I followed a reasonably heated Friend Feed debate-thread some days ago. It was initiated by someone complaining about Twitter ‘crap’ appearing in the Friend Feed Home feed and supposedly diverting or undermining ‘meaningful’ threaded conversation; it was clearly a gate-keeper post by someone who felt Friend Feed’s real strength was being diluted by these disembodied 140-character cross-posts from Twitter, many of which are (let’s face it) if not crap, then often meaningless or tiresome. That particular thread kept popping back up into the lead position on the Home feed over the course of the conversation, proving the point about Friend Feed’s ability to thread and keep commentary real-time.
Now anyone who tells anyone else on a social network how to use a particular tool is going to get some strongly opinionated comment, some of it useful, some inflammatory or defensive, and this is just what happened. The conversation petered out eventually, but it provided food for thought. On reflection I’m sure part of the problem is that many users – including myself – had not taken the time after signing up for the service to learn how to use Friend Feed to their advantage. Having created a Friend Feed account with a link to their Twitter account and other social network apps, they continue to work in Twitter. What happens then is that their stream of tweets or Face Book status updates also appear in Friend Feed in an apparently random stream of so-called junk. I know I’ve had more than a few cross-posting bloopers between various social networking sites in the past, and was concerned that my own random use might not be contributing to the problem. I decided to experiment in the use of both apps, and it began by getting to know Friend Feed a little better.
I’ve written in the second post in this series on how I went about this. I’d suggest that if you already have an account, or are considering getting one, that you spend some time in the Friend Feed tools page and decide what you want from this application. If Twitter works for you, then stay in that stream; don’t dissipate your energies by signing up for another app that isn’t going to add anything to your social networking needs. You might even consider deleting your Friend Feed account, or at the very least, unchecking the cross-post from Twitter. There’s a good reason for this apart from the spammy-ness of dozens of your tweets flowing through Friend Feed while you’re not there. Jesse Newhart posted a thoughtful video last week that asked ‘Are You a Social Media Hologram?’ It’s worth a look in the context of how you operate as a presence in the social network neighbourhood.
I preceded my experimentation with a search to find out who of my Twitter friends also had Friend Feed accounts. I then bulk subscribed to them all. This is easy to do from the Friend Feed sign up page. I should also say that many of my Friend Feed subscribers are not part of my Twitter clan, although I’m sure they have Twitter accounts; we just didn’t meet at the Twitter party. I decided to begin my experiment by working from within Friend Feed ‘natively’ for one day, and with no cross-posting at all to Twitter. The added benefit here would be that I would avoid some of the less interesting stuff that flows through the stream: the links, the endless quotes, the memes, the hashtag stuff. The upside, I hoped, would be more engaged conversation.
I sent out a message via Twitter first thing on the first morning of my experiment indicating that I was not ‘at home’ in Twitter that day, but over on Friend Feed. I wondered who, if any, would care whether or not they got any of my posts. If they weren’t on Friend Feed they wouldn’t see me at all … unless it were via other social networking services … like an RSS feed that I had linked through to Twitter, or my Flickr or Tumblr uploads. However these were not conversational pieces … though they could well be RTd or commented upon. I responded to every tweet that arrived from a friend but without cross-posting back to Twitter. One or two only used Friend Feed to get back to me; and a threaded conversation began. Meanwhile I engaged as actively as I could with conversations from others in Friend Feed’s Home stream. By and large, the conversation and the experience was satisfying, with threaded conversations and especially images to accompany posts.
Why were most of my comments on tweets ignored? For a few reasons: Twitter friends had not subscribed back to me on Friend Feed – odd this – or they were not using the application that day, or my comment was being ignored. It’s not unknown over on Twitter for an @ (a reply to someone) to be ignored deliberately or otherwise – sometimes the stream is just too fast-flowing and you can miss lots of good stuff (part of the problem of course). I suspect it was for all of these reasons. Anyhow, on Day 1 and working natively from Friend Feed, my tweetage dropped way down, my conversations were more meaningful and diverse, whilst another side-effect was that I received one only new follower instead of the usual 20 or so. Drop below the radar for a while and your followers drop off too!
The losers that day, if losers is the right word, were those others in my active Twitter community who are not Friend Feed users, and with whom I converse regularly. I hoped that my one and only tweet about being over in Friend Feed would explain my absence for 24 hours or so. What I didn’t miss at all were most of the other tweets that flowed right on by. So, the first part of the experiment showed me that not all who are subscribed to Friend Feed actually work there natively, and that apart from contributions from my Twitter-only friends, I got much better bang for my posts over the fence on Friend Feed.
Day 2 and I continued working natively in Friend Feed, but this time I CCd my Friend Feed posts and comments on incoming tweets back to Twitter. This meant my non-Friend Feed contacts were included in the conversation – more chat. However, subsequent tweets from them on the same topic would arrive disconnected from the originating comment in Friend Feed. It was still not perfect, but better. My Discussions page on Friend Feed was ‘cleaner’ and the conversations of the day were easier to track down.
Perhaps the biggest bang of all was finding out who actually was active in conversation with me during these couple of days. Despite having well over one thousand followers, and following 700, I actually engaged actively over those couple of days with far, far fewer. During the experiment I created a group in Seesmic Desktop called ‘NFF’ (Not on Friend Feed), and every time a tweet arrived directly to me, or I had a reply to a comment (originating out of Friend Feed), or got an RT of one of my comments, or was mentioned in another’s tweet, I placed the user in the NFF group. Now I had sifted out those who really engaged with me. Whilst I follow some from whom I never expect to hear, I’m focussing more on those Twitter people I’m gradually adding to the NFF group. I’ll try to encourage them to try Friend Feed; it’s partly what this series of posts is about, but perhaps they are not interested in working out how to use another social networking app. Perhaps Twitter or Face Book is perfectly adequate for them, and that’s fine too.
Meantime, I’m staying in Friend Feed, working sparingly out of Twitter, and gradually wrangling the tools so that I keep up without compromising the quality of my engagement with my networks.