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Paul Buchheit of Gmail, FriendFeed, now Facebook fame talks about the future of conversationsPaul Buchheit--lead developer of Gmail and co-founder of FriendFeed, which sold to Facebook last year--is now a huge proponent of his new employer, the company responsible for the most popular social network in the world. In a conversation at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco on Tuesday, Buchheit spoke unreservedly about Facebook's clear dominance and also answered questions related to the site's privacy settings and push toward text message-like conversations.
Well, I actually changed my privacy settings to be more public. Only my phone number and email is private because I don’t want random people calling me. But I like the ability to share everything. This has a lot to do with my experiences with FriendFeed.
He goes on to explain the benefits of public sharing, especially noting the potential for "serendipity." With more spontaneous and unpredictable connections forming between users, Buchheit believes "things just tend toward being better."
That's all well and good, but Buchheit seems to overlook the larger issues, like whether Facebook's new partnerships with third-party sites should allow Facebook to share user information automatically without consulting the user. Also, settings on the social site can often be a labyrinth to navigate, leading privacy advocates to be concerned about confused users unwittingly sharing data they would rather not share.
We created the ‘Like’ feature in FriendFeed because I realized that you want an easy way to let people know that you saw what they posted and appreciated it. Putting in those simple little gestures is very powerful. We made the comments quick and easy. They weren’t like blog comments. It was controversial but we didn’t even allow line breaks. If you pressed return, you wouldn’t get a new line, it would just post. We wanted it to be quick. We think that’s the future of upcoming communication mediums.
Like SMS, conversations on FriendFeed and Facebook have become incredibly popular because of their "lightweight, spontaneous, [and] real-time" nature. In fact, this can be used to explain the rise of most new communication technologies, including microblogging sites like Twitter and Tumblr.
Perhaps Buchheit's most striking comment came early in the talk, when he revealed what he thinks Facebook's most interesting quality:
The real power is in the people. It’s an amazing product because it has all the users. It’s also about connecting with friends on other sites when you extend it.
His statements here are right on the money. Facebook seems to be experiencing a snowball effect; the more people that use it, the more their friends and family will want to use it, and so on. The site is rapidly approaching the half billion member milestone.
Lots of smaller networks and social applications often have a difficult time reaching a wide audience because, even though their technology may be interesting and incredibly useful, nobody can experience it the way it's meant to be because not enough users are trying it out right from the beginning. Getting started can be tough, but Facebook is more than on its way. Indeed, it is near to claiming dominance of the Web, if it hasn't already claimed it in some form already.
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