go find them. That is not an easy problem to solve, although there are feed aggregators that do it, such as Spokeo. Also, Delver applies auto-discovery of personal feeds to search. In the future, a universal Web site authentication system like OpenID could make auto-discovery more workable for more sites. See: Implicit social networks.

Still, I have found it enjoyable to peruse FriendFeed pages to see what a subset of my friends are writing and flagging. I don't think the technology is universal enough, yet, but it's a start.

Previous review: FriendFeed does the Facebook feed minus Facebook.