West Coast Report: Bret Taylor of FriendFeed Explains How We ‘Like’ Now

The “like” feature started with friends and family. At least it did on FriendFeed, the site that gathers all the activities your friends are doing on more than 30 social networking sites and displays it in a Facebook-like “News Feed” format. Co-founder Bret Taylor told The Observer that in January 2008, a month before FriendFeed officially launched to the public, he and his team asked their relatives and online buddies to play around with a test version of the site. “We realized that a lot of people would either end up not commenting on [a piece of content] or just say something like a one-word ‘Haha, funny,’” Mr. Taylor said by phone from his California office. “‘Like’ was just an easier, one-click way for users to indicate that they liked something.”

With FriendFeed, users can create a kind of social headquarters for their friends, viewing all the content their network has recently shared—from digging a news article on Digg, to posting a photo to Flickr, to commenting on a video on YouTube, even watched a movie on Netflix. Clicking that little “like” link next to a piece of content posts a yellow smiley face underneath the post and also helps FriendFeed highlight content that the rest of the users’ friends “liked” a lot.

Users tend to “like” more than they comment, Mr. Taylor said.

“It’s one of our most popular features because it’s so lightweight,” he explained. It also helps users shrink their online worlds, by seeing the Internet through their friends’ activities and “likes.”

“Relative to the voting mechanisms on other sites, it’s very sort of personalized. On FriendFeed, you only see the things that your friends have posted,” he continued.

Mr. Taylor was on the original team that created Google Maps. He left Google in June 2007 to become an entrepreneur-in-residence at venture firm Benchmark Capital, and eventually broke out and created FriendFeed (along with three other ex-Googlers). Mr. Taylor and his team added the “like” feature in February 2008. Facebook launched a similar feature in February this year

According to Mr. Taylor, it’s important for the “like” feature to be positive—a fun way to interact with a site that has a smiley face for a logo. “That little smiley face is a huge part of our engine, it makes the product more happy and fun,” Mr. Taylor said. After all, there’s no “dislike” feature or Digg-like “up” and “down” filtering mechanism on FriendFeed. “Liking” things on FriendFeed isn’t a bookmarking function, popular through other sites like Delicious and even Gmail. Bookmarking a link or message doesn’t mean you like or approve of those posts or messages—it just means you want to save them.

“We really wanted it to be a social mechanism,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s not bookmarking it for yourself. It’s not voting for it to get on the front page of a news site or something. You’re liking it so you can tell your friends that you found it interesting. I think, as a broad vision, it’s about content discovery.”

A free-form, lightweight “like” feature, without the bookmarking function, also encourages people to “like” more pieces of content. Knowing what people “like,” along with all of the other detailed information Facebook and FriendFeed have on their users, is a powerful asset. They might be able to using that data to not only cater their users’ homepage, but also be more attractive to advertisers.

Mr. Taylor told The Observer that discussing content in within FriendFeed’s parameters might also have an added benefit: more “civil” online discussions. “A politically conservative group of people and a liberal group of people, might have conversations, even if it’s about the same article and they’ll tend to have a more civil tone because you’re talking with people you know. I think that’s a really big part of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Having a comfortable place to discover and discuss content where you don’t feel like you’re being yelled at by the masses of the Internet is really important.”

West Coast Report: Bret Taylor of FriendFeed Explains How We ‘Like’ Now