After a late 2008 growth spurt, FriendFeed's audience leveled off, according to Compete data, hitting 902,000 unique visitors in January 2009 and attracting 918,000 in July 2009. During the same span in 2009, Compete says Facebook added 54 million U.S. visitors. That growth has led a lot of marketers to ignore FriendFeed, and it's hard to blame them for fishing where the fish are.
Aggregating social identities
It's a shame, though, because FriendFeed is a valuable service, and it will only be more valuable as consumers participate with more social-media properties. On FriendFeed, users can aggregate updates from 58 services including Facebook, Twitter, Digg, SlideShare, Pandora and Amazon. Those users can follow each other across the range of those services to get all of their updates in one place.
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For marketers, aggregating identities is just one part of the value. Some have used it well, such as the Travel Channel, which pulls in updates from six different services, including Delicious, Digg and Mixx. The New York Times has also used it well, reaching nearly 1,600 followers -- but a mere one-thousandth of the reach it has through its main Twitter account.
The bigger part of FriendFeed is its search functionality. A marketer, without even registering on the site, can search every FriendFeed user's updates from the site's home page. It's not a fully representative search, as FriendFeed reaches only a niche audience. But it can be a great way to search users' updates across dozens of services so that the marketer won't wind up searching each network individually. Marketers have a hard enough time remembering to search Twitter, so this is a great way to get a taste of what certain consumers are talking about.
Facebook, meanwhile, has been making it easier for its users to share updates from other sites. It wants to be more of that aggregator, a social portal. It doesn't exactly need FriendFeed to make this happen. What it's doing instead is stressing the importance for consumers and marketers to have a way to share all of their digital and social updates in a single place.
Real-time social search
Hopefully, through the FriendFeed acquisition, Facebook will make it easier to search these updates. It's hard enough to search for anything on Facebook, though the network has indicated that it plans to focus more on that experience. Now imagine if on Facebook you could search what consumers are publicly sharing anywhere; that search functionality would make Twitter Search seem like a kid's plaything.
Steve Rubel, director of insights at Edelman Digital, was an early FriendFeed user and thinks it could change the way consumers search as well. Last summer he wrote about that aspect of FriendFeed in these virtual pages:
"Social contextual search addresses Google's Achilles' heel: superfluous content. When users scour the web, they can't easily separate content they trust (i.e., content that has been created by their friends) from everything else. ... However, if you can just search what your friends think and prioritize it over everything else, you have a very powerful recommendation engine."
Lastly, this acquisition is a reminder for marketers that there's a lot more going on in smaller places on the web. Go to usernamecheck.com to see dozens of such examples. All of these places present opportunities for brands. When there's not a reason for a certain brand to take part, those brands should still seek to secure their trademarks and identities to make it harder for consumers to hijack those brands.
The web's much bigger than Facebook, and Facebook knows that, which is why it wants to incorporate updates from wherever consumers and brands live on the web. Now it all goes back to Facebook, which should grow even more useful for marketers thanks to the acquisition. And if FriendFeed improves as a destination in the process, all the better.
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