Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Doctor's Room on FriendFeed

Topics discussed in this article: Doctor’s Room on FriendFeed, FriendFeed, Twitter, Feed of Doctors on Twitter

The quality of a conversation depends on the medium, and the newest and most successful medium for conversations on the net is FriendFeed.

First, some background: a month ago, I introduced a new way of eavesdropping on doctors and medical students who use a service called Twitter. (To understand FriendFeed, you have to talk about Twitter — the reasons for this will soon be apparent.) In two years, Twitter — a combination of microblog, chatroom, and social networking phenomenon — has become the standard for rapid, informal communication on the internet. Even doctors — not early adopters of new communication technologies — have developed a presence on Twitter. (See here for the RSS feed summarizing the conversations of Doctors on Twitter.)

But Twitter has many problems. First, it's a victim of its own success — Twitter has become so overloaded with users that it's frequently offline. For a service that so many people depend upon daily, this is maddening. (And obviously, this also makes it unreliable for clinically important purposes.) Twitter also limits posts to text alone — no pictures, video, or other types of links allowed. Finally, it’s difficult to follow the decentralized conversations on Twitter. (You can appreciate how difficult this is by looking at the feed — all those @’s are users replying to one another.)

Enter FriendFeed, founded by a few ex-Google employees. The entire service is based on an obvious concept — that people you like can introduce you to information you’re likely to enjoy. (Strangely, although the concept is obvious, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around, and it took me months before I really understood it.) Briefly, FriendFeed allows you to create a stream (or feed) of your activities on the net — blog posts, pictures or videos you like, comments on Twitter, and data from over 40 other services that you may choose to share. Other people can then “subscribe” to you, see what you’re doing, and post comments on your feed.

Twitter currently has twice as many users, but FriendFeed is catching up fast. The advantages of FF are many, including stability, the ability to easily track conversations, and the ability to post items from different media. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive comparison of the two services, but I do want to highlight some important differences and introduce a new place for discussions related to medicine: the Doctor’s Room on FriendFeed.

“Rooms," which are discussion areas for communities centered on a particular topic, are a recent feature of FF. Anyone can create one, so as an experiment, I created one for doctors and medical students at www.friendfeed.com/rooms/doctors. Users can post items to the room or have their feeds — for example, blogs, posts on Flickr, Twitter postings — imported to the room. In the Doctor’s Room, I’ve imported all the conversations of doctors and medical students who use Twitter as well as the feeds from many popular, recently updated medical blogs.

The Doctors Room on FriendFeed is a potential alternative to at least two services: 1) the Doctors on Twitter feed — if you’d like, you can even reply to Twitter posts directly from FF; and 2) Medlogs.com, an aggregator of medical blogs — FF has the advantage of allowing you to comment on posts and mark those that you like.

Check it out
. Comments and suggestions — either here or on FriendFeed itself — are welcome.

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Technical details and issues, for those interested:

1. The posts on Twitter are displayed on the main page without usernames. If you hover over the “Twitter” link, it shows you who posted it. Hopefully FF will correct this in the future.

2. Currently only administrators can add new feeds to the room. I’ve added many users I know as administrator. If you’re an administrator, feel free to add feeds (blogs and other doctors and medical students on twitter) to the room.

3. If you’re not an administrator, and you’d like me to add your medical blog or Twitter name to the FriendFeed room, please email efficientmd@gmail.com.
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1 comment:

Phil said...

Twitter and FriendFeed are definitely useful in healthcare.

But you point out some of the problems with those services. I think a more targeted system, inspired by the likes of Twitter and FriendFeed could do even more.

I recently posted about an experimental messaging service (called ESME) supported by a an IT Solutions and Services division of Siemens. That might be a model for delivering tag-based, searchable social messaging. You can check it out on my July 7 post.

Glad to see you're using these tools. There are many ways to use them. And FF rooms are one way to go for sure.