Andrew Keen: Friendfeed is the new social network – but you didn't hear it first

Twitter might be the newest new thing for millions of internet users but, for most of Silicon Valley's geekerati, it is Friendfeed (www.friend feed.com) that remains the hottest social networking application. If Twitter is emerging as the Microsoft of the emerging real-time web, then Friendfeed – which unveiled a major upgrade to its interface last week – is akin to Apple in its ability to muster a noisy following of hardcore evangelists.

Friendfeed is a real-time aggregation service that automatically incorporates updates from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and any other online content published with a RSS feed. More subtle and complex than Twitter, Friendfeed is currently the most ambitious social media application on the internet, particularly in the ways in which it empowers real-time public and private conversation between its subscribers.

What is striking about Friendfeed is the passionate responses it elicits from normally sane people. For me and other mainstream users who crave simplicity from their internet tools, it remains an irritatingly over-engineered application, the internet version of Rubik's Cube. And this may explain why Friendfeed has less than 7 per cent of Twitter subscribers. Yet, for Silicon Valley pundits like Robert Scoble, Leo Laporte and Steve Gillmor, Friendfeed represents the next big thing in social media.

In spite of my own admittedly rather irrational antipathy to Friendfeed, I certainly urge everyone to try it. Whatever one thinks of Friendfeed, it is, without question, a major technological achievement. The most interesting way to try it is to test-drive it alongside Twitter. Like a Rorschach test, your reaction to it is probably an accurate indicator of your attitude to the conversational value of real-time social media.

Given Twitter's popularity with mainstream users, it's hard to imagine that Friendfeed can now compete as a straightforward consumer application. As Techcrunch founder Mike Arrington wrote last week, "Friendfeed is in danger of becoming the coolest app no one uses". But perhaps Friendfeed will emerge as a platform for third-party social media developers who can add useful features such as real-time video or audio. That said, I do think it is unwise to ignore the significance of Friendfeed's hardcore evangelists.

A year or two ago, many people (including myself) were sneering at the value of Twitter. But early adopters persevered with the service and now Twitter is growing by more than 30 per cent a month and, according to the web metrics firm Comscore, had about 10 million unique visitors in February. Maybe it is Scoble, Laporte and Gillmor, and not me, who are right about Friendfeed. I hope so.

Andrew Keen is the author of 'The Cult of the Amateur'

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