Newbie's Guide: FriendFeed

Service enables users to see all their friends' social content in one place. Here's how to get started.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman

"style="border-width:0px;"" src="http://bto.cnet.com/i/bto/20070330/newbies_logo.jpg" align="right">

FriendFeed is a powerful service you can use to follow all the public online activity of your friends. It takes all your friends' activity on Twitter, Digg, del.icio.us, Flickr, YouTube, and 30 other sites and creates one giant uber-feed that you can display in one place. Furthermore, people can comment on what their friends are doing, and you can read those comments, so the service acts as a good way to discover the things your social network thinks is important.

In this guide we'll tell you how to get started with FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is a young service and its developers update it frequently. This guide is current as of June 5. If you spot errors, feel free to e-mail me and I will make the appropriate corrections. Thank you.

Signing up is easy.

Step 1. Join up.
This is easy. Go to the site and sign up.

The service will ask you if you want to install the Facebook app. FriendFeed in Facebook is a bit misleading: It will show you all your friends' activities in your profile page except for what they do on Facebook itself. FriendFeed doesn't have a feed of that data.

FriendFeed gives you the option to read in your address books from various online e-mail services. Then it matches those addresses to existing FriendFeed users. It's a good way to stock your network with friends, and doing this does not spam anyone.

FriendFeed recommends people for you to follow.

Once you've added a few friends, you can let FriendFeed recommend other people to follow. Go to the "friend settings" tab and click "recommend." The app will show you a list of people who are followed by folks you're already following--friends of friends. Chances are very good you'll find people you know on this list.

If you have skipped all the friend-adding features so far, you'll get the option of signing up to read 12 popular FriendFeed users. Following these users will put you smack in the middle of the Web 2.0 echo chamber, and if you want to track your friends in the real world you might find it hard to hear them over the noise of these 12 white guys, but it is a good way to get started with the service. If you haven't added any friends in the previous step, I recommend you pick at least one person from the dozen top users so you can see what the service does. Try either Paul Buchheit or Bret Taylor, co-founders of FriendFeed.

Assuming you've added either your friends or the famous people, now you'll now see the FriendFeed main content page.

The main window: Content from everyone, everywhere.

Step 2: Reading FriendFeed
FriendFeed shows you a list of all the public things the people you're following are doing on the Web. But it gets tricky: It's not strictly ordered by time, with the most recent activities on the top of the list. While new items do start on top, an old item that's scrolled down can move back up to the top if another user comments on it.

The grouping of comments on items, and the persistence of heavily commented-upon items at the top of the list, is what makes FriendFeed a very good way to get a look at what is popular in your social network at the given moment. To help you grasp the zeitgeist even better, FriendFeed automatically includes items from friends of your friends in your main content window.

This means, however, that items from friends of yours who are not Web 2.0 celebrities can quickly scroll off your main content stream. FriendFeed's founders are working on new features to help you track the people who matter to you personally even if their items don't get the comments that stick them to top of the feed. In the meantime, you might want to limit the number of celebrities you subscribe to.

Step 3. Add your personal feeds.
If you like what FriendFeed does, you'll probably want to join in as well, so your friends who are on FriendFeed can follow you, too.

First, gather up your user IDs for the sites you contribute to. Then click on the "me" tab in FriendFeed and begin adding services: Click the name of the service you want to add, then enter in your ID. From then on, anytime you update that service, the update will be reflected on FriendFeed and all the people who are following you will see it there.

If you contribute to a blog and want your work on it to show up on FriendFeed, you can put that in as well.

You can also post an item to FriendFeed directly: Go to the "me" tab and click the "Share something" button. You can share a comment and, optionally, a Web address. Note that if you do this, none of the users who follow you on your primary social sites (like Twitter or Flickr or Del.icio.us) will see your commentary. But if you want to communicate with your FriendFeed network and no one outside it, this is how to do it.

Step 4: Join the conversation
If an item you see on FriendFeed interests you and you want to share your feelings about it with others, there are two ways to do so. First, you can "like" an item. This is a very quick way to tell your friends you find something interesting. It's also a nice tip of the hat to the person who posted the story.

You can also comment on a story. This is where you communicate in more detail to your FriendFeed followers, and it's how FriendFeed is becoming more than just an aggregation service. Conversations can exist solely within FriendFeed about items that were originally posted on other social sites. So one thing to keep in mind is that if you post an item on a site, like YouTube, and people comment on it on FriendFeed, you will not see the comment on the originating YouTube page; only your FriendFeed followers will see it.

Chime in. You can even post back to Twitter.

The exception to this is for Twitter posts. Comments you put into FriendFeed about Twitter items can be reflected back to Twitter as replies to the originating item. You need a Twitter user ID to use this feature.

Commenting on an item will pop it to the top of the item list for the people who follow you or the author. "Liking" an item does not pop it to the top of the FriendFeed list like a comment does.

Step 5. FriendFeed beyond the browser
When you're new to FriendFeed, the best way to use it is via its Web interface. A lot of information comes through the service and the full-screen view makes reading it easier. There are also desktop widgets that read FriendFeed data, and they can be useful for monitoring the activity of your networks.

Desktop clients like Twhirl help you monitor your feeds.

The two big desktop clients are AIR apps: Twhirl and Alert Thingy. Both also serve as Twitter clients. Twhirl is better, but it's far from perfect. Like FriendFeed itself, Twhirl is frequently updated.

You can also get FriendFeed information in a browser sidebar, using the MySocial 24x7 add-on for Firefox. One cool feature: It lets you filter the feed by data source (Twitter, blogs, YouTube, etc.).

If you want to read FriendFeed on a mobile device, try FF To Go, which strips down the FriendFeed page to its bare essentials.

6. Dealing with FriendFeed overload
FriendFeed is a firehose of social interaction. To manage the flood, subscribe to friends judiciously and unsubscribe prolifically. There's no way to unsubscribe from someone from the content window (a shame), but you can see your list of followees from the "my subscriptions" page under "friend settings," and remove people from your list easily.

The MySocial 24x7 reader's filter function helps you home in on feed types you're interested in.

Finally, FriendFeed is due to launch a "summary" feature shortly. It should help cut down on the clutter.

Further reading:
FriendFeed's goal: More than just a feed aggregator (video interview of co-founder Bret Taylor)
FriendFeed solves privacy issues for casual users with private rooms