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An Ode to FriendFeed

The little social network with the biggest heart

In July of 2008, I joined a social networking site called FriendFeed. I had just started a job at a boutique PR agency in Los Angeles, and part of my job was going to involve promoting & pitching Web 2.0 clients. As such, I was geeking out on signing up for various social networks and other online services. Case in point: a few months earlier, I signed up for Twitter, mainly because one of my bosses didn’t think Twitter could be used for PR purposes. Though I didn’t know much about Twitter at the time, my intuition told me he was wrong.

In the case of FriendFeed, I had read articles about the site being the hot new thing and how it would aggregate your social networking feeds into one location. A good friend had signed up and liked it, so between her review and my observation that many tech journalists and reporters I wanted to connect with were using FriendFeed, I figured signing up would prove to be useful.

For the first 2 years, I predominantly used FriendFeed as a catch-all for my social media accounts and didn't engage much with the community on the site. It wasn't until 2010 - way after FriendFeed had been sold to Facebook and had been considered dead by all accounts - that I began making friends on the site. To date I have met 19 FriendFeed folks, and I plan on meeting more, even though the site will be shuttered on April 9 of this year.

Rooney checks out the Cat Lovers group on FriendFeed.

To collectively mourn the imminent demise of a virtual community is a very strange experience. Honestly, I’m finding the grieving process is no different than if a loved one were diagnosed with a terminal illness and were given only months to live. That may sound radical to some folks, but here's what I found to be true of FriendFeed in a way that I haven’t with other social networks: the community truly cares about its members. In my experience, FriendFeed became more than a feed of friends: it became a family. We argued and teased each other, we had congenial debates over whether crunchy or creamy peanut butter is better, we harbored crushes on fellow members (and sometimes acted on them). We dealt with trolls and suffered no fools. We shared our opinions and changed them when needed. We confessed our secrets, bitched and complained, and bragged about our accomplishments.

When a Friendfeeder was in need, we threw rent parties, sent anonymous gifts, or otherwise provided support. We organized virtual wedding & baby showers and created celebratory videos. We arranged in-person lunches, brunches, happy hours, dinners, and other gatherings, just as an opportunity to connect more intimately. We lifted up fellow users during times of crisis, both major and minor. We nursed each other through illnesses and collectively mourned the losses of FriendFeeders, as well as their family members. We celebrated marriages and births among our ranks, including a high number of couples who met and fell in love through FriendFeed.
One of the first FriendFeed real-life gatherings I attended (I'm the one wearing glasses).

With the arrival of Google+, many users moved on, but those who remained behind were just as devoted and dedicated to their fellow FriendFeeders as ever before. We dug in and recommitted to the service, creating memes and hashtags to encourage connection and camaraderie. And when the March 9 announcement came of FriendFeed’s termination, we began virtually dogpiling on each other for support, bumping old threads, sharing favorite stories and images.

When I speak of FriendFeed to people who are unfamiliar with the site, they are amazed at the stories that I tell of its powerful, supportive community. They find it incredibly difficult to believe that a little social networking site could influence such dedication, devotion and commitment among people from the far corners of the earth. What’s sad is that I doubt any other site will ever come close to achieving what FriendFeed did, both in terms of development and as a community.

As I type this, many of my fellow FriendFeeders are struggling with the same issues as I: denial that the end is near; anger and depression at the loss of a beloved site; bargaining by way of signing up with alternative services (or, in some cases, creating petitions to attempt to stop the shutdown). We’re struggling to accept that what we had on FriendFeed was a beautiful, crazy, complex relationship that can never be replicated. But once we reach acceptance, we need to take the lessons we’ve learned from the site to help make whatever corner of the Internet we wind up in a kinder, more compassionate place. Knowing these folks the way I do, I have no doubt that we will.

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