Here are details on how you too can get the hell away from Twitter, increase the functionality available to you and still not lose your whole social network. I hope at this point I have some credibility as a late adopter and as a person who does not jump at every new service that comes along. It took 9 months of nagging for me to join Twitter in the first place and I’ve still never joined Facebook. I have the same process as the Amish about adopting technologies: I stay away until I see some evidence it will make my life better. It is with that idea that I have adopted FriendFeed.
I avoided FriendFeed as well for some time. The whole thing with 41 services that it integrates actually put me off. It gave me panic attacks. However, I knew that Twhirl had some integration with it so finally I said WTF and just did it. Right away – I mean within minutes – I knew it was at least at parity with Twitter and within a day I had no doubts as to its far superiority. Twitter is the basic proof of concept prototype that should have been thrown away, and FriendFeed is the real product that comes after. Even if Twitter’s downtime problems weren’t so pronounced, I’ve gotten tired of even how it works nominally. The 140 character limit around SMS, a technology that I have never once used, rankles me. Its very best feature is track and that has been turned off for a month, so at this point I’m pissed off enough to leave and motivated enough to do it.
Because of the very nature of FriendFeed, it contains in itself a nice way to taper down from Twitter (and Pownce and Jaiku too) into using FriendFeed exclusively, without losing your social network and without doing quite so much “new SNS busy work” (although there is some.) Here are some steps I have taken, and I’m serious as a myocardial infarction about turning Twitter off when the tipping point has been hit.
You just slip out the back, Jack
First, create yourself a FriendFeed account. If you can, get the same username as you had on Twitter. If you can’t we will all survive. When asked to hook other services up to it, you might be tempted to add Twitter but don’t. We’re actually going to go the other way.
Make a new plan, Stan
If you don’t have it already, download Twhirl. It was already the best front end to Twitter. I knew it had integration with FriendFeed and frankly the ease of using the two is part of what tipped me. In the accounts tab add in the information for your FriendFeed account. You can add in your Twitter too if you want to as a transitional strategy but eventually that is coming out. That’s what this is all about, Jack. Or Stan. Or Gus.
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Update: There is an alternative to the steps below. Kreg Steppe has written a PHP script that will search on the same username and give either a link to that FF page or a convience link to search on that name. It’s still somewhat manual, but much easier with Kreg’s script than doing it by hand.
This step is the shakiest of all, I admit, and I wish there were better alternatives. I’m half thinking about trying to build that myself. Go get Internet Duct Tape’s Twitter to FriendFeed utility. Now this is a Windows console app which really sucks, so those of you who don’t have a PC or VMware or Parallels are left out of this one. I swear, by next weekend I will really try to code up the equivalent in a more portable solution. Worst of all, this step didn’t work for me but it does have a workaround.
When you run it, you give your FF and Twitter credentials. It logs into each and gets your lists of friends/followed. It uses the Google Social Graph API to map the two together which sounded crazy to me but works alarmingly well. It is supposed to add your contacts to FriendFeed but in my case, all it did was give me three results: “is already your friend on Friend Feed”, “Not on Friend Feed”, and “Unable to subscribe”. I don’t know what is happening with the last (API change?) but as it is doing all this, it is writing a log file and that log file includes the FriendFeed account name that couldn’t be added. This allows you to still add the person, although it is much more of a pain in the ass than it should be. If they fix this tool it will help or if I can write an act-alike clone, that will help. Either way or the manual way, when you are done as much of your existing Twitter network as possible will instantly be set up on FriendFeed. In my case, I’d say about 40% were already there, and even in a few days that number is climbing.
The last bit is that you can create what FriendFeed calls “imaginary friends.” Even before someone signs up you can create a dummy account and add in their Twitter feed to it. Do that for all your friends whose tweets you can’t live without and then even without using Twitter you will continue to get their updates. This touch is the brilliant bit that really makes the whole exit plan work, in my opinion. Unfortunately, imaginary friends don’t seem to automatically convert to contacts. Maybe FriendFeed can fix this shortly or better yet, build in this important functionality so we don’t have to do ridiculous hacks to get more users into their system. You know?
Anyone that knows of or can create a better solution for this step let me know and I’ll replace this information with your upgrade. I fear this part is where we will lose people, particularly those with really large networks they currently follow.
Hop on the bus, Gus
The whole purpose of this stuff is that you are going to stop originating any messages in Twitter. In my case, the only ones that will ever go straight to Twitter again are ones to let people know that I’m leaving and how to keep up with me. In order to let the people that follow you ramp down, you will create a way that your FriendFeed posts will get set to Twitter. Create an account at TwitterFeed but rather than giving it your blog you will give it your FriendFeed atom feed: In my case it is http://friendfeed.com/geniodiabolico?format=atom but you will just substitute your username in there. Now your FriendFeed messages will post back to Twitter. You can add in a step of scrubbing that feed with a clone of my friend Paul’s Yahoo Pipe but I chose to just skip that step. It means that some extraneous stuff will end up in my Twitter updates but what do I care? I want to goad all my followers to leave the service anyway. This is why you didn’t add Twitter into your FriendFeed services. If you do, your original FF messages get retweeted and then your tweet comes back into FF and pushes back out (unless you remove it with the Pipe.)
You don’t need to discuss much
At this point, you can post messages to FriendFeed. People can comment directly on them which is a model 100X more sensible than Twitter’s fractured and fragmented @reply semantics. Twitter is getting your messages via TwitterFeed. The maximum of 5 in 30 minutes is the most the service will post, so you might lose some. However Twitter already loses my updates about 1 in 6 times so most Twitter users should be used to this by now.
Just drop off the key, Lee
The beautiful thing about all this is that the experience gets better, I have found. The only thing that Twitter has to offer anymore is the user base, and with a little effort you can take the user base with you. In my case, I’m now becoming an evangelist for the Twitter Exodus and urging everyone that follows me to follow my FriendFeed instead. I seldom link whore but if you could spread this meme around, I would love it. Of course the FriendFeed guys will also love it and the Twitter guys will hate it. On the bright side, if most people do bail on Twitter and only the hardcore lovers of it stick around, maybe the service will be usable for those who remain.
And get yourself free
And that my friends is how to extricate yourself from the Twitter hairball without losing your whole network and all the energy you put into it. The one detail that I haven’t yet figured out is what to do with Twitter @replies during the transition. Unless I figure out a solution for that, I’ll check them every day or three and reply back in FriendFeed with my own @reply. My last Tweet will one day just be a pointer over to FF and a notice that I won’t see anything in Twitter anymore.
When you get to FriendFeed you can join the Twitter room and commiserate with other expatriates from that service. At first you’ll be a little sad and then you’ll think “Holy crap, FriendFeed has rooms!” and you’ll get happy again.
Trust me on this, our lives will be better. Of course if FF takes a Twitter-style performance dump after a mass migration I’ll look like an ass but I’m willing to risk it. I’m a poker player and on this I’m willing to go all in. Who’s willing to call that bet?
Update: This post seems to have lit a number of firecrackers, which is, like, awesome. Scoble pointed out that when using the FriendFeed comment box on a post that was originally from Twitter, you can check a box and have it posted back to Twitter. Also, I have found out there is this WordPress plugin to show FriendFeed comments on posts. I have now installed it on this blog, so if you look at any post with FF comments you should see them. Steve Gillmor, how does this fit in with your definition of “silo”?