The importance of simplicity

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Boy, did I get this one wrong. When I first read about an all-star group of former Googlers getting together to create what sounded like yet another RSS newsreader/lifestreaming/social-media aggregation thing — in new clothes — I was completely unimpressed. What made their effort seem like a lock on being a failure was that it was being revealed in a New York Times article before launch. See, I have this theory that stories in the New York Times about something being “worked on” is an early-warning sign of likely failure. Why? Because in most cases, early on, a new venture benefits from obscurity. (Another post for another day.)

And so, the first I ever wrote on this blog about FriendFeed.com, on October 1, 2007, I was about as negative as I’ve ever been about anything. I was, in fact, embarrassingly negative.

The fact that I may have been correct about the core of what I wrote: that hacking RSS feeds into something like Google Reader can accomplish all that a “life stream” aggregator can do (it still can and Google Reader is trying to make it happen) didn’t matter.

My post was a rookie mistake I warn people not to make all the time: It’s not the idea, it’s the execution. (Yet another post for another day.)

I’m happy to say that once the “execution” of FriendFeed appeared, I recognized that the execution was much different than the New York Times “preview.” I started using FriendFeed immediately. In March, 2008, Silicon Valley blogger (he does other things, as well) Louis Gray wrote this post about FriendFeed in which he observed that “elite bloggers were joining FriendFeed in droves.” I must admit, I was a little suspect of Louis’s post as he included me on a list of something “elite.”

However, by then, I’d come to appreciate how much the experience and obvious brilliance of the FriendFeed team was playing in their execution of a product that made it simple for people who are immersed in social media to organize and follow so much “stuff.” Instead of trying to become another Twitter or Facebook, FriendFeed’s creators have made using those other services more simple. And while they weren’t the first ones to attempt to do it, their engineering prowess and user-interface expertise was constantly on display.

So much so that by the time Facebook blatantly ripped off FriendFeed’s user-interface in its redesign (the one that everyone hated), I wrote this:

“To me, it seems obvious the benchmark for “the new Facebook design” is FriendFeed.,,While the FriendFeed creators seemed purposeful in not trying to replicate or compete head-on with Facebook (Exhibit #1: The service has no user profile page), they obviously served as a proof of concepts that didn’t go unnoticed by Zuckerberg & Co. Concept #1: You don’t need lots of complicated “invite and display” applications to get users to aggregate every social media thing they do. Concept #2: Those “like” and “comment” fields make every tidbit of content a launchpad for conversation and insight. Unlike past attempts by Facebook to change the service in ways that violated principles of trust or privacy, I believe the new design will actually be of great benefit to Facebook users — after they get over the whinning. So put me in the 5% group: I like the new Facebook design. I believe it serves the user (rather than screws them like the previous changes). In fact, I like it a lot.

Facebook needs the people they’ve acqhired via the acquisition of FriendFeed.

Whether they’ll actually listen is another story.

Bonus: Someone stayed up late to do this instant “Hitler Parody” (these never get old) regarding the Facebook-Friendfeed deal. Major, major geek humor: