Friendfeed Through a Systems Looking Glass: Feeding the Beast

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The following is a systems approach to the increasingly popular website Friendfeed. Recently, there have been many articles written about this site (I will provide links at the end of this post). I have written what follows through a Media Ecology systems framework with the hopes of “fleshing out” the system known as “Friendfeed.” The inspiration from this piece comes from various writings by Neil Postman.

Where Lies The Purpose

The purposes of Friendfeed are to accumulate and aggregate shared content from different social media websites. In turn, the aggregated content can then be re-shared, commented upon and “liked.” One can find purposes in this such as tracking brand popularity and public opinion, finding other relevant sources that may relate to content that you like or creating a network of information (a “feed”) as deemed relevant by certain “friends” that you subscribe to. Also, there is the purpose of oneself pushing likable or relevant content into the stream.

The Roles

People are assigned the role of “feeder” and “subscriber.” If one achieves a large amount of subscribers, then one’s shared content will potentially reach more people, which then could possibly be fed again back into the system creating a ripple effect of information flow. Subscribing to a large amount of people also results in a dramatic increase in one’s daily information intake depending on the social media activity of the person (or people) whom you are subscribed to.

Assumptions, Keywords and Change

The underlying assumption is that the information that others feed is of importance to themselves, their world, or to those in their knowledge-network. Some keywords that could be assigned to Friendfeed are the following: aggregator, aggregation, social media, lifestream, information-network, media accumulation, sharing and perhaps responsible browsing. The system is changing to the extent that users are starting to post comments about the shared content directly on the Friendfeed stream and not on the particular blog post or shared item’s page. This has upset some bloggers who wish to have their community gather and comment directly on their own blog. Also, it seems that the system will continue to change depending on the social media feeds that are available for feeding. Finally, with the development of various Friendfeed applications, the site is beginning to act as a nexus from which one need not stray too far from. Firefox has already created the “MySocial” Add-on, which neatly integrates Friendfeed into the Firefox Browser.

The effects

The actual effect of Friendfeed on users could be an increased willingness and openness to share content in a public space, the ability to keep track of others through their online activity and even as a search engine function whereby one can search fed content. On a different note, Friendfeed creates a mixing spot where the content that one feeds and “likes” are grouped together under the same feed. Friendfeed works against fragmentation by opening the stream flow of social media, while at the same time creates fragmentation by allowing others to comment on fed material directly through Friendfeed and not through the actual article’s site.

Alternatives and Otherwise

As of writing this post, I am not aware of an alternative to the service that Friendfeed provides and perhaps it is because of this that it has gained so much attention as of late. This leads to the next question: Can we do without Friendfeed? The answer would be “yes, but…” What I mean by this is that due to the fragmention that occurs through the stretching out of oneself via social networking and social media, there is a lot of switching to different websites to keep track of friends and others. Through Friendfeed, one can gather the activity of certain others and monitor activity from a centralized location. Through a Friendfeed application, one can even Tweet through the Friendfeed website itself. While we can do without Friendfeed, it does create an interesting spot from which to perpetuate interesting web media.

This is system is related to other systems of knowing and behaving in a couple ways. First, with the proliferation of social media, there seems to be the desire to “keep in touch” with others, and by keeping in touch I mean, following their web activity. At this point, Friendfeed serves the purpose of being able to stay updated on one’s friends’ social media activity. Also, Friendfeed allows the anonymous tracking of certain others by the creation of an “imaginary” friend, a kind of online social media peeping, in which one can feed the “imaginary friend’s” content. Moreover, this site is a social networking site stripped of its symbolic overload of images and personal self-identification. That is, one’s Friendfeed page is minimal and based solely on streamed content.

Finally, the million dollar Neil Postman question “To what problem is Friendfeed the answer?” It seems that Friendfeed answers the problem of social media fragmentation, information-desire and the interest in anonymous tracking. Also, it acts as a stripped down social networking service constructed solely by one’s and other’s fed content. In this system, the human user is the food that sustains the site, food largely gathered from afar…and shared.

Some articles relating to Friendfeed include, but are not limited to:
Why You Should Use Friendfeed
Ten Friendfeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day
Friendfeed is This Year’s Twitter, But Why?
Friendfeed Applications
Related articles

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2 thoughts on “Friendfeed Through a Systems Looking Glass: Feeding the Beast

  1. kgjames

    Interesting and informative post. I’m new to FFd as of the past week. Liking it so far but do find it overwhelming. I’m also trying SocialThing and Plurk just because I’m curious.

  2. jgrefe Post author

    Thank you for the comment. I haven’t used “SocialThing” or “Plurk,” yet, but will have to check them out.

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