Alister Cameron // Blogologist

Changing the world. One blog(ger) at a time.

Can FriendFeed save us from Conversation Fragmentation?

Refill the coffee, Thelma. This post is long and impassioned. It might even be worth a read 🙂

I’ve been impressed enough with Disqus to give it a go. I’m ok with it, but it’s not there yet. I have realised that my frustrations with its failure to import old comment threads from WordPress are warranted, but I can see the utter nightmare it would be to try and write and import to do that.

Meanwhile, my attention has been drawn to Plurk, Friendfeed and some of these new lifestreaming aggregator thingies. I can see how they’ve managed to identify a weakness in Twitter and Pownce, and corrected it with the introduction of, effectively, threaded comments.

FriendFeed, for example, allows you to aggregate pretty much all your “lifestreaming” activity into one place, and all your other FriendFeed buddies can then come along and add their comments to your entries.

Now, this actually ends up being a “dog’s breakfast”… what I call Conversation Fragmentation. Here’s what I mean by that — for the benefit of those among my dear readers who haven’t yet experienced the “fragmentation effect”…

Photo of Robert Scoble, cropped from original.This is Robert Scoble’s FriendFeed page. On this page he aggregates his activities from around the web:

If you’re wondering, I picked Scoble because he is so well followed, and if things are going to look messy for you and me they’re going to look like Hiroshima for him.

Anyway, I dare you to go over to his page, and try to work out what’s going on. For a start, you have multiple entries from Robert, followed by what appear to be threaded comments from other people. Those comments are largely from people seeing his new entries coming in on FriendFeed, and commenting there (adding a “like” or a full comments, as they please).

But what you don’t see are the comments other people left on the other commenting systems that are part of those other places where he originally posted. So to be more clear: Robert can post on his blog. You can read that blog and comment on there. That comment won’t appear in his FriendFeed, unless he adds his blog comment RSS into FriendFeed (which he hasn’t), and even if he does that, the threading won’t be right.

If you see his blog post but come back to FriendFeed to leave your comment, that won’t appear on his blog… unless he has a WordPress plugin that brings the FriendFeed comments over for people on his blog to see, which he hasn’t. Sure, he has the FriendFeed stream thing on the right of his blog pages, but that’s not the same thing.

Confused yet?

Lets drill deeper. My Ritalin is still hammering my head, so I’m up for it!

Check out his latest post of 22 hours ago. How many comments? At this moment I see 14 comments on his blog, and 13 on FriendFeed. And they’re different comments… from different people.

Oh wait, Andrew Feinberg commented on the blog and then a bunch of times on the FriendFeed page. He’s a busy person.

Robert has to deal with this issue of two different conversations going on, and it’s not necessarily easy or pretty:

UPDATE: Andrew linked to more video and other posts on this story on FriendFeed.

That’s an added comment to the bottom of Robert’s blog, alerting his readers there that they need to go to his FriendFeed page to get links to other places of interest. For whatever reason, Robert didn’t link directly to the stuff he wanted people to see, but made them go to FriendFeed first. The FriendFeed people must love all this!

So Why Am I Crapping On Like This?

Well, I know Scoble is ahead of us all on this matter of “online noise generation”, but I think his issues illustrate for us where things are going with the technology itself. I think there is a HUGE opportunity for someone to work out how to cut down the redundancy and what I’ve called Conversation Fragmentation.

I mean, this is really getting silly… there are more and more systems out there wanting you to “update your status” (and I now use ping.fm to try and make that easy for me, yay). Then there are microblogging services for the next level up in communication — less soundbitey but still quick and dirty. Think Tumblr and Swurl (oooh, pretty!). Then there are places where you collect stuff that let people comment about your stuff and tell others that you just collected more stuff. Think Flickr and bookmarking services like Google Reader and del.icio.us.

Then there are blogs. Good old blogs. I like blogs. You are reading a blog… in case you just weren’t sure any more.

Who Will Save Us From This Mess?

Somethin’s gotta give, folks.

It’s just too hard to keep up with people any more. Now funny we should feel that way, because that happens to be exactly the reason why former Googlers over at FriendFeed got that whole thing going in the first place! They want to help you and me keep up with what everyone else is doing and they want to make it easy for you to have just one place to gather all your activity together — it’s called lifestreaming, as we’ve mentioned.

Now, here’s where I think there’s a killer app lurking in the shadows…

I liked Disqus because it showed the promise of a system that could do comments better than I could do on my own blog, especially in terms of my comments becoming a way of getting more (and more genuinely qualified) traffic to my blog. And I’m not writing Disqus off — or other competitors to it — but I think it’s all about critical mass.

And FriendFeed have critical mass. No doubt about it.

So here’s the thing. If anyone can centralize commenting, I think they can do it. Or at least I think they’re best positioned to give it a go. Yes, they’d have to do it really well and they’d have to give me the richness of the “plugin architecture” I get with WordPress, allowing me to do cool hacky/friendly stuff.

Surely they can sniff the opportunity! I mean, think about it… cornering the market on this thing called “comments”. Comments are all over the place, man! Imagine doing comments — or conversations, what they really are — so well that top bloggers and netizens would prefer to hand that feature over to your service than to continue doing it themselves.

Imagine if the majority of bloggers out there set their systems up to use that system instead of the “native” option?!

Well, wait for it… that’s kinda sorta happening now. It’s kinda sorta what FriendFeed is doing. In this case not technologically but socially, which is intriguing. People — you know, those critters that like to “converse” a lot and generate petabytes of Twitter traffic — are taking their talk over to FriendFeed even when there is a more “native” alternative.

And where the social pressure is there to get people to change their habits (wow!) the technology will soon follow.

My Prediction

I’m prepared to go out there and say that FriendFeed may be the next Facebook (as a gotta-love-it web success story, anyway). It may well become the “default” option for conversation and it may be the cure to Conversation Fragmentation. I say this because despite a lack of strong technological solutions, they’ve nonetheless made amazing advances on the social side: they’ve got you and me looking at FriendFeed because our friends are going over there really quickly. En masse!

So I predict that FriendFeed — barring catastrophes or Acts Of God — may well, in a relatively short time, find themselves in a position to engineer a technological solution to the centralization of commenting that the likes of Disqus could only ever dream of.

And if you’re wondering about where this is all coming from for me, I have just been pissed off with commenting for a long time. It’s the runt of the Web 2.0 litter. It just doesn’t work well.

So if the “social” aspect of reaching critical mass is well on target, then what of the technology? Well, put it this way. If enough people decide that a given platform or “approach” — in this case FriendFeed — does a good and proper job of centralizing conversations, they will force the issue. Closed systems that refuse to “yield” may see attrition. I’m wondering out loud if the day would ever come when Blogger users could elect to have their commenting system switched over to another one…! Similarly, I’m wondering what it would take to get the Facebook boys to play fair with other systems which threaten to “take the conversation somewhere else”.

But one thing I hope the FriendFeed people really really “get”: they’re not in the aggregation business. They’re in the conversation business. And although it looks like a dog’s breakfast now, I believe they can take advantage of their approaching critical mass to steer us towards a better way of keeping up with each other, of sharing our “stuff” and of sharing deframented conversations.

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9 Comments

Note: Commenter website links are not no-followed, in case
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  1. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    I have a small project that Im contemplating on that has to do with this. Basically it’s what you have said here. Conversations in blogs are niche and often burried over time, conversations in forums are broad and stickys dont do justice, and then of course there is all the aggregator services that spread stuff too thin.

    We have wikipedia for mostly objective content, we need a ConverPedia for subjective content…conversational stuff of course with the ability to set parent and child relationships so it’s one huge circular conversation about anything and everything allowing the user to stay at the surface level or dive deep when needed.

  2. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    I thought I would reply to my comment since I made a typo in my email address and want to know when/if someone replies, and of course to prove my point lol.

  3. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    Good article Alister, only thing I would add is a little shout out about our own product http:/fav.or.it – we have been building a platform that is bringing the conversation back to the blog. We are the only site who currently supports aggregation of comments + pushing of comments back to the blog. We also integrate with 12 other services where we can interact with those services (twitter, friendfeed, pownce, etc.) I would be interested in your feedback.

  4. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, those are legitimate concerns. The debate over distributed conversations has been well discussed — I think it’s a good thing. Here’s why: http://bit.ly/396tjV

  5. Posted 9 years, 5 months ago // Permalink

    @Shey – thanks! That was a really helpful link. I was expecting to be told I’m behind on this issue…!

    @Nick – I like it. I’ve signed up! Thanks for the plug 😉

  6. Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    To be able to aggregate pretty much all my activity into one place is indeed nice. I feel like I’m making another life just to maintain all the information. Anyway, it’s a very nice review. I’m highlighting that FriendFeed is not in the aggregation business. They’re in the conversation business.

  7. Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, I found you on Frienderati.alltop.com, – as one of the 100 Best People for Friendfeed!, – and thought you may also be interested to appear on my Frienderati.Mini-News.com

    Please note it’s NOT a copycat of AllTop:
    The idea behind it is *Absolutely Unique*
    — The Ads-FREE Web!

    Please also note that unlike AllTop, you need to apply for your space on Mini-News. It’s FREE, however, there is a “25 people only” limit for the Frienderati.Mini-News.com!

    The space is allocated on the “First-applied First-granted” basis!
    And YOU are among the FIRST people to whom I’m telling about it!!!

  8. Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Cocktail party is the metahor I like for the blogosphere. You never worry about “keeping up with everyone” at a party. Eventually you’ll just bump into them and reconnect.

    I’m creating a conversation on http://www.capitalistcredo.com about the Capitalist Bill of Rights. Just another part of the party.

  9. Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Wow, my stomach is turning just thinking about it.

    I agree that friendfeed has great potential but they too will have to find a way to defragment commenting. At the moment they are one of the offenders, if I have that correctly. Meaning, they allow commenting on content being pulled into friendfeed which very well may be the same content I am commenting on right here. That’s based off your example of Scobble. So friendfeed has some work to do on this front. They either need to pull in the comments along with the original content or they need to be able to push comments left at friendfeed to the content originator.

    The one thing I really like about socialthing is they not only aggregate your content but your friends content. For instance, I tell socialthing my flickr info right? It doesn’t just show me photos I’ve posted but it just *knows* my friends and shows thumbnail of photos they’ve posted. WHEW! That means I don’t have to YET AGAIN go to yet another social website and refriend all of these people (which friendfeed requires).

    That’s another thing I would like to see change with friendfeed. Enough friending already. When you collect my tweets, know who my friends are on twitter and collect their tweets too. Don’t make me pump all of my social sites and rss feeds into friendfeed and then go around and try to relocate all of my friends (on friendfeed) that I’ve already friended on many of these social sites. Talk about fragmentation! ENOUGH ALREADY! 🙂 Profilactic does the same thing. Incredibly annoying and borderline not useful. Social thing has been my go-to aggregator for this reason: I tell socialthing my social sites, the credentials for said social sites and not only does it pull in my stream but my friends as well. Simple no-brainer!

    Concerning disqus I tried it, really liked it a lot, and moved away from it recently. There are features that I consider a must have and importing old comments is one of them. Until I see this, among other, features I can’t consider them a major player. Again with the fragmentation, do you expect us to have half of our comments burried in our CMS and the other half buried in disqus? Didn’t work for me and I stuck it out for quite a few months. Not saying I will never go back but I am saying that having my comments fragmented like that got real annoying real fast.
    Anyway hey, GREAT entry, thanks for letting me ramble I feel better already!

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