March 28, 2009

Twitter vs. FriendFeed

I have been using both Twitter and FriendFeed for awhile. My use of both initially focused on blog promotion but has expanded considerably beyond that as I have recognized that the real power of both services involves their utility for immediate communication. In this post, I'd like to do something of a head-to-head comparison between the services and see if I can't offer some recommendations about whether you should use one or both of the services.

Twitter

We start with Twitter because it is the more basic of the services, offering less functionality but making up for that with far greater popularity. As you probably already know, Twitter is a micro-blogging service which allows users to send "tweets," posts limited to 140 characters, to anyone who "follows" them. If you use text messaging on your cell phone, you already have some idea of what tweets are like. In addition to sending brief text messages, you can send clickable URLs and even photos (actually, URLs to photos).

But sending texts from a cell phone is actually a poor analogy for Twitter. Instead, I'd suggest thinking of it as a sort of group instant messaging system. I have roughly 400 followers on Twitter, which means that every time I tweet, they all receive it simultaneously. In turn, I follow approximately 100 other Twitter users, receiving their tweets in real-time. Because of the immediacy, Twitter permits back-and-forth conversations involving several users.

Twitter can be accessed from the Twitter website, but most users utilize one of the many available Twitter clients. For example, I use TweetDeck on my desktop and laptop and TwitterBerry on my Blackberry.

What about blog promotion? Using a service called TwitterFeed, I set up the RSS feed from Atheist Revolution to automatically send notifications of my new blog posts to my Twitter followers. In addition, I can interact with readers on Twitter, share ideas with other atheist bloggers, etc. I have found the service to be an excellent way to get post ideas, learn what other atheist bloggers are up to, and learn about my readers.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical of Twitter initially and fairly slow to begin using the service. It grew on me. I wouldn't quite call myself addicted at this point, but I really enjoy it and am convinced that it has merit. Bloggers who learn to use Twitter effectively will likely see a many positive benefits, not the least of which is increased blog traffic.

FriendFeed

At first glance, FriendFeed blows Twitter out of the water. It seems to do everything that Twitter does but so much more. FriendFeed allows users to plug all sorts of commonly used services into it, including Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and even Twitter itself. Once set up, it it like a Twitter feed on steroids. Not only can one send messages to one's followers without the 140 character limit of Twitter, but one can configure the service so that followers are automatically informed about whatever one does in any of the other services.

Let me give you a concrete example. I have my FriendFeed account set up so that Twitter, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Intense Debate, Atheist Revolution, Mississippi Atheists, and more are connected. Whenever I do anything in any of these services, those connected to me through FriendFeed are informed - if they want to be. See, unlike Twitter where followers are going to receive whatever messages are sent, FriendFeed allows users to disable certain kinds of alerts. I have little interest in web videos, so I have disabled the YouTube part of the service so I will not be bombarded with updates by those obsessed with it.

As if that wasn't enough, FriendFeed offers two things that most Twitter users would love: a built-in commenting system permitting users to comment on any material sent and a mechanism for voting up posts. In this way, FriendFeed feels far more interactive than Twitter.

In fact, there is so much more that can be done with FriendFeed that I am painfully aware that I am not using the service to its full potential yet. Each time I play with a new feature, I kick myself for not discovering it earlier.

Twitter or FriendFeed?

Given the many added capabilities of FriendFeed over Twitter, why isn't everyone using it? Two reasons. First, FriendFeed is nowhere near as popular as Twitter in terms of the user base. Twitter has the name recognition and buzz that FriendFeed lacks, and this gives an edge to Twitter. I said I had roughly 400 followers on Twitter, right? Guess how many I have on FriendFeed? 28. Big difference, isn't it?

The second reason that many prefer Twitter to FriendFeed is that FriendFeed does not yet have a killer client. If you are using Twitter, you have TweetDeck, which is head and shoulders above any of the other Twitter clients I have used. While there are similar clients being developed for FriendFeed, they lack the polish of TweetDeck. In time, I expect that this advantage will be neutralized, but for now, this gives Twitter another boost.

I have been spending far more time in Twitter, primarily because of the two advantages I just mentioned. With FriendFeed, there is vast but largely unrecognized potential. If you are already a Twitter user, I recommend checking out FriendFeed. It will seem overwhelming initially because it can do so much more, but with some initial configuration and time to get used to it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you are not currently using either service, you will probably find Twitter easier to start with.
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