Since I seem to be at least partially-responsible for a burst of new users at Cliqset, I thought I’d clarify my own ideas about our future use of so-called “lifestream” applications.
In my opinion, FriendFeed is by far the best approach that I’ve seen, so far, to creating discussions and communities around items of information. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to survive much longer. Yes, its creators tell us that their intention is to keep it running “indefinitely”, but the cracks are beginning to show. Search no longer works, feeds do not import reliably, outages are becoming more frequent and lasting longer.
It’s natural, then, to ask if anything similar exists. Search Google for “lifestream application” and you’ll find many alternatives. Most of them are either long dead or no longer maintained. Of those that are running, few if any match up to the features and simplicity of FriendFeed.
Cliqset, I think, comes close to being a FriendFeed replacement – but not close enough. There are many similarities – it aggregates feeds from many services, allows the creation of groups and lists, is somewhat real-time and provides discussion through comments, likes and (confusingly), “replies”. However, there are differences and issues too. It’s often slow to render – nowhere near as fast as FriendFeed. Items do not “bubble up” with new activity. It looks ugly (OK, that one is my personal reaction). It seems to want to be all things to all users, by acting as a client for some services as well as an aggregator. Personally, I’m confused when I see a front page consisting of my Twitter stream, as opposed to only tweets from those Cliqset users that I follow.
What, then is the best course of action? There are 4 potential scenarios:
- Stick with FriendFeed until it is closed down
- Create and host a “FriendFeed clone”
- Move to a similar service
- Wait for existing services to incorporate FriendFeed’s best features
This is my preferred option. Ideally, we’d like to know a closure date well in advance and be given the opportunity to retrieve our data. Whether either of those occur is anyone’s guess.
In my opinion, running and hosting a web application is best left to the professionals. There’s little to be gained from running FriendFeed on a rusting 486 in the corner of someone’s lab. Re-branding as “for scientists” is a sure-fire recipe for failure as well.
It’s possible and it’s possible that the service will be Cliqset, or a new contender. It will have to be a very good, stable service and will require an organised, concerted move of entire communities.
It’s likely that other services will begin to incorporate the features of FriendFeed. The main beneficiary looks to be Facebook, since that’s where FriendFeed’s employees now work. Like many other people, I don’t view Facebook as an appropriate venue for work-based discussions; like some, I don’t really like it much for anything else.
Google Buzz is another possibility. It’s unfortunate that Google botched the roll-out, creating serious trust issues. It’s also unfortunate that it’s a Google product – they seem unable to do social applications very well and have a history of releasing sub-standard, unpolished products, hoping for uptake and then axing them when everyone else points out that they’re rubbish. On the other hand, it comes with a handy user base (most people with whom I interact use Google services to some extent). We’ll see if it improves, or (as I suspect) goes the way of Wave.
In summary, my current strategy is: stick with FriendFeed, backup (but don’t converse) at Cliqset and hope (in vain, probably) for improvements in Buzz.