Lifestreaming done right… and no, FriendFeed isn’t there yet!

FriendFeed - Create an Imaginary Friend
Actually this is kinda clever… no?

For the longest time, I’ve been a fan of mechanisms that help us record and search various aspects our lives in a seamless fashion. From lifecasting (video) to lifestreaming (conversations, user generated content), I’ve tried everything thrown out there by innovative developers in hopes of finding something that could capture the essence(s) of our human existence.


Why Lifestream?
Upset there there didn’t seem to be a proper way to consolidate our online / offline activities, I eventually wrote a piece last year which summed up my thoughts: “No time to blog? Why you should start your own lifestream…“. It was there that I demonstrated how Jaiku was powerful in being a “twitter + lifestreamer” all in one piecemeal. While Twitter asks “What are you doing now?”, Jaiku does a one up by letting you add your status AND adds trackable actions automatically and sensibly (i.e. lifestream).

Lifestreaming gets legitimized…
Throughout that time, I noted the emergence of Mark Krynsky’s LifeStream Blog, which only added legitimacy to this emerging lifestreaming trend. I had my doubts that lifestreaming as a terminology would ever take off, though the concept had already been incorporated in plenty of things we use, including Facebook’s NewsFeed and Twitter. We discussed whether it was significant enough for a Wikipedia entry, to which Mark explained that the article kept getting deleted for some reason.

Kevin Lim - FriendFeed

My FriendFeed Story
I started experimenting with FriendFeed in Oct last year, where it was just yet another lifestreaming service. Over the course, FriendFeed developers added interesting features to it, primary of which allowed users to see one another’s activities across services they used (e.g. Twitter, Youtube, Blogs), and receiving comments on interesting ones. More recently, they started adding a friend recommendation engine to it, based on the type of activities and content you already shared. You also got a neat stats chart which showed you where you tend to spend the most time on, sort of like looking at an expense report of your monthly spending. It’s nice, but it’s lacking key features other lifestreaming services have. For instance, Jaiku’s lifestream feature already had commenting abilities, is much neater by abstracting repetitive actions (e.g. shows most recent photo out of multiple flickr uploads), and compared to FriendFeed’s barebones widget, Jaiku has long had a killer blog widget to boot (I have it on my right sidebar). Even though I might rant how lacking (ugly) FriendFeed’s implementation is, doesn’t mean that it isn’t enough to gain traction with users… just look at what Youtube and MySpace taught us: Ugly Can Rule!

“Premature” Deal of the Decade
This week, there’s word that FriendFeed has emerged as the reigning champion above other fairly similar lifestreaming services. In my humble opinion, this was a rather premature proclamation. While FriendFeed’s been splashing all over TechMeme, Duncan Riley of TechCrunch dutifully questions why the Twitterverse has gone bonkers over it, while PR blogger Brian Solis shares a plausible deconstruction of how word of mouth soared almost overnight. Fingers were pointed at blogger Louis Grey, who cleverly gave FriendFeed a major boost of credibility by publishing a list of “elite” bloggers who were using FriendFeed.

FriendFeed - EmbedIt’s hard to nicely say “cheap promotional trick”…
Now I don’t know about you, but this isn’t a credible phenomenon in my opinion, since most of us know that most A-list bloggers also happen to be massively early adopters of web services (let alone having access to coveted invites). Mark Evans, a tech journalist, even astutely points out how “A Listers” are Beta Junkies and goes on to explain how this whole process felt rather promotional. Much like the hype Second Life once had, the key is not to simply consider who or how many signed up for a service, but if they stick around long enough to really use it as part of their daily routine. We’ve experienced this trick of the trade long enough, to report numbers ahead of time so that services don’t account for the dead user base (e.g. discontinued blogger.com accounts, Facebook accounts, etc). In the case of FriendFeed, lifestreaming is a fairly automated process, so to truly measure usage, one would have to consider the traffic it gets, but more importantly, the amount of comments (or conversation) circulating from everyone’s lifestreams.

Lifestreaming as Practical Aesthetic
Since lifestreaming focuses on the aggregation around identity (i.e. personality cluster) rather than topic or genre (e.g. similar blogs cluster), the individuals emerges to the forefront. Depending on the intensity of such online personality, there could be a torrent of information which would overwhelm viewers to a point of decreasing informational return. Adding to the fact that the norm of such lifestreaming services would be to track more than one individual, there’s just way too much information to realistically bear (e.g. information overload). Heck, I’ve even given up on my own Tumblr account simply because I experimented with syndicating all my online services to Tumblr to a point where its hard to be considered a viable utility (e.g. it aggregated every last.fm track I listened to). And no, there’s no mass delete button on Tumblr to wipe the postings out to start over (I painfully checked!).

Okay, so what does a decent lifestreaming service need?
Jaiku | Badges The typical scenario of any information based service (e.g. email, web) should apply to lifestreaming as an information source.

1. Search – With so much information flowing from friends you subscribe to, search would be a major boom. FriendFeed currently only let you find friends, but you could use Google to search key terms within FriendFeed by typing site:friendfeed.com iPhone (where “iPhone” is your keyword of choice). Philipp Lenssen has made a FriendFeed Google custom search to make life easier.

2. Filters – Lots of them… filter by indivduals and by service. There’s just so much going on, we need to be able to deconstruct streams into chewable chunks. FriendFeed does offer this, where you can click on a username just to focus on him/her content, or click on a particular service icon in the lifestream to see everyone’s actions within that service (e.g. Twitters only).

3. RSS – FriendFeed does provide RSS feeds for all friends or just your lifestream. That’s neat and totally hackable for plugging it elsewhere, like your blog or NetVibes. However I really wish they came up with a decent customizable blog widget, the current one isn’t customizable (Paul Buchheit has one, and yours is here). By far Jaiku has the sexiest, and it even shares your location data (when it works).

Bottomline
SocialThing: Social Lifestreaming FriendFeed’s current popularity is largely due to the visibility its gotten in the news lately and that you don’t necessarily have to register for an account just to see someone’s lifestream. In the end it really doesn’t matter that users don’t know what lifestreaming is about, other than it’s taking your status messages and automating them based the type of online activities you’re willing to make public. It’s too bad Jaiku isn’t getting the kind of attention FriendFeed has gotten. The pretty but private SocialThing just started but they’ve got an interesting gameplan given that their lifestream approach taps deeper by going into service APIs, digging out your contacts and interactions for you. I’m hoping for the FriendFeed to spend some time on the design elements which make the other lifestream services look great. FriendFeed works, but being the demanding user, right now it’s a love/hate relationship I have with it.

2 thoughts on “Lifestreaming done right… and no, FriendFeed isn’t there yet!

  1. You make some really nice observations. However, one element that you miss as a key distinction between FriendFeed and Jaiku is that one is open to anyone and the other is invite only (Jaiku). It is hard to see widespread adoption when no one can sign up for the service without an invite from someone already on the service.

    FriendFeed was invite only for a little while but it opened it’s doors earlier this year. This is one of the major reasons that FriendFeed has taken off in the LifeStream “market” and it is one of the reasons I have moved to it over Jaiku as my life-streaming feed source.

    Michael Koby’s last blog post..Daily Photo (2008-04-25)

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