Introducing FriendFeed, a very clever way of using lifestreams to consolidate your web presence on Facebook or elsewhere

One of the most interesting online developments in recent months has been the emergence of the notion of lifestream, as the Internet evolves into a place for people, not just to access information, but to actively exchange it with others, which has usually taken place on so-called social networks, bringing together many users with an interest in a particular field (photography, video, music, etc.)

This phenomenon is decentralised and increasingly interactive: users of online social services are fickle, using whichever online service is best in its field. Because no one can claim excellence in every field, sites which have attempted to set up closed shops offering a bit of everything have pretty systematically failed. Yet because there is obvious synergy between them, users have been trying to find ways of getting the best of both worlds: they want their photos to be on Flickr or SmugMug, their videos on YouTube or Vimeo, their music tracks and tastes on LastFM, their bookmarks on or Google Shared Stuff and their online profile on Virb°, Facebook or (yuck) MySpace, but they want all these services to work together. And those who maintain a blog have increasingly been tempted to consolidate their online presence on their own site, via RSS, giving visitors a comprehensive self-updating picture of what they have been up to. The more tech-savvy have coded their own lifestreams on their own blogs, but sites such as Jaiku, Pownce (in seemingly never-ending public beta, and plagued by quite a lot of bugs) and Tumblr (the latter, despite certain flaws [i], remaining my personal favourite) offer an easier way to achieve an almost comparable result.

Twitter, the “what are you doing?” online update service, has been particularly good at helping users interact with their friends or the web using a wide range of clients: web-based, mobile phones and email. Powerful APIs give these sites a way of seamlessly interacting with pretty much any application. My own Twitter updates, built into this site, are just one example of this.

If the notion of lifestreaming your web presence attracts you, you need to make two decisions: where you are going to display your lifestream and what tool you are going to use to consolidate it.

I started experimenting with several methods (Jaiku, 30 Boxes being the two most interesting ones I tried) and rejected the idea of coding my own lifestream (I simply didn’t have the patience to do it because manipulating RSS is trickier than it seems at first glance).

My current lifestream setup is the following:

(1) I set up a Yahoo Pipes feed to consolidate all my blog articles, while filtering out any duplicate items and (optional) improving the content’s format.

(2) I decided to use my Facebook account as the consolidation location for my lifestream. This has the advantage of allowing you a degree of control on who sees your lifestream information. you may want to easily and automatically share your bookmarks, photos and videos with friends or contacts you choose, but not necessarily display them for everyone to see. Facebook is the only social network that offers you full control on who sees your profile and privacy settings can be customised to fit almost any preference. Also, with the open architecture now available since it opened up its API in April and rapidly-growing user base (a lot of my friends are on Facebook, hardly any have bothered to open accounts in the more elegantly-designed but excessively haughty Virb°), Facebook offers the best platform for centralising your online presence and controlling who sees it.

(3) On Facebook, I installed the very clever FriendFeed application developed by Paul Bucheit, who made Gmail. Private beta only at the moment, but I’ll send you an invite if you’re interested and are on Facebook. It’s technically flawless and elegantly designed. It displays my feed from my Yahoo Tubes blog mashup, together with my Diggs, bookmarks, “loved” Last FM tracks, and my new Flickr photos and Vimeo videos. friendFeed is incredibly well-coded, meaning the RSS structure in the original feed is preserved but made to display consistently and attractively, which I know, from having tried to do it myself and giving up, requires a lot of work. Of course, the Facebook client is just one of the available clients, so you can integrate the resulting RSS in any other site you control or use the FriendFeed widgets if you prefer.

  1. Tumblr has no built-in search, no exporting or importing of posts (meaning you’re locked in and powerless if they ever fold up) and response from customer support is non-existent. Also, their RSS feed conduits regularly die or go into limbo without explanation