I read that Facebook bought FriendFeed today. Mentioned in the Mashable article is that fact that while Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity, FriendFeed’s traffic has remained flat over the last year. I’m not very familiar with FriendFeed, but sometimes I click on a link in Twitter and am directed to a FriendFeed post. On the face, it looks like the service is very similar to Twitter.
So, why is Twitter winning the popularity contest? I’m sure it comes down to tactics used to create an organically-growing community of high-profile users– celebrities, authors, artists, bloggers, musicians, reporters, athletes, and politicians– who bring their real-life followers to the service. My very first experience on Twitter was reading Barack Obama’s profile and I signed up because even well-known late-adopter John McCain was using it. Very smart people at Twitter have done a lot of very smart things.
At the top of the “smart things” list was to create a name that is fresh sounding, communicates the service succinctly, and is strengthened through metaphor and curiosity.
The first social networking site I used was Friendster in 2001 or 2002, I think. I had used Naptster and I remember thinking, “it’s like Napster only instead of exchanging music, you exchange pictures and stuff with your friends.” The name wasn’t exactly fresh, but it did the job. I never really go into Friendster and over time just sort of forgot about it. FriendFeed reminds me of Friendster in a lot of ways.
The name FriendFeed is very similar. I use RSS feeds and when I first heard the name I thought, “it must be RSS for friends,” but also, “it reminds me of Friendster.” RSS (as much as I love it) and Friendster are not the two things you probably want to be top of mind when introducing a new service. I’m sure the people at Friendfeed (and Friendster) were both very excited about their new services, but they chose tie their names to concepts in the recent past. Why start off stale when you can be fresh?
Twitter sounds fresh and exciting. When I first heard the name Twitter, my first thought was, “oh, like all a-twitter: all chatter-y and excited.” Instead of communicating the essence of the service in concrete terms (a feed of friends), Twitter’s namers went for metaphor. The name intrigued me and made me curious to learn more.
To my delight, the service matches the metaphor. To me a Twitter user is a bird on a tree tweeting away. She can listen specifically to her own species (those she follows), fly over to the trees where the most birds are (trending topics), and listen for specific messages is the tweets of other birds (search and hashags). It’s a strong metaphor and Twitter emphasizes it with it’s bird logo. For extra points the bird is blue to make you think, “blue bird of happiness.” People like to feel happy :)
I wonder if the FriendFeed name will live on or if it will be folded into Facebook.