As someone who tried to build a fashion social network and is now an investor who sees his fair share of social networking startup ideas, I can attest to the difficulties in building a genuine community.
So, when people question why Friendfeed users like myself are so dedicated to the site and why we don’t switch over to the new Facebook Groups feature (which has integrated many of Friendfeed’s features), I find myself scratching my forehead as to why so many web experts seem to miss out on the obvious.
The point so many web sites seem to misunderstand is that community is not a feature. If I got paid everytime someone said “we’ve added a ‘Post to Facebook’/‘bulletin board’/‘chat’/[insert other cliché “community” feature] feature” as evidence that they had a strong community, I would be a very wealthy man. To be fair, not having certain social features makes it harder to have a community, but having those features doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a community. You don’t add community to a website the way you might add Google Analytics or a new banner ad.
Community is something which has to be built and nurtured. At its core, its about users experiencing a genuine connection with other people and wanting to engage more: both on and off the site.
Similarly, community is not just having a lot number of users. Sure, Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn have a ton of users. But, that alone doesn’t make them a community. Walmart has a lot of employees too – I doubt an outsider would consider that a tight-knit community.
What matters is not so much the number of users, but the number and quality of connections that they make. That’s one reason I actually consider the core group of Twitter users that I engage with a closer community than my LinkedIn or Facebook circle (which is composed mostly of people that I actually know and have interacted with “in the real world”!) – I “talk with” (or Tweet) that group on Twitter more than I engage with people on Facebook, get a lot more value out of those internet relationships (I learn about interesting things, keep up with the daily actions of people I know, and get comments on things I share/say) than I do through those other sites. It doesn’t mean I don’t find LinkedIn or Facebook valuable (I do, for other reasons), but its that community which keeps me coming back and more engaged with Twitter, and Friendfeed for that matter, than with LinkedIn or Facebook.
So, back to the original question – why do I stick with Friendfeed?
- Bookmarklet: The FriendFeed bookmarklet is extremely powerful: its not only my primary means of sharing things on Twitter, it also lets me pull in additional content beyond Twitter’s 140 character limit. This convenience and pattern of use is difficult to break.
- Feature set: There are practically zero features on Friendfeed which haven’t been replicated by someone else (esp. Facebook). However, I have yet to see the killer social feature which has convinced me to replace Friendfeed with something else – simply put, its good enough for what I need and, until it stops being good enough or I find something else far better, I’ll be sticking around.
- Quality of Community: The people I engage with (and people-watch) on Friendfeed and the sorts of conversations that are had are deeper and more satisfying than almost any online forum I’ve been on (with the noteworthy exception of the group of friends I interact with on Google Reader). That exclusivity and depth of engagement is something I have yet to see Facebook or any other social media site replicate and, until they do and until the community that I like engaging with on Friendfeed chooses to move elsewhere, I don’t plan on stopping.