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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Friendfeed: Track Your Friend’s Web Activities

Friendfeed is a cool new service co-founded by ex-Gmail and “don’t be evil” inventor Paul Buchheit. Friendfeed (which partly looks Google-like, too) tries to solve the problem of keeping track of your friends activities on the multitude of social networks, blogging tools, photo upload sites and so on... a kind of meta aggregator, sitting on top of popular websites watching for news.

What you do upon sign-up is add a connection to a couple of friends. Then, you can provide your 1) Amazon email so the service can access your wishlist, 2) your Digg username so the service knows when you dugg something or add a Digg comment, 3) your Flickr username, 4) your blogging URL, and so on.
With that data in hand, whenever you do something online your friends will be alerted to it with a link on the Friendfeed homepage (which collects all their friend’s activities in one long list), e.g. one reading “John Doe posted My Holiday on John’s Blog” or “Tony Ruscoe dugg Comparing the Top Three Search Engines on Digg” and so on. You can then follow to the external point of activity in question, or add a comment at Friendfeed for this item.

Plus, you can subscribe to this list in your feed reader, or embed it in a blog or other webpage.

All in all, the service gives you the feeling of being closer to the people in your buddy list, nevermind where on the globe they are, because you’re watching what they’re doing on their computer, and when & where they’re surfing... sort of like an office mate sitting next to you. This blog’s co-editor Tony Ruscoe comments:

I’m loving this. It just brings the huge mess of my friends’ feeds together in one place. It’s like my Facebook News Feed but for absolutely all my friends. (I don’t even have to make them join because I can recreate them as imaginary friends...) And the FriendFeed team are really quick to respond on the Google Group too. I’ve gotta say that I’m pretty damn impressed so far...

Now, if all this sounds like a privacy invasion, well, you don’t have to sign-up for the service! But here’s the caveat: people can also add you as an “imaginary friend,” and provide your username and such info for all kinds of services. What Paul Buchheit’s service does is not create new information about you, but aggregate existing info in new ways that kind of show you don’t have much “web activity” privacy to begin with (as long as you ever share your social sites’ user name, or sign up with your real name).

It’s a bit like privacy issues arising from information aggregators like Google Maps Street View. To expand this to a hypothetical case far beyond the implications of Street View or Friendfeed: whenever you’re moving in public, people can take photographs of you, so you don’t have real privacy to begin with. Yet, it has been no big issue in day-to-day life for most of us. But now what if someone takes a hi-res photo of you whereever you go, publishes it online in near real-time, and then allows people to “data mine” this for interesting stuff (with bloggers taking this base data to increase the signal even more)? What if someone records all your cell phone calls made out on the street, applies speech-to-text algorithms, and publishes a clickable keyword index of your conversations on a special web service? Your public life by definition isn’t private – but what if every minute of it would be supervised, data-mined, analyzed, republished, indexed and infinitely archived for all to see?

[Thanks Photoactive!]


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