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The New Friendfeed – who’s supplying the barf bags?


Well that is pretty similar to the last twenty minutes I’ve sat here watching the real-time web go scrolling by at breakneck speed on the new Friendfeed beta site. Besides being in bad need of some Gravol (anti-nausea drugs for you non-Canadians) I am really wondering if this fascination with slapping us in the face with all the world’s inanity is really what people like Tim Berners-Lee thought of when the whole idea of the real-time web came about.

M.G. Siegler wrote in his enthusiastic review of the new Friendfeed beta

Look, information happens in real time. One of the reasons the web has exploded in popularity is because it gives you access to more information, faster than ever before. This new version of FriendFeed does the exact same thing, to the extreme — it’s wonderful. Are people really complaining that we should slow the information down? It may be a bit extreme to say, but that really is a form of censorship. Don’t slow the information down, tweak the way you consume it.

Uhm …. M.G. don’t get me wrong because I think you’re a pretty smart guy but can we please cut the bullshit here. People being able to easily digest what is happening in the world and their social circle doesn’t mean having to feel like you are constantly going to fall off of a cliff. As for the crap about censorship c’mon bud let’s not drink too much of the kool-aid shall we.

The fact is that what Friendfeed had before with it’s auto-refresh every minute or so; with the option of a real-time puke up your lunch timeline, worked really well. Now though all you have is the option of reaching for the barf bag or putting everything on pause. Excuse me but how is this considered user friendly in the slightest sense of the word.

Jeremiah Owang talks in his post about the changes and how we are facing some real challenges in the world where everything is a river of news

Challenges to Navigating the “River of News”
As the web continues to move faster and faster towards real-time (we see this in Twitter and elements of Facebook), it creates several challenges:

  • If you’re not watching all the time, you’ll miss something
  • An incredible amount of hay is created with very few needles
  • Managing these feeds take effort, you have to setup filters, lists, groups, and manage it.
  • You’re going to get less work done if you watch, and participate in the real-time web.

New Social Tools and Processes to Emerge
If the social web is a ‘river of news’ then we’re going to need new sea-faring technologies to manage it:

  • Anchors We need more anchors to slow it down and make sense of it, Friendfeed offers a ‘pause’ button that actually freezes the stream, allowing users to navigate the content.
  • Dams and Distibutaries Dams will stop the flow of content (users will unsubscrbe) and distributary are rivers that split off from the main river, as a result you’ll see a need to use filters and lists to group people in smaller categories.
  • Maps and Compasses are needed to help guide us to what’s important. Expect digests, analysis, and those who boil down what matters to matter more than ever. Traditional reporters will help make sense of thousands of opinions.

As right as he might be about it all becoming a river of news it shouldn’t mean that we live in dread of being seasick at the thought of trying to read it. In fact more than a river it seems that we are facing more of a tsunami.

Louis Gray in his one of a couple posts about the changes at Friendfeed said this about the information firehose on steroids

But if you follow a ton of folks, be prepared for an onslaught of information. If people thought FriendFeed delivered a ton of information before, just wait until you see the beta. The realtime flow means an item might move lower in the page while you’re still reading it. You might click like on the wrong item. And you probably aren’t going to get the chance to read everything. That’s why there is a pause button at the top. You might find yourself hitting pause just to catch a breath. But if you’re an information junkie, there’s really no better source.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think that Friendfeed is one of the best lifestreaming aggregators out there and I have whiled away many an hour following along but this move to an either or proposition with its real-time presentation has devalued it for me. Regardless of the fact that you can create all kinds of lists or rooms the fact is that with this new design the more people you follow the sooner you’ll heading for the great white telephone like a drunken sophomore.

Even Robert Scoble in one of his many posts this morning acknowledges that this real-time presentation can have an impact on your workflow

Here’s some tips I’ve learned after using the new friendfeed for a while:

1. Turn it off. There’s no way to be productive doing something else while the stream is moving and distracting you. Two ways to turn it off: 1. close the browser. That’s brute force method. 2. Push the “pause button” at the top of the feed. That will keep it from moving. You can then refresh the page to see more items, or push play when you want to start seeing new items again.

The point is, there is real-time and then there is having your head shoved into a 1,000 mph wind tunnel. What Friendfeed had before was a real workable real-time presentation whereas what they have with this new taste your lunch in your throat activity stream is highly questionable. I realize I am going against the kool-aid drinking stream – as evidenced by the many goo-goo-gaa-gaa type posts out there today but I am sure glad that even with all the good new feature in the beta I can still go back to the old style.

As to what I’ll do when this change is forced down our throats I’m not sure … maybe I’ll have to stock up on Gravol and barf bags. Or perhaps hope against hope Friendfeed will rethink this move and give us some more alternatives to control our real-time stream.

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14 Responses to “The New Friendfeed – who’s supplying the barf bags?”

  1. RexDixon

    Interesting for like less than 30 seconds, and it became stupid in my eyes at least. No time to sit and watch the real web stream by at break neck speed. Do however like the new look.

    IS there an option to go to normal / not real time speed?

  2. Bwana

    Deja Vu. Same thing happened when FriendFeed first came out. “It's too much” “There's too much noise”… Here it is again! FF will adjust, users will adapt and be happy. I find the new experience to be pleasant when combined with filters. With the proper filters, I don't miss anything and real-time river becomes moot. But whatever, different strokes for different folks.

  3. StevenHodson

    Sorry Bwana but this isn't the same thing. When Friendfeed first came along I wan't overly thrilled with it either but once I gave it a second look I liked it – especially as they did the one thing Twitter didn't do which was auto refresh. That auto refresh is perfect for providing a usable real-time reading of the time line. This incarnation though is forcing everyone to use what is fundamentally a feature that very few people are going to want and having a pause button isn't a solution by any stretch of the imagination.

    Filter are suppose to enhance your user experience not save it from becoming an unusable experience.

  4. carloslorenzo

    Obviously the fact that beta Friendfeed is too fast is undeniable but what about the rest of the options. Not that the design is great either but that Twitter-Facebook look may attract those indecisive people and please an early adopter or two at the same time. I mean this is business and although the company was doing great it is no sin trying to reach a wider audience and compete. Friendfeed has always had its detractors that will jump at the prey on any faux pas. This reminds me of many scientific discoveries denied by people who could not understand innovation or simply were affected in some way by the new finding. Not that it is exactly the case but let's give Friendfeed some time to tune up. It's a beta version for Christ sake! I am sure the speedy front page will give an option to refresh at intervals and not just pause. Speed and fresh news don't go necessarily hand in hand. We need time to digest and classify but if you had a stream full of salmon you would go for the biggest catch and forget about the intensity of the flow . I mean the information is there, we just need to filter the river of news as Jeremiah Owyang says.

  5. Bwana

    Hardly unusable here, but like I said. Different strokes for different folks. I'm from the school of IRC where information flies by at a blazing pace and if I miss something, so what? On slow irc channels, any user could join and contribute, but on the busier irc channels, only seasoned veterans could really keep up. Same type of deal here for me. Those who follow more than 500 active users are going to be floored with this update, while those who follow a small set of users won't feel it as much.

    But while I'm here, I believe there's a much bigger issue that this new beta has surfaced. People are generally following way too many users. Before the beta, they were missing the updates on a static page which refreshed automatically. Only the hot threads would get pushed to the top. Now the information you're MISSING is right in your face. FriendFeed provided LISTS to manage these massive followers, but people are too lazy to put the work in to properly utilize them. Honestly, they shouldn't HAVE to use lists, but lists were added because people don't know how to properly follow “friends”.

    Blame Scoble. Now everyone is trying to follow everyone they can without utilizing the full toolset of FriendFeed and they're overwhelmed. FriendFeed can't fix this issue, but users can manage it if they take the time.. but who has time? Rant over. FriendFeed will adjust, users will adapt. The world will go on.

  6. StevenHodson

    Bwana I use IRC daily – in fact I have a dedicated WinExtra channel but that is in this case a horse of a different color. You *might* get a channel with a couple of hundred people but not all of those are talking at the same time – especially if it is a moderated channel.

    I follow just about the 500 number you cite and even at that the real-time as imposed in the beta makes it painful to follow AND I shouldn't have to keep switching between lists of separated people just to make everything “manageable” – that is a bad usability decision.

    As for the argument about following too many people .. I have spent the better part of a year building up that list and while not all post all of the time they are people who I find interesting and learn something from. By telling me that just to be able to use the new design so that it doesn't frustrate the hell out of me that I should unfollow those people is bullshit.

    Scoble can be blamed for a lot of things but not this idea that real-time slap you in the face information sucking is the way to go isn't in his lap alone – a lot of people have been pushing this ADD inducing stupid idea.

  7. StevenHodson

    Carlos I purposely ignored much of the other changes because besides the layout and color scheme of the beta site there are some good things that the Friendfeed team brought to the table. Unfortunately though this fixation of firehosing us without any real options to control it is one that has a potential to hurt them and it is something that should be talked about.

  8. stonyeagle

    Well written. The changes devalue the whole meaning of the site. Instead of being able to find quality writers,articles pics, videos and the like. They've decided to throw quality to the side of the road like a beer can and rush off to get another beer to keep the euphoria of the discussion going.

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