Facebook and the Quest for Social Media Domination

The Data Portability blog reports that the recent Power.com lawsuit accuses Facebook of being a monopoly,

“Facebook’s conduct constitutes monopolization (or attempted monopolization, ed.) of the market for social networking website services…”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been tracking the recent moves by Facebook to control and exploit user data and addition of Twitter and FriendFeed-like features. It wants to be your one and only social destination where you can tweet, blog, share, and heck, even search for content. Regardless of whether you think Facebook + FriendFeed news is all hype or if you’re truly concerned about the future of FriendFeed – one dangerous trend that’s undeniable in this saga, is this move towards consolidation in the social media space.  

For those who argue that it’s all about survival of the fittest, this acquisition is anything but that. Acquisitions of strong startups like FriendFeed stack the odds in favor of the weakest species that no one wants to buy and yet, they continue to exist, even if for no other reason, than to fill the void left by the strongest of the pack. One can hope that a strong startup is replaced by another stronger alternative, but if that startup too gets acquired before reaching critical mass, where does that leave the users?

I think it’s fantastic that talent is recognized and well-deserving entrepreneurs get their turn at the big pay-off. But there’s a real danger that if these acquisition sprees continue unchecked, it will dramatically reduce the choices for users, who are the real losers in this deal. When strong startups are bought out, all that the users are left with are mediocre me-too sites that don’t add any value or goliaths that have too much control over their online data.

The debate around FriendFeed acquisition is much more than just rooting for the underdog and all that fluff. What many are glossing over is the underlying truth, which is – by taking over FriendFeed, Facebook  has just about eliminated the only real competition that the uber-site has today in the social networking space.  

FriendFeed is much more than just a social network. It offers social conten aggregation, social media client, micro-blogging, real-time threaded conversations, and much more, all rolled up into one. Despite the steep learning curve, it trumps other social networks (including Facebook) in richness of features and robustness of the system.

In a short amount of time, it’s gone from a social aggregator on steroids to a feature-rich platform that even the popular sites are copying. By buying FriendFeed at this critical stage in its lifecycle, Facebook no longer has to worry if this site will take off and threaten its dominance in the near future.

Wouldn’t be least bit surprising if FriendFeed is shut down within a year, if not sooner, after Facebook’s ripped off every possible feature and integrated it into the mother-ship.

And why wouldn’t Facebook keep this wonderful community alive, you ask?  Oh yeah…I am sure Facebook would love to retain that passionate and vocal base of users who love FriendFeed precisely because it’s NOT Facebook.

Facebook is hardly the only one who’s been accused of vying for world domination. Google and Microsoft both have had their share of bad PR for trying to monopolize the marketplace. And even if Facebook shut down FriendFeed tomorrow, what’s the big deal? It’s just about million users, a mere drop in the ocean compared to Facebook and Twitter.

As a user, do you really care if there’s just one uber-social network? Should you care? I am sure many of us just love the idea of having just one search engine or just one “great” operating system or how about just one ”perfect” flavor of icecream?! Who needs so many choices, anyway?! Really…

Will Friendfeed move to mainstream?

A great deal has been written about Friendfeed and its phenomenal growth. This popular social site enables sharing of items across various social sites with others and also allows comment on items shared by friends. However, the ability to post direct to FF is limited.  Here’s the typical flow of information to FF, which as you will see is mostly from direct blog posts and other news aggregators.

Maybe this is a concious choice by FF to be a super-aggregator of feeds rather than a social bookmarking or sharing site. In which case, ability to share or post directly to the site is not as critical.

The Friendfeed blog recently described their favorite new application - Mail2FF, a new Friendfeed application that lets you send pictures directly to Friendfeed through email.

Since we launched our API, avid FriendFeed users and developers have built all sorts of cool applications. One of our favorites is Mail2FF, which lets you easily post pictures to FriendFeed via email. Built by Gary Burd, it lets you post messages directly to FriendFeed using a special email address that consists of your FriendFeed nickname and your FriendFeed Remote Key.

I think it’s a great idea and what I would also like to see is direct posting of news to FF from some of the mainstream media sites. 

NY Times CNN ABC News

The mainstream adoption of social aggregators is highly debatable and to say the social landscape is fragmented would be an understatement. I think becoming a super-aggregator of all content from all social sites is a brilliant strategy but I think FF could further increase its share of the social media pie by enabling direct sharing of content to its site.

Blogging metrics gone wild

There’s yet another Top (insert some blogging metric here) list out this week and this time it’s Techcrunch with its Top 100 tech bloggers list based on headlines in Techmeme, which Mathew Ingram has described as ‘trolling for links’ on a slow weekend. There are plenty of other top blogs lists out there and everyone has their own metrics on how to measure a blog and/or blogger’s popularity.

Some like Alexa use the same metrics to measure social media like page views and traffic rankings, which are used to measure the popularity of static websites. Rating Burner relies on number of RSS subscribers to compile its list of popular blogs, which isn’t all that different from traditional media, which uses viewership or circulation numbers to measure a network’s or print media popularity.

Technorati has its own set of metrics – ‘authority’ and ‘ranking’. Technorati Authority refers to the number of blogs linking to your website in the last six months, while Ranking is based on how far your blog is from the top. I think Technorati’s methodology stays true to the spirit of ‘fractured conversations’, which in essence is what blogging is all about.

The recent discussion on the loss of control (and revenue) to content creators, highlights the critical often-overlooked question which is – how can bloggers monetize their content across the gazillion new social aggegators that are cropping up everyday, especially ones like Friendfeed?  If blogging is all about ‘conversations’ and engaging the audience, how can a blogger track (and monetize) those ‘conversations’ when they are happening unbeknown to the blogger on a different platform?

This where I think the popularity metrics propogated by social media tools are sorely lacking. It’s still unclear how valuable are Stumbles or Diggs to a blogger’s revenue-generating potential. I mean, what impact do ‘Like’ or comments through Friendfeed have on a professional blogger’s ability to attract advertisers? There’s no easy aggregation of social ‘popularity’ metrics and that’s a huge gaping hole that the social sites and feed aggregators need to fix.

Blogging and social media in general, needs its own set of metrics and new social media tools should provide analytic support to capture those metrics within and across various platforms. I don’t think mega-blog sites like Techcrunch or GigaOM (which are eerily similar to traditional news media) have any cause to worry but the smaller professional bloggers could benefit from some much-needed changes. Especially, if the conversations they spark around the Internet are a true measure of their influence in the blogosphere.

Blogging – It's about the conversations everywhere, stupid.

There’s an interesting debate going on in the blogosphere and at the center is Shyftr, yet another content aggregator. (I think my next post should be on ‘How many content aggregators do we really need?’)

Tony Hung’s railing against ‘content scrapers’ and Robert Scoble’s proclaiming that "Era of blogger’s control is over’. There are two issues here, one is about content plagiarism that Tony is most concerned about ,

However, in my mind, when a service cannot exist *without* republishing others content in its entirety, and directly profits from that republishing without the original consent of the author, there’s something that isn’t right.

I see Tony’s point, but bloggers can limit or block their feeds from being published in their entirety, thereby forcing folks to come to their blogs for the whole content. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I don’t condone plagiarism, but isn’t this is the same argument that traditional news media used when blogging was in its infancy? As I recall, there was a huge hue and cry about how bloggers were taking content from the news media and reposting with some comments on their own blogs, thereby driving traffic away from the traditional news media sites and to their own blog. Ironic, that bloggers have now started complaining about others ‘stealing’ their content.

The second and much bigger issue is around ‘fractured conversations’ that have proliferated due to feed readers like Friendfeed that allow comments. Louis Gray says,

The Web as a whole has clamored for full RSS feeds, not partial, so we don’t have to return to the originating site. Some of us have just as loudly asked for comments and conversations to enter the world of the RSS feed reader. Now that we’re starting to see what it’s like, maybe it’s not what we had fully anticipated.

That’s a great point, Louis. I can’t help but wonder if bloggers ever had control over the conversations in the first place?! Blogging has always been about distributed content (and conversation). The reason blogging took off the way it did, was because discussions were no longer monopolized by a few individuals/media networks. Some Joe Schmoe in Idaho could start a conversation around organic potatoes and get a gazillion people participating in that conversation. That’s true democratization of content and communication, thanks to the Internet and social media, blogging included.

I really liked Alexander van Elsa’s thoughts on this,

Conversation takes place everywhere. On the web, at home, in a restaurant, with family, friends, work, you name it. There is no controlling that, but we shouldn’t want to either.

To be honest. If a blog post of mine leads to discussion anywhere on the web I would be very satisfied with it. I’m not in it for the traffic, the amount of readers, the number of pageviews. I blog because I believe that I might be able to give something to the people that want to take the time to read my stuff. …It tells me that the things I have written could perhaps inspire others to do something with it, completing and starting new circles.

Say, you’re at a cocktail party and you start a conversation with one person. If it’s an interesting conversation, more folks will join in and the conversation will happen around you, with you. But if you (your conversation) aren’t engaging, folks may very well take that discussion elsewhere. I think the same theory applies to blogs, if you aren’t engaging the reader, they will move on and take their conversation with them. It doesn’t matter if you were the ‘original’ initiator of that conversation or just a passerby.

Here’s the thing, if someone picks up my feed through Friendfeed, and starts a conversation around it, I am okay with it. But you can’t force conversation and you can’t control where conversations happen, that’s true offline and that’s even more true online, where it is becoming easier to ‘move’ conversations.

That being said, would I love to have some type of ‘comment aggregator’ to help me track my ‘popularity’? You betcha. For folks who blog for a living, the lack of trackability (and measurement) is a real issue and needs to be resolved. I think that the social media tools like feed readers have evolved so fast that the players/bloggers haven’t been able to keep up. Now we are scrambling to control the conversation, instead of enhancing the tools that caused this ‘fracturization’ of conversation in the first place.

Last year, Washington Post reported on how RIAA was suing music fans. I saw many commonalities between that debate and this current one. Here’s an interesting insight,

As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don’t usually kill off old media: That’s the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.

I think blogging is slowly turning into the ‘old media’ and the same advice holds true. I don’t think the question is about ‘picking sides’ as Scoble would have us do, it’s more about the fact that the Internet is constantly evolving and blogging, bloggers, and blogging metrics also need to evolve. It’s Darwinism, pure and simple, you can’t stop change, the only choice we have is to adapt.

Friendfeed, the next big thing?

This has been a week of new discoveries, first it was Flock, and this morning, as I was looking at my feed stats, I noticed traffic coming through Friendfeed. Started by some ex-Googlers, Friendfeed has taken the blogosphere by storm over the last month. Everyone’s talking about it – Louis Gray, SHEGEEKS, TechCrunch and many others have blogged about Friendfeed in the last month.

So, the curious ‘twit’ that I am, I signed up for it. It looks like a feed aggregrator, acts like a feed aggregator, so it’s definitely a feed aggregator. (Check out Steve Rubel’s post on how the ‘Imaginary Friends’ feature can be used as a master aggregator). But it’s not just an aggregator of blog feeds, Friendfeed lets you follow your friends/favorite bloggers around the net, so you get feeds of their posts on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and any other application that Friendfeed supports.

I like Friendfeed but it can get very overwhelming very fast, especially if you’re following someone like Robert Scoble who is reknowned for his incessant twittering. Over all, it’s a neat tool to keep all your feeds organized, but whether it will help reduce the insanity of over-abundance of social sites (that I’ve ranted about in the past) or add to that madness, remains to be seen.

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