Google and Twitter watch out: Facebook buys FriendFeed

Facebook, already the fastest growing social network and the fourth most popular website in the world, has just bolstered its power and reach that little bit further. And Google and Twitter, its fiercest rivals, ain’t going to like it.

Yesterday, the site acquired FriendFeed, the socially-orientated service that allows users to aggregate activity from all their different friends on all the different networks they use and see the results as one stream.

FriendFeed’s co-founder Bret Taylor told leading technology blog Techcrunch: “The basic idea is that Facebook doesn’t want to disrupt the product…they’ll take a lot of ideas that work well on FriendFeed and see how they apply to Facebook, and over time they’ll look at how to integrate the products.”

The ability to pull in content from various networks isn’t really the main draw for Facebook here, since it’s already developed a similar service with Facebook Connect. What’s really lighting up eyes at the Facebook offices is that FriendFeed has the most advanced real-time search capabilities going – meaning that Facebook can now seriously compete with Twitter (who it once tried, and failed, to buy) on this level.

Real-time search is fast becoming the most beloved darling of companies and consumers alike. It’s technology powerful and popular enough to make Google sweat. (In May, Google co-founder Larry Page said: “People really want to do stuff real time and I think [Twitter] have done a great job. We've done a relatively poor job of doing things that work on a per second basis.”) And FriendFeed’s search is more extensive than Twitter’s – while Twitter can only go back a couple of days, FriendFeed can search the whole of its history for data.

But that’s not all that’s super-sweetening the deal for Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of his team at Facebook. “Let’s be clear,” wrote MG Siegler for TechCrunch, “From what all parties are saying, this was a talent acquisition.” FriendFeed has 12 employees, only one of whom is not an engineer, and almost all are ex-Google big shots. Take Paul Buchheit, for example, who developed Gmail, early Google advertising vehicles, and the company’s ‘Don’t be evil’ motto.

Seigler also pointed to FriendFeed’s information filtering capabilities as a big win for Facebook (whereby you can select which friends and which items of friends’ news to see, thus reducing clutter in your news stream). “Let’s just say FriendFeed’s method is much, much better [than Facebook’s].

“And Twitter? Yeah, they badly need filters, pronto.”

Overall, Seigler called the acquisition ‘a very smart move’, but interestingly warns that Facebook will have to be very careful not to further complicate its service, highlighting Twitter’s simplicity as one of its main advantages over its rival.

The overall consensus in the industry is that this buy-out seriously ups Facebook’s stronghold on the web and will have Google and Twitter – who earlier this year were rumoured to be in talks of a similar collaboration with each other – squirming quite considerably in their seats. As Ben Parr, associate editor of online social media bible Mashable told BBC News: "With this acquisition, Facebook is gunning directly not only at Twitter, but at Google. This is a warning shot to those two companies."

Google and Twitter, you have been warned.

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