Facebook announced yesterday that it is purchasing rival social media entity FriendFeed. FriendFeed has been more of a niche social media destination, never having grown to the size of a Facebook or Twitter, but it provides a more Twitter-like stream of status updates and real-time search capabilities for Facebook. The combination of Facebook with FriendFeed functionality puts Facebook in a position to compete directly with Twitter and Google.
Facebook is a tremendously popular social networking destination. As a sort of combination of MySpace and LinkedIn it has established itself as an icon of social networking. However, it wasn't that long ago that MySpace was the defacto leader of social networking and it finds itself falling quickly off the radar. Rather than being the next social networking flash-in-the-pan, Facebook is making moves to enable it to evolve with social networking trends and remain relevant against rising competition and take on Twitter and Google head-to-head.
One way to remain relevant is to simply improve on the features that already exist. Social networking is so new and so rapidly evolving that it sometimes feels like a constant Beta test. Facebook attempts to be a lot of different things and it is hard to do them all well. It rolled out an interface redesign earlier this year that was greeted with a love/hate reaction. Some appreciate the changes, while many protested and asked for the old Facebook interface back. Facebook also recently allowed users to create usernames, or ‘vanity URL's' in an effort to be more Twitter-like.
In social networking though there is no time for yesterday. Things change as quickly as someone can put an idea online and that idea gains traction. As MySpace has learned, it doesn't take long to get from ‘King of the Hill' to ‘bottom of the heap'. Twitter proved the value of real-time microblogging recently during the post-election clashes in Iran. The real Holy Grail though is search...real-time search. Facebook is on a quest to achieve both.
Google's Larry Page recognizes the value in real-time search. In an interview earlier this year he said "I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. With Twitter, now they know they have to do it." And, apparently they did know. Google opened a Beta ‘sandbox' codenamed Caffeine yesterday which appears to be an attempt at faster indexing, real-time search, or both.
The FriendFeed purchase provides Facebook with the technology to incorporate more real-time status updates, and gives it a leading real-time search capability. But, Gartner analyst Ray Valdes believes that the purchase is more about the talent pool than the technology though. "In my view, Facebook is acquiring FriendFeed for its talent pool (world-class developers who could learn PHP in a day if they wanted to), and more importantly for its sense of mission: to open up "walled garden" social sites and shift the world to the distributed social web, a web of interoperable sites that share data in real-time."
Purchasing technologies would allow Facebook to quickly adopt components that are popular on other sites and add functionality, but that is a game of playing catch up to the competition. Purchasing talent and vision is what will enable Facebook to innovate and set the bar higher than its competition. Facebook has put Google, Twitter, and other social networking sites on notice. Game on.