Facebook Buys FriendFeed; Identica is Open Source; Does It Matter?

As described on TechCrunch a couple of days ago, Facebook Acquires FriendFeed. The Monkey Bites blog advises “Let’s Be Friends in its article on how Facebook acquired FriendFeed. But the reaction in the Twitterverse seems to be negative, with concerns that Facebook’s walled garden mentality will be applied to FriendFeed and that the ownership which Facebook claims for content posted within Facebook will also apply to content on FriendFeed. This acquisition may be a threat to Twitter, as suggested on the ZDNet Asia blog: “Facebook takes aim at Twitter, buys FriendFeed“.

Meanwhile the announcement that the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative has “started a little DC twitter activity” has been met with comments suggesting that identi.ca should be used on the grounds that “above all laconi.ca is Open source“.  Dan Brickley backs this suggestion:

While it has a smaller userbase than twitter, the project is very friendly to standards such as RDF which DCMI is also committed to. Identi.ca/laconi.ca is also API-compatible with Twitter, and allows you to repost from identi.ca to twitter accounts automatically.

Oh, last thing re identi.ca: there’s a groups mechanism, so we could experiment with groups for DCMI or sub-communities…

But how relevant is this dogma? FriendFeed, it seems, is cool in some circle, as is identi.ca, whereas Twitter and FaceBook aren’t.  And some FriendFeed users are talking about closing down their accounts whilst fans of identi.ca are seeking to encourage newcomers to joint, citing the richer functionality it provides as well as its open source pedigree. But to what extent will the issues of ownership of the code, rights over the data and the richness of the functionality affect people’s decisions?

For me the important aspect of these social tools is the associated community – and as a well-established Twitter user I am not too concerned regarding the openness of the source code. And although I am willing to experiment with providing richer functionality with Twitter, such as recent experiment with use of multiple hashtags for events,  I do appreciate the point which Mike Ellis has raised, suggesting that it’s Twitter’s simplicity which is a key aspect of its success. So is there any evidence that identi.ca open source code and richer functionality will be successful in migrating a community to it? And is it really true that the integration between Twitter and identi.ca will be seamless and transparent?  Why do I feel I’ve heard these arguments before – without the supposed benefits actually being delivered? Facebook buys FriendFeed; Identica is open source; does it matter? To you it might, but to the vast majority of users I suspect it doesn’t.


  1. I agree on the pragmatism but the flip side is that if Friendfeed goes away from what our community wants from it we have no way of maintaining our community because it isn’t open source. If twitter were swallowed by google tomorow and everyone forced to use Google Talk instead (I don’t say its likely, just possible) then you’re in trouble. Extra overheads (and increased likelihood of failure due to lack of user engagement) involved in setting up identi.ca but you can always keep the community running if the existing server/company goes down. As you always say, not so much the philosophical issues as doing a balanced and realistic risk assessment.

  2. Hi Cameron – Are you suggesting that Facebook may have bought FriendFeed in order to close it down? This is clearly a possibility. But the view that an open source alternative is bound to provide a viable alternative is, I feel, naive (I’m not saying you’re making that point, btw). There are issues about whether a community cares enough to migrate; strategies for managing that migration as well as the viability and business models for an open source alternative. And there is also the view that a takeover could provide valuable investment for sustainability and further development. Not everything owned by a commercial company or the private sector is a bad thing! And I intend to continue using Twitter.

  3. Brian, no I think its pretty clear Facebook wanted the team and the expertise and their clear lead on innovation around news feeds. My point at the moment is that if Friendfeed goes in a direction that the community, or even just our part of it, doesn’t like then we have no fallback position because we can’t run the code up on a server of our own. Very interesting discussion going on at the moment about whether the community actually has enough experience and knowledge now to build something that does what we want, and a recognition that that is an entirely separate question to whether we could resource and/or support such an effort. Interesting times.

    My main point was that one of the advantages of identi.ca is that at least in principle if the core service goes down you have a potential fall back. Again, whether its a useful fall back would be part of the risk assessment. I have nothing against commercial companies or the private sector, frankly they are doing better work than most public institutions at the moment, but all other things being equal if offered a choice I’d go for a commercial company using an open source code base. Of course, things are never equal, and I’m not about to stop using either Friendfeed or Twitter at the moment, but I have my eyes out for alternatives.

  4. We started using Twitter as an internal communications tool, which it wasn’t very good at. I kept using it for its other benefits. We did have a discussion about using identi.ca, but it seemed that it would suffer from even more of the adoption barrier to Twitter, and wouldn’t have the side benefits that Twitter had, of linking in to another community.

    One of the problems of some of these communities, that I’m trying to hint at here, is that they need a network effect to succeed well. There are in fact too many of them for all these network effects to work. I’ve found Friendfeed annoying, as I haven’t been a member, but clearly discussions that might have taken place on comment feeds, or on Twitter, have been taking place on FF, out of my sight. This sort of effect of partial communities struggling for network effect is even more apparent in social bookmarking. Should I use Connotea or CiteULike or Mendeley for citations, or Delicious or Digg, or [you name it] for bookmarks? And if I want to build a service where people might tag things with a code that feeds in to our web site, which should I pick?

    This is a bit of a ramble, but I think I’m trying to say that the open-source or not question is irrelevant here. If you didn’t like the way FF or FB are going and try to build your own, it’s not the source code that matters, it’s getting the community to converge on it and build the network effect that makes the content valuable.

  5. Odd to be accused of opensource “dogma”, but not particularly suprising given your enthusiasm for stirring up controversy where none really exists.

    My point was primarily about the support offered by identi.ca / laconi.ca for open standards such as RDF, suggesting that likeminded enthusiasts for an open, standards-based Web might profit from collaboration (something which opensource licensing certainly helps with). If that’s dogmatic, I’ll eat my rulebook. Identi.ca isn’t Laconi.ca; it’s the flagship installation of laconi.ca. Chris is correct to point out the difficulties of starting a microblogging community from a completely empty start, which is why the work on openmicroblogging federation and cross-linking explored by laconi.ca is particularly interesting, and why their exploration of standards for this (eg. cross-installation “following” via OAuth, also some work on XMPP) is worth supporting.

    More on all this at http://danbri.org/words/2008/07/10/367

    Whether end users know about opensource, or even what software is, is completely irrelevant.

    In 10 years time, I’d expect more such users to have a better notion of domain names, and perhaps own/control one for themselves. Opensource and open standards will help in that, but it’ll also allow commercial and closed source systems to provide backing for end user sites/content…

  6. Hi Dan – Thanks for your comment. And my apologies for a badly structured blog post which associated a dogma perspective which I know you do not have. My warning about dogmatic views was intended as a criticism of the view raised on the DC list that “above all laconi.ca is Open source” (my emphasis). My post implied that you had such views – I know that that is not the case (I know, for example, that you are a memebr of the Facebook group on Data Portability – clearly an approach more likely to taken my a pragmatist!) However I appreciate that my blog post can be read as associated you with such a position – so my public apologies for my mistake.

    Regarding the sustance of your (non-dogmatic) comment, I stil don’t feel that CHris Rusbridge’s concerns regarding the important of the community in social networks has been addressed. And I’m speaking as someone who gave a talk on RDF Tools at an event which you attended back in 1998. With the benefit of over 10 year’s hindsight, my views on the relevance of RDF were very naive. Such views inform my current scepticism – albeit with a willingness to be proved wrong. But I should also add that although I have recently been exploring ways in which micro-blogging resources can be repurposed there are also those who argue strongly that additional complexity is undesirable. In light of such issues, I’d question whether the risks associated with use of an RDF-based solution are worth it.

  7. Although I mainly use Twitter, I like both FriendFeed and identi.ca because of more advanced functionality, such as groups. One thing that sets identi.ca/laconi.ca apart for me is syndication: the ability to connect with people on different installations (also a key feature of Google Wave for me). If this can be made more user friendly/transparent, I’d say it shows great promise.

    It could be a Betamax vs VHS thing: Twitter may win just because it became big first. On the other hand, if Twitter’s just the Next Big Thing, then FriendFeed or identi.ca could be the next Next Big Thing now that Twitter’s heading for the trough of disillusionment.



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