Between Flickr, Digg, Twitter, your blog, Facebook, Del.icio.us, and every other web service under the sun you’re a member of, keeping track of all of your online activity—as well as the activity of your friends—is becoming increasingly difficult. But a recently launched, much-hyped webapp called FriendFeed aims to simplify your online life by pulling all of the content you create into one centralized service. Not only does FriendFeed make aggregating your online life a breeze, but it also makes it simple to keep track of what all your friends are up to, whether they use the site or not.
What’s It All About
Before we dive in, some clarification is in order. FriendFeed does two fairly distinct things. First, it allows you to aggregate all of your online activity in one place. Once you do that, you can take your FriendFeed RSS feed, hand it out to all your contacts so they can more easily keep track of what you’re up to, and never use the site for anything else. For the rest of the article, I’ll call this feature your personal FriendFeed or personal feed.
However, FriendFeed also wants you to use its service to keep track of your friends. Yes, your friends could just pass their FriendFeed URLs to you and you could subscribe to those individually in your newsreader of choice, but the site allows you to find friends and subscribe to their FriendFeed within the webapp. Each time you subscribe to a friend in FriendFeed, their activity is added to the Friends tab on the site, all in one continuous stream of activity belonging to all of your friends.
I’m going to cover the personal FriendFeed first, then dive into the rest.
Set Up Your Personal FriendFeed
FriendFeed makes setting up and adding services to your personal feed—the feed that you can hand over to friends or family that they can use to keep track of everything you do online—exceedingly simple. For the most part, pulling your activity from one webapp into your personal feed is simply a matter of providing FriendFeed with your username for the site you’re adding. For those few webapps that don’t work with a simple username, FriendFeed provides you with all the information you need to find the feed URL involved to bring that service into FriendFeed. (Google Reader, for example, requires you to fetch your private Shared Items URL).
FriendFeed features integration with your bookmarks, status, music, wishlists, and pretty much anything you could hope for (that currently adds up to 28 web services, though one can imagine they’ll continue to expand support). All you have to do is go through and add all of your services one at a time, and when you’re done you’ve got your own FriendFeed rolling out all of your online activity in one place. If for some reason you’d like to share something on your FriendFeed and it doesn’t already have a home in one of your other web services, you can easily add anything to your personal FriendFeed by hitting the Share Something link at the top of the page, then add the text and/or link you want to share.
FriendFeed URLs are also extremely simple; for example, you can find my personal feed at http://friendfeed.com/adampash. Once you’ve set up your personal FriendFeed, you can take that URL and pass it around to your friends and family so they don’t need to check 10 different sites to keep up with everything you’re doing online; and, naturally, every FriendFeed comes with a real newsfeed you can pass on so they can subscribe to your personal feed in their newsreader of choice.
Setting up your personal FriendFeed is a breeze, and that’s great, since it’s the feature you’re most likely to use off the bat. But aside from creating an aggregated feed of your own stuff, which is just the jumping off point, FriendFeed wants you to follow all of your friends’ personal feeds within their site.
Follow Your Friends
The real crux of FriendFeed isn’t necessarily that you can use it to aggregate your own online web services (though that’s arguably what’s most attractive about it). FriendFeed wants you to follow your friends with their service, preferably from your FriendFeed homepage. Rather than passing around FriendFeed subscriptions in newsreaders, FriendFeed wants you to do all the subscribing inside their application. Once you subscribe to a friend with FriendFeed (they need to have set up an account like you did above), you can follow everything they’re doing.
Like Twitter, FriendFeed publishes all of this activity in an endless stream with all of your friends’ content interwoven in one seemingly endless river of bookmarks, blog posts, status updates, pics, and videos.
In addition to the main FriendFeed interface, you can grab a private RSS feed of your friends’ aggregated activity, import your FriendFeed to Facebook, add an iGoogle gadget to your Google homepage, or subscribe to a daily email digest of your friends’ activity.
Finally, if you’d love to follow a friend on FriendFeed but they’re just not hip to the whole lifestreaming thing, FriendFeed allows you to create “imaginary” friends by naming this person and then adding services to the imaginary friend in the same way you added services to your account.
Track Where You Generate the Most Content
To help you stay clued in to how you spend your time online, but FriendFeed also offers a stats feature that keeps you abreast of how your content creation rounds out across services. It’s arguably not all that useful, but it is fun, especially for stats-lovers.
Is FriendFeed Worth Its Salt?
There’s been a lot of buzz about FriendFeed ever since it’s private beta, particularly due to the folks behind FriendFeed, many of whom are former Google employees. (Hell, the design of the site even looks like they’re preparing for Google to buy them up whenever they’re ready.) So if you’ve given FriendFeed a try (or if you do after reading this), we want to know:
Between the two somewhat distinct features FriendFeed offers (personal feed aggregation and friend-following), the personal feed seems much more useful. After playing with FriendFeed for a while and adding a few friends, I’m not sure I could ever keep up with the overflow of information that includes everything I’m doing along with every single thing my friends are doing online—especially not in one endless, unified stream.
If you really don’t like FriendFeed but you’d still like to aggregate your online life, you can still create your master feed with Yahoo Pipes.
Love it or lump it, let’s hear your thoughts on FriendFeed in more detail in the comments.