Facebook Takes Aim at Twitter, Buys FriendFeed

Posted by: Rob Hof on August 10, 2009

Anybody who was still wondering if Facebook had noticed the rapid rise of Twitter need wonder no more. Today, Facebook announced it’s buying FriendFeed, the news- and information-sharing service founded by four ex-Google engineers. The move is a blatant acknowledgment by the huge social networking service that Twitter, with at least 45.5 million unique visitors a month, has stolen a significant chunk of mindshare from Facebook lately.

FriendFeed, which despite rapid growth has fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors by various estimates, hasn’t managed to catch on much beyond social maniacs like uberblogger Robert Scoble. That’s despite a fairly slick service that aggregates people’s posts and comments from many sites, including Twitter and Facebook. In a post today, FriendFeed cofounder Bret Taylor made it clear that the smaller service would benefit from being under the wing of the largest U.S. social network, where its services can spread to some 250 million users worldwide.

For all its huge presence, however, Facebook faces a big challenge in unseating Twitter—which it tried to buy last year—as the premier water cooler of the digital age. Twitter’s unique combination of fast and easy posting, publicly by default, has struck a nerve with a lot of people. Twitter is a different animal than Facebook, despite similarities between Twitter “tweets” with the Facebook’s status updates. But like a lot of other people, I’ve found myself increasingly posting on Twitter and less so on Facebook lately, so there’s obviously a battle for people’s time that will only increase.

In particular, they’re battling to become the leaders in what some believe is the next generation of Web innovation, commonly called the real-time Web. As I indicated in a recent slide show on leaders and up-and-comers on the real-time Web, Facebook and Twitter are in a class by themselves.

Some smart folks, like uberblogger Robert Scoble and Om Malik, contend that this deal is more about Facebook vs. Google—in particular the battle for the high ground in real-time search. I’m not yet convinced that’s something that Google is fundamentally challenged by real-time search, but I do think the acquisition of FriendFeed will help Facebook cement its hold on the social Web, which Google has not come close to mastering.

There’s no word on how much Facebook is paying for FriendFeed, which had raised $5 million from Benchmark Capital and other investors early last year. It’s likely that ultimately FriendFeed will disappear into Facebook rather than continue as a distinct service.

With the addition of FriendFeed—in particular its talent, including cofounders Paul Buchheit, Bret Taylor, Jim Norris, and Sanjeev Singh—Facebook just gave itself a chance to slow Twitter’s momentum. After all, for all its popularity, Twitter doesn’t appeal to everyone, in particular young people. And early adopters of Web technologies, in fact, such as Scoble, are finding themselves less enchanted with Twitter of late. Not least, periodic blackouts of Twitter service—even if the latest one, a hacking incident, wasn’t exactly its fault, and affected Facebook and others too—have some people wary about how much to depend on it.

If Facebook can tap into that nascent discontent with Twitter with the acquisition of FriendFeed, and if it can integrate the startup and its considerable talent into Facebook quickly—two huge ifs—it may be able to recapture some sizzle it has lost to Twitter, and perhaps stay ahead of Google on Facebook’s home turf.

Reader Comments

Anne Page

August 10, 2009 7:13 PM

Real time search is definitely an incredibly functional tool. A good website in this space is www.gethighnote.com, which has search as well as track and share. It's results are pretty useful and the track has helped me find some pretty cool information that might otherwise get lost.

Sally in Chicago

August 10, 2009 10:04 PM

I still cannot figure what use Twitter has except to send short quips and opinions about a subject. For example, to tweet that a plane crashed, or in Iran, to tweet what is happening during the revolt. Other than that, in business I just don't get it. We're so busy multi-tasking, the last thing we need is for someone to tweet us a short note. It's bad enough we have email flooding our desktops from all sources of people.
No tweet for me.!

Fred

August 10, 2009 10:11 PM

Who really cares about realtime tweets, twits or even search - what a timewaster. In this crappy economoy I need realtime money savings - for that I use zimini. You can't be a "player" if you're just standing around watching what the rest of the world is doing. And you can't be a "doer" if you're broke. What is it with people today being more interested in knowing what everyone else doing instead of actually doing something worthwhile?

Nik

August 11, 2009 10:41 AM

To Sally
You might want to take a look at this:
http://www.webpronews.com/blogtalk/2009/06/12/dells-twitter-campaign-has-raked-in-3m-in-sales

To Fred
People are not watching what the rest of the world is doing. But learning from others to enhance their own knowledge and understanding of things that matter to them. Social media is about collective intelligence and collaborative learning.

KellyRShort.com

August 13, 2009 3:20 PM

Is with the internet bubble in the late 90's many companies on the periphery of the most popular niches were bought up - absorbed by largest sites if they had even the slightest chance of providing benefit. Now the bubble is called "social networking" and no differently many smaller niche solutions will be bought up by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin, etc, etc, etc as each competes for market share. - http://KellyRShort.com

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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