Why Facebook can't afford to shut down our FriendFeed likes

In a move few FriendFeeders anticipated, Facebook bought FriendFeed today. Robert Scoble published an audio interview with one of FriendFeed’s founders discussing the deal.

There’s been lots of stunned reaction on the FriendFeed site, with congratulations for the FriendFeed team mixed with concerns for the future of the FriendFeed service. The press release announcing the acquisition is not reassuring about the site’s future beyond “the time being”.

FriendFeed.com will continue to operate normally for the time being. We’re still figuring out our longer-term plans for the product with the Facebook team. As usual, we will communicate openly about our plans as they develop.

TechCrunch and others are reporting this as a tech team acquisition, a way to get a great team and shut down a competitor. With Paul Buchheit, Bret Taylor and co., Facebook has certainly bought itself a crack engineering team.

Of course, it’s Facebook’s money, so they can do what they want with FriendFeed. But I believe they bought FriendFeed for the strengths of the FriendFeed product.

If I’m right, the teams may well shut FriendFeed down – but only once Facebook is working in more FriendFeed-like ways:

  1. Openness of sharing. Twitter has shown how Facebook’s walled garden hits a wall. Open content drives traffic – from search engines and elsewhere. And traffic drives dollars.
  2. Real-time search. Twitter has a large enough userbase that it knows everything, 140 real-time characters at a time. Its search tech, while not perfect, is good enough to share this knowledge with the world. FriendFeed’s search is better – with more complete results, and a real-time refresh of those results. Think election.twitter.com, but for any query. Feeding Facebook’s dataset into this search tech would be 3-2-1-liftoff.
  3. Beyond mutual friends? This one’s iffy, as it’s so baked in to Facebook. But what about all of those friend requests – why should we have to answer them all? Can’t we let acquaintances just read our stuff?

There are some parts of FriendFeed that I don’t expect to see turn up in Facebook, sadly.

  • Discovery. Whenever a friend on FriendFeed likes or comments on something, the item pops to the top of your feed – whether or not you’re friends with the poster.
  • Email. FriendFeed treated email with respect. If you wanted to get your updates by email, you could, in a way rich enough to replace email listserves. Heck, if you wanted, you could use FriendFeed entirely through email and never visit the site past the first time. If only Facebook let me reply to its emails!

All of this is speculation, of course. Who knows, perhaps FriendFeed will remain as it is, as Facebook’s research arm.

In any case, congratulations to the FriendFeed team, who have built a fantastic service on fantastic technology.