This week Facebook opened up its News Feed to third party services, allowing users to add content from outside sites to their Facebook feed. Third parties could already allow their users to do this by creating Facebook Apps. However now users will be able directly import these content streams by inputing their login credentials to Facebook. It’s a good first step, but not enough.
We’ve discussed before the increasing importance that social networks are placing on feeds. In a previous post, we gave Facebook credit for introducing the paradigm with their News Feed.
While Facebook certainly led the adoption of this ‘feed paradigm’ in social networks, in the area of integrating external web services, Facebook clearly has lagged. Startups like Plaxo Pulse, FriendFeed, and Iminta are integrating content streams from other services and Facebook may well be doing this to compete with those offerings.
I think FriendFeed has a slightly unique approach (see the differentiators section of our coverage on FriendFeed & my interview with two of the founders on Read/WriteTalk.) Regardless, the point is that Facebook is clearly playing catch up in this area. Also, it’s worth noting that earlier this week FriendFeed announced that they had closed a $5 million series A round and have officially launched the service (it was previously in closed beta).
Not Enough … Enable Sharing
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that what Facebook is planning will be enough. Until Facebook allows users to take their Mini Feed and News Feed with them to other services, the sharing is all one way (to Facebook) and not compelling relative to these other services. Users should be able to share their Mini Feed and News Feed data back out of Facebook.
Conceptually: Attention Should be Portable
“Modern services like del.icio.us and Flickr recognize the importance and the benefits of being good citizens and letting other services access their information, but among older web players opening up this way is a taboo.”
I find it amazing to say, but Facebook is still behaving like the ‘older web players’ in this area. This is especially remarkable, because Facebook has joined Data Portability Working Group. A group whose purpose is to:
“…put existing data portability technologies, techniques, policies and initiatives in context in order to facilitate translation, education, advocacy and ultimately implementation. Portability is defined as both physically moving data or simply porting the context in which the data is used.”
Ultimately, these feeds are a reflection of my attention and my network’s attention and conceptually I should be able to share this with any other services I choose.
Pragmatically: User Benefits
A few times I’ve heard Dave McClure point out that ‘open isn’t better nor is closed better … better is better.‘ I completely agree with this. Therefore, while I think there is a solid conceptual argument for Facebook to allow users to share their News and Mini Feed, ultimately the best reasons are that both users and Facebook would benefit. Specifically, I see three benefits:
- Display Facebook activities across the web
- Accelerate learning on other web services
- Stay up to date in my feed reader / start page
Display Facebook Activities Across the Web
If Facebook was the only place on the web to interact with content, this wouldn’t be meaningful. However, obviously many of us maintain other digital identities on the web such as blogs, Tumblr pages, and even other social network profiles. On these other sites, it would be great to create dynamic Facebook badges, similar to what I can do with my Twitter Badges.
Facebook would also benefit from this by increased exposure and reminders to visit the site. While they certainly aren’t struggling from a lack of awareness (they’re even featured in the latest iPhone ad), I’m pretty confident that these dynamic widgets would not only be valuable to users but increase engagement with Facebook.
Accelerate Learning in Other Web Services
As data flows more and more freely across the web, it’s interesting to see how other web services are able to leverage interactions. The most common example, is discovering friends on one service and adding them to another service. Facebook even does this by allowing you to discover friends based on people you email with. While finding friends is a great, simple use case, the News Feed and Mini Feed are a reflection of the activities and interests of my friends and me personally. I imagine a whole ecosystem of entirely new and creative services built off interpreting these attention streams, such as product recommendations based on your behavior in Facebook.
Stay Up to Date in My Feed Reader / Start Page
I’m sure this one would be more controversial inside Facebook, but one of the reasons I log into Facebook is to check my News Feed. I would love to be able to subscribe to the News Feed in my Feed Reader so I didn’t have to login exclusively for this purpose.
While this would certainly decrease the number of times I visit Facebook just to check that feed. I actually think it would increase my engagement with Facebook, because the number of meaningful visits I make to the site would increase. My reasoning is that the significant visits are when I see a friend’s action that I’m interested in learning more about. I’d still see these activities and be driven to Facebook to do this investigation.
There is no doubt this would be valuable to me as a user, I actually think it also would be valuable to Facebook as well, since engagement is ultimately what matters as long as their advertising is primarily based on cost-per-action metrics.
One Challenge: Filtering
Creating filters that appropriately share the correct information is obviously going to be an important issue to work through. This is especially true with the News Feed (more than Mini Feed), because it includes other people’s behavior.
The Problem with Current News Feed Filters
I highlight this because I don’t find the current News Feed preferences very empowering for filtering. Only some percentage of my actions actually show up in my friend’s feed and more importantly only some percentage of my friend’s actions show up in my feed. The current empowerment is limited to tweaking parameters by which certain actions are chosen and others are not (see the screen shot below).
Beyond manually adjusting these preferences, Facebook also empowers their users to ‘thumbs up’ certain activities from their friends to indicate an interest in receiving more similar items (see the screen shot below).
I’d specifically like the ability to do at least three things:
- see all my friend’s actions that could have shown up in my feed
- apply my own filters to the feed
- understand why one specific item was delivered to my feed
I appreciate that the interactions are a tough to get right, however, Facebook has a lot of smart engineers and designers and I’m confident they can tackle this. Plus, I’m sure I speak for entrepreneurs everywhere when I say that any number of startups and would be happy to help.
Even acknowledging that the appropriate method of filtering is a difficult problem to tackle, I think Facebook has to move to completely open up the Mini Feed and News Feed for sharing across the web. This is a topic I’m sure that will come up in my upcoming panel at Graphing Social Patterns – Social Networks and the NEED for FEEDS. However, I thought it would be appropriate to attack this lack of functionality Facebook style. Therefore, I’ve created a group in Facebook to request it. Please consider joining the group and I look forward to your feedback in the comments below.
Full disclosure: Sean Ammirati is the co-founder of mSpoke, which makes a product called FeedHub that filters aggregated sets of content feeds. Therefore, this is an area he has a vested interest in.