I've been a big fan of FriendFeed since I started using it during the days of the "Twit-Out" debacle. The lifestream has attracted a fiercely loyal and quite prolific user base, but many power users are still at a loss as to how FriendFeed might be used for business.
There is a lot of future potential for FriendFeed when it comes to enterprise business, especially as it -- and services such as Ping.fm -- introduce more features that can help aggregate and proliferate information. FriendFeed took a tiny step in this direction last week when it introduced the beta of its real-time feature, which can be used as a potential free tool for businesses -- even if a good sampling of individual power users may not like it. As a matter of fact, it could challenge both enterprise microblogging and corporate blogging to some degree.
The real-time feature is continually connected to FriendFeed's servers, so that when a person posts an update in main stream or room it updates automatically in, well, real-time. It's a bit like a chat room except it still aggregates some interesting content such as likes and comments, but it does omit the much-loved threaded conversations.
But businesses can take advantage of this, especially since FriendFeed has included a nice embed option for the real-time view. This can be used for embedding on a Web page or a blog or even a corporate intranet.
While there are some business benefits to using the real-time update, that was not the reason that the FriendFeed team developed the feature, according to Paul Buchheit, the company's co-founder.
"We were watching how people were using FriendFeed and people made many comments about how often they had to hit reload," Buchheit said. "A lot of people like the interactive nature of the comments, the interaction of FriendFeed. We wanted to explore other ways we can make it better. So we started experimenting with the UI and other ways to make the product real-time."
The idea for FriendFeed as a business tool came from the way that the company is eating its own dogfood. Buchheit said the company has an internal FriendFeed room where people include status updates or screen shots of projects they are working on, so everyone who has access to this room can see it. Using the real-time pop-out window either on its own or as a sidebar in Mozilla Firefox 3 can allow each user to view the updates as if they were using a client -- without the security concerns of entering their credentials into a third-party client.
That approach might seem a bit daunting to companies other than FriendFeed, who have concerns about trusting their pre-released data in the cloud. However, there are other uses for companies who want to use the real-time lifestream for business endeavors:
Can't afford a white label social network for your corporate intranet? Leverage FriendFeed's real-time option in the same way you would use a Facebook group. Create a room, invite your employees to that room, and create the content you wish. Foster communication with your staff and let them join the conversations on the feed itself -- which can be embedded in on the intranet site.
Create a room that would attract, or to which you could invite, your ideal customer or prospect. Create conversations in which they can interact and embed this on your corporate Web site. Monitor the conversation (note: monitor not control) and welcome other visitors to your Web site to engage in these conversations.
Note that both of the options stem from first creating rooms on FriendFeed. The rooms feature is very popular and easy-to-use, however much to the users' dismay there is still no common room directory that allows people to easily find interest groups. Buchheit said they are working on it and admits they know it's a stumbling block for users.
"Rooms have been very successful in a lot of ways," he said. "Half of my own activity ends up being in rooms. But we haven't done enough yet to make room discovery as easy as it should."
What do you think of FriendFeed's new real-time feature?