At some point, when you start a new business you come face to face with an interesting question: what the heck are we doing?

Chances are you had some idea of what you were doing before you started on your journey. You saw a problem. You thought you had a brilliant solution. You know the story.

But once you’re off the ground, your new company’s identity becomes a more formal affair. The details start to matter and you have to place your business in the context of the real world that it’s competing in.

FriendFeed was conceived of as “a service that makes it easy to share with friends online“. It hasn’t taken the world by storm but it’s a relatively popular service that, according to Compete.com, pulls in just under a million US uniques per month. Whether FriendFeed ever achieves massive success and tons of revenue isn’t clear but, in my limited trials of it, I found that it appeared to do just what it says it does: help people share interesting online content amongst friends.

Yesterday, FriendFeed launched a massive redesign that literally changed the face of the service. If you think that its new ‘real-time‘ focus looks a little bit like Twitter, you’re not alone. I thought the same thing when I read the announcement and saw it.

I’m not a psychic and I’m not an active member of the FriendFeed community so I don’t know if FriendFeed’s redesign will turn out to be an overwhelming success or a complete flop. But the redesign did remind me of all the businesses that try to be something they’re not. I couldn’t help but think that FriendFeed was possibly making a huge mistake by taking a page out of Twitter’s book since I always saw the services as being far more unique than similar; one (Twitter) was just more popular than the other. Probably to FriendFeed’s consternation given the past comparisons/competition.

In my opinion, businesses shouldn’t pretend to be something they’re not and they can’t try to change their identities to simply be more fashionable. While some might argue that FriendFeed is merely adapting to the market (something all businesses have to do at some point), I disagree.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing well what you set out to do. Even if it turns out that the market for what you do is smaller than the market for another company that some have compared to yours, that doesn’t mean that you should chase somebody else’s pot of gold.

In the case of FriendFeed and Twitter, who knows what the future holds. As much as I love Twitter (when it’s not fail whaling), I still wouldn’t bet any money on its staying power or ability to monetize. If I was in charge of FriendFeed, I’d think long and hard before trying to follow too closely in Twitter’s footprints.

Photo credit: Zitona « [09] via Flickr.