hey facefeed, let’s just be friends

I can’t help wondering if Facebook’s acquisition of FriendFeed isn’t an overreaction by the giant social network, in response to the deafening buzz around Twitter.

It must have irked Facebook that the tech blogosphere has been obsessed this year with Twitter Twitter Twitter – Facebook’s growth has been just as impressive, arguably more so since it’s rarer to grow a large base much larger than it is to grow a small base into a medium-large base.

So in the past year, Facebook has tried to buy Twitter and has copied features of both FriendFeed and Twitter.  And this acquisition appears to be about bringing the values of FriendFeed to Facebook.  Among those values are an emphasis on product openness and sharing beyond your circle of friends.

But what if users don’t want to be more open?  Could it be that Facebook grew so fast because its users regarded the service as a safe place to share their lives with only a close circle of friends?  If Facebook becomes more like Friendfeed, will the service become less attractive to a mass audience?  (I’m certainly going to have to rethink my social media use.)  Maybe it’s only folks like the 250 that believe that everyone wants to share everything all the time.

Oh sure, Facebook has and will have a variety of privacy settings that give people choices about what to share – but these are terribly confusing and difficult to use.  More importantly, a company has to choose a single dominant brand image.  Will Facebook remain the place where friends can share their lives?  Or will it continue to morph into a knockoff of its less popular competitors?

Early indications are that Facebook will integrate FriendFeed’s staff, which is likely to lead to shuttering the FriendFeed service.  I think that could be a lost opportunity.  Facebook might do well to reaffirm its core brand as a more private place for friends, and retain FriendFeed as a brand extension that focuses on open data and public sharing.  That way they can serve the mass market and the avant garde with different product philosophies and branding.

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