FriendFeed: aggregation vs. fragmentation

I hesitate to jump back into the whole FriendFeed debate, given the unpleasantness on the weekend involving Duncan Riley and Louis Gray, but FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit wrote something about the purpose of the social aggregation service that I thought was worth commenting on. I think he has put his finger on an important reason why some people don’t like FriendFeed, or at least don’t like it as much as other “life-streaming” aggregators such as or

In a nutshell, what Muhammad Saleem and others have criticized about FriendFeed is the fact that when someone “likes” or comments on an item that streams into their feed from you — whether it’s a Twitter post or a Flickr photo or a StumbleUpon link — the comment and the fact that you like it only appear on the FriendFeed site, not on whatever place the content originated from. In other words, FriendFeed is more like another social network rather than a simple aggregator. That seems to be a deal breaker for many people — although others see it as a benefit.

In his post, Paul uses the analogy of going to a movie and then wanting to discuss it afterwards. Do you want to talk about it with strangers? Your family? Your friends? Other film fans? The point behind FriendFeed, he says, is to have a group of friends — and friends of friends — who you can share items with and share comments with, rather than doing it through a wide-open site. In other words, unified aggregation of everything isn’t always good. I think that’s a fair point.

Is embedding better than quoting?

Anil Dash of Six Apart has an interesting post up in which he proposes that instead of simply linking to or quoting from blog posts, bloggers could actually embed a segment of the post they are citing — in much the same way that people embed YouTube videos etc. by inserting some Javascript. I’ve included an excerpt of the post here as an experiment, in part because I’m wondering whether this idea (which I found via a Twitter post from Steve Rubel) makes any sense or not.

Like Anil, part of me finds this kind of thing appealing — but is it just the geek part of me? It’s elegant in a way, but I wonder whether it’s more trouble than is really necessary (Piers Fawkes at PSFK has written about it as well, and Anil has commented on that post). After all, I can quote from Anil’s post by simply cutting and pasting text, like this:

I want you to place the text of this blog post on your own site. But I don’t want you to do it just by copying and pasting it into your own blogging tool. I think there might be a different way to do it.

What benefits does using Anil’s method have? It includes a link to the comments on the post, which is nice (although it could get unwieldy if there were too many), but I’m not sure it’s a killer feature. And it has a nice colored border, of course. I experimented with as a way of doing something similar — since it allows you to clip and save a blog or web-page excerpt and then paste it into your blog automatically — but in the end it seemed too cumbersome.

Trent Reznor’s Radiohead smackdown

Musicians dissing each other is nothing new — but it’s usually over their choice of wardrobe or girlfriends, rather than their commitment to new digital delivery methods. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor likes to push the envelope, however, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he has been smack-talking about fellow alternative artists Radiohead and their online album experiment, in which they allowed fans to download In Rainbows and pay whatever they wanted (including zero).

In a recent interview (the full version is here), Reznor called the offer “insincere” and said it was a “bait-and-switch” tactic designed primarily as a “marketing gimmick,” since the band offered lower-quality sound files for download and admitted that most of their efforts were spent on the release of a traditional CD through the usual channels. Not Trent — he offered his latest album, Ghosts I-IV, online starting March 3 as a full download at CD quality for $5, with a range of other offers at extra cost, including a super-deluxe version for $300 that came with a CD, a DVD, a vinyl record, custom artwork and Reznor’s autograph.

Reznor has also one-upped Radiohead in another department as well: while the British band has been coy about just how many people paid for their album, and what they ultimately made from the experiment, the Nine Inch Nails singer/songwriter has been telling anyone who will listen what he made from the online release of Ghosts I-IV — which allowed fans to download nine tracks for free, pay $5 for the full 36-track release, pay $10 for a double CD or $75 for a special Blu-Ray DVD edition.

According to Trent, the band made $1.6-million from the experiment — including 2,500 versions of the deluxe $300 package — and fans engaged in more than 781,000 transactions (although individual buyers may have generated more than one transaction). That is almost certainly more than the Nine Inch Nails would have made from a traditional album released through a record label, plus Trent gets to stick it to Radiohead at the same time. And now he’s started a YouTube-based, user-generated video festival based around the album.

In other recent music-related news, R.E.M. will be streaming an online preview of their new album Accelerate through the music-sharing service iLike starting March 24 and continuing until the official release of the album on April 1.

One question on Flickr Video: Why?

So Mike Arrington says in a post over at TechCrunch that Flickr is going to be adding video soon — really. This rumour has been around for awhile, as Mike himself acknowledges, and in fact Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield has been talking about adding video for at least a year. One obvious question is why it has taken so long (likely answer: Yahoo red tape), but a related question is: Why bother?

This could all be part of Yahoo consolidating services, I suppose, and until we see exactly what the company has in mind, I guess it’s unfair to completely pan the idea. But I still don’t see what adding video brings to Flickr. If you’re a die-hard Flickr devotee, maybe you want to have all of your photos and video together on one site. But there are already plenty of sites that will host your video, including a big one named YouTube. What will Flickr be bringing to the party?

Duncan Riley: Lessons in diplomacy

I was going to title this post “Duncan Riley: Lessons in how to be an asshole,” but then I thought that would bring me down to the same level as Duncan, and I really don’t want to do that. I suppose it wouldn’t be a weekend without a Techmeme bitchfest (or what Frederic of The Last Podcast calls a “bitchmeme”), but the one Duncan started is really over the top. Despite the fact that I’m all relaxed from being in Florida for the past two weeks, I feel compelled to comment.

Disagreeing about the value of a Web app is hardly anything new — it happens all the time, and it’s largely a good thing, even if sometimes people get their knickers in a twist over a perceived slight. Differences of opinion can be instructive. But Duncan’s response to Louis Gray’s post about FriendFeed is in a whole different category. If Louis lobbed a hand grenade at Duncan with his post, the TechCrunch writer unleashed what amounts to a fleet of Apache attack helicopters in retaliation.

In fact, Louis lobbed what amounts to a wet squib, by questioning Duncan’s review of FriendFeed with a single phrase: “quasi-analytic.” Duncan then responds by calling Louis a nobody, and calls him a “pious, self-important c*nt.” Not satisfied with that, he goes on to tell his Twitter friends that he “truly held back” because he “only dropped the c word once,” and that Louis is an “uppity, self-important wanker.”

I know that many Aussies pride themselves on their ability to start (and in many cases finish) a scrap with just about anyone, and it could be that using words like c*nt constitute an intellectual argument in Duncan-land — but I think Louis deserves an apology. Either Duncan is so desperate for traffic to his blog that he descended to such depths deliberately, or he’s the kind of person who prefers ad hominem attacks to rational argument. In either case, I think it’s pretty pathetic.

Blogging update: still on hiatus

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I haven’t died or given up blogging. I’m still in Florida, and the sunshine and beaches (combined with a lack of high-speed Internet) have caused a decline in blogging activity. Normal service should be resumed soon.

Lacy and Mark Z: Train wreck or lynch mob?

Not long after the interview with Mark Zuckerberg had wrapped up at South by Southwest, the Twitter messages started flowing, with people I know calling Sarah Lacy’s interview with the Facebook founder “a train wreck” and “the worst interview I’ve ever seen.” Soon there were blog posts about the debacle at CNET and at Wired, and almost all of them said that Lacy just didn’t come across well during the interview — that she was too personal, too flirty, that she told rambling stories instead of asking questions, didn’t ask about the important issues, and so on.

If you dig a little deeper, however, you get the distinct impression that the crowd was unruly at best, and that they may have turned on Lacy as a result of what appears to be a laid-back interviewing style. Some have suggested that she did her best in interviewing a guy who is not just shy (as he has admitted to Scoble, among others), but has also presumably been trained to reveal as little as possible. As one Twitter poster put it: “Sarah Lacy got stuck trying to do a normal interview in front of an audience that was out for blood. And Zuckerberg was over-briefed.”

I’ve done my share of interviews — many of them with CEOs who have been trained within an inch of their lives to stay “on message,” and some of whom are notorious for being difficult, if not impossible to interview — and I can say that reading the descriptions of the interview with Zuckerberg made me cringe a little for Sarah Lacy. Those kinds of things are hard enough to do when it’s just two of you, let alone in front of thousands of people who have their own idea of where the interview should go. If you’re interested, you can find more impressions of the event through Terraminds.

So did Sarah’s style just not jibe with the format, or did she not read the room properly, or was the crowd at SXSW really just out for blood after too many complimentary Austin highballs?


I haven’t watched video of the interview itself yet, but watching an interview that Austin 360 did with Sarah after the event, she seems untroubled by the whole thing, saying there was a small minority “at the back of the room” that got upset, and that in retrospect she didn’t think Zuckerberg was “a good fit” with a conference like SXSW because it was mostly developers who wanted to talk about APIs. She also says that she gets this kind of reaction all the time because she’s one of the few women who report on tech. Mark Evans has a take on how Twitter affected the response to Lacy’s interview.

Newsweek does UGC drive-by

People keep saying that the blogosphere is rife with poorly-researched or ill-considered commentary, but I keep coming across pieces in the traditional media that are just as bad, if not worse. The latest example is a piece from Newsweek about how “user-generated content” is on its way out, and experts are now on the rise — complete with Jason “I work people to death” Calacanis and his Mahalo people-powered directory as one of the starring examples of same.

Among the others mentioned are, which has been around for at least six years (although the piece justifies its inclusion by noting that its traffic has grown), and Google’s Knol, a service that’s still in beta. Strangely, no mention of Citizendium, despite the fact that the piece contains plenty of criticisms of Wikipedia — which apparently finds itself “in frequent dust-ups over inaccuracies.” And the Newsweek story has the requisite scare quotes from supposed experts, including:

“People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information,” says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a “perfect storm of demand for expert information.”

Here’s a handy tip: When someone says that something is “a perfect storm” of something, 99 times out of 100 they are full of crap. And speaking of crap, Andrew “I hate the Internet” Keen says that one of the reasons for the decline of UGC (which is assumed) is that “no one wants to advertise next to crap.” I’m tempted to say that if that were the case, then there would be a lot fewer ads in Newsweek magazine and plenty of other media outlets, but that’s almost too easy. Still — I guess I said it anyway.

The Newsweek piece has plenty of other jewels, including the mind-boggling statement that this new trend of services using experts (which it says could be a “Web 3.0”) comes “during dark days for the ideal of a democratic Web” — a statement that is completely unsupported by any actual evidence, even the anecdotal kind. But probably the worst is when the article refers to a “series of mini-scandals” involving UGC, such as:

Last summer researchers in Palo Alto, Calif., uncovered secret elitism at Wikipedia when they found that 1 percent of the reference site’s users make more than 50 percent of its edits.

Using a phrase like “secret elitism” is a great way to pump something up, but it stretches the meaning of the research the piece is referring to almost to the breaking point. In fact, the study found that while in the beginning a small number of users did most of the work, over time more people have been shouldering the effort. There is still a small group of senior editors — but isn’t that what the Newsweek piece is claiming is the new way to do things anyway? Apparently when Mahalo does it it’s genius, but when Wikipedia does it it’s “secret elitism.”

Digg: Takeover rumours refuse to die

As I think many people probably expected, the Digg takeover rumours have turned out to be totally untrue — or have they? According to Jay Adelson at least, they are completely false. The Digg co-founder says the company is “focused on improving Digg and rolling out great features,” which is pretty much the same thing he said when he was asked the question during Digg’s recent “town hall” Q & A session. But Mike Arrington isn’t backing down — he says his source on the story is very good and he sticks by his report that Digg is talking to either Google or Microsoft or both.

Could Jay be telling the truth and yet still working on a sale of Digg? Sure he could. As Peter Kafka notes at Silicon Alley Insider, the Digg denial didn’t say that the company wasn’t for sale, and it didn’t deny that Google and/or Microsoft were talking to the company — it just said that reports of a bidding war between the two were false. Companies do this all the time: deny that anything is happening, in as vague a way as possible, right up until the thing actually happens. Steve Jobs is a master of this. Remember “People will never watch video on a handheld device?”

So at least for now, the Digg takeover rumours are just as alive as they were before, despite Jay’s denial. Would Google or Microsoft make a better buyer? I’m not sure. It would be interesting to see what Google would do with it — would they integrate it somehow with Google Reader maybe? — but to me that seems like a stretch. I think Microsoft needs the help more when it comes to getting social networks and recommendation engines and so on. And maybe Kevin will one day actually be worth the $60-million that BusinessWeek said he was worth way back when.

Ryerson fails, not Facebook student

Although it’s been at least a couple of decades since I was in university, I can remember how useful it was to get together with other students at the library or in the coffee shop to talk over a problem or an assignment. Using something like instant messaging or Facebook would have been a huge benefit — but now a Ryerson student is being threatened with expulsion for using Facebook in just such a way. This seems like a gigantic mistake to me, and not something I would expect from an institution as supposedly progressive as Ryerson (which happens to be my alma mater).

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests is calling for a blogosphere uprising on Digg and elsewhere to help the student, Chris Avenir, and I would wholeheartedly support that call to arms. If there was evidence that Avenir and the group were somehow cheating, that would be a different — since cheating is clearly wrong, as Michael Geist notes in his post. But so far it looks like Ryerson’s response is completely out of proportion to what the students actually did, which was to exchange tips on homework that only accounted for 10 per cent of their final mark.

Ryerson says that it is not anti-Facebook, and that it has to maintain its academic integrity. I don’t think anyone would argue with those goals — and if the Facebook group was set up for the express purpose of exchanging answers to exam questions, then the university would be well within its rights to take action. As far as I can tell from what’s been reported by the Star and the CBC, however, that’s not what it sounds like. And I think that Ryerson risks losing a lot of goodwill with its students if it bans a social networking site without having a pretty iron-clad case.