Themes: Another way that FriendFeed is getting more like Gmail

Lifestreaming service FriendFeed is getting more and more like Gmail, the popular email service that the startup’s founders built back when they were at Google. Today, FriendFeed is getting themes so users can personalize the site interface — like what Gmail introduced last year. Last week, it introduced file-sharing, so you don’t need to upload and share files through email or other services.

The themes themselves aren’t a huge news item (unless you’re a FriendFeed user, I suppose). There are just six to choose from right now, and a lot of us seem to prefer the Helvetica design (pictured) for its black-and-white, clean, minimal look. If you like more colors, check out the others: Classic, Fresh, Bamboo, Flowers, Butterfly Corner and Blue Wave. A create-your-own theme feature is presumably coming soon, for better or worse.

More generally, what FriendFeed does — let you share what you’re doing from around the web, follow your friends, comment on and “like” the items they share — is a more efficient way of processing information than the traditional email inbox. The company’s effort in that direction kicked into high gear when it introduced a real-time interface in early April that automatically updated the site with new content from you and your friends. Then, it introduced smaller features, like a way to privately message groups of people — which cofounder Paul Buchheit has said the company uses internally instead of email lists.

Buchheit, and his peers at companies like Twitter-for-business service Yammer and Facebook, all seem to agree on that point. Or so they said during a panel I moderated in March at South By Southwest:

[A]ll the participants agreed that social streams of data are going to be an integral part of the web going forward. David Sacks, the chief executive of Yammer, went farther, calling these streams “email 2.0.” No one seemed to disagree….

FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit likened it to the old days of AOL (the dial up, closed system variety), when you could only send email to other AOL users. Eventually, he noted, AOL was forced to open up to these messages to the rest of the Internet. He believes that status updates will eventually become a federated medium as well. And perhaps it’s no accident that Buchheit started one of the services which is already helping to spread this social data around the web (it both pulls in and posts back to Twitter, for example) — when he was still at Google, he helped create Gmail. So maybe the social stream really is the next email.

A lot of these services even look a lot like email. The central focus is on a stream of messages, with the left hand side devoted to filters, which are more or less like folders, as Sacks pointed out. One company, Microsoft, is even using its email service, Hotmail, as the foundation for its social stream. Others, like Yahoo, are starting to do this as well.


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