Posted in: Technology

Taking a hammer to Friendfeed


For the past month Friendfeed has been running a new version of the site through their beta URL but yesterday like flicking on a light switch the beta became the live site for everyone; whether you wanted it or not. Unfortunately even under the glare of the light Friendfeed is still the ugly looking site that it was as a beta.

During the beta I made my opinion of what I thought about the beta clear to anyone who cared. Now that it has gone live with no real changes; other than some email feature, from the beta I figured I would state for the last time why I think this was a bad decision.

Real time display

There is a big misconception about what a real time web is. The most common argument is that it is the ability to read about events as they are happening. A good example was the one that Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins gave in the inaugural CobWEB podcast last night. Using the example of Google the idea of a real time web would be the ability to search for something that was happening right now and have the search engine serve up all the different conversations that are happening on Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook and blogs. Not what happened half and hour, or hour, ago but what is being talked about right now.

As it is Google is great if you just want to find things that happened at some point in the past even if that past is only a couple of hours old; but when it comes to right now it pretty well falls apart. Many folks like to point to Twitter search as being the answer for that but to me once you get past a certain point with Twitter it is more noise than anything of value.

However this is the real time that works and makes sense, except people seem to have the impression that real time should be being able to see what is happening; boring or otherwise, the moment it happens. This is the route Friendfeed has taken. Now when you hit your home timeline in Friendfeed everything is being streamed at you within milliseconds of the information entering Friendfeed.

ff1 Now for people who either have a small follow list or have cut back on that list this might be a manageable way to deal with your timeline. On the other hand for those just new to the service and being displayed the full force of the public timeline this could prove to be just like the proverbial firehose. Even myself, I am following 450 people, you could pretty well double that number if you take into account Friendfeed’s Friend of a Friend feature, but even at that level this real time display is nothing but a complete irritation.

What gets me is the stupid argument that people put forward that if it is that bad then just create new friend lists or groups. Excuse me? Why all of a sudden am I have to make more work for myself in order to use this service? That’s just a silly blow off kind of statement to make.

The things is that Friendfeed had a perfect, workable, solution with the previous iteration of the service. By default any page would automatically refresh on it’s own every minute or so. this made the flow of information manageable regardless of what you were reading or trying to do on the site. To top it off for those that really wanted to stuff the hose down their throats there was a link to change to the real time display. Two different options and everyone was happy. Now we have only the single option and a lot of people are pissed.

This is definitely a case of taking something that wasn’t broken and breaking because Friendfeed felt like it and screw those people who seriously didn’t like it.

User Interface – WTF?

Look the old interface might have been plain and boring with its own inherent problems but compared to what we have now it was a friggin Picasso of interfaces. Now it looks like someone took a box of crayons, melted them and then mashed them into a page. If there is the perfect epitome of a badly designed blog from the 90’s this is it.


The rounded edges of the different blocks are ragged looking. And what is with the green and orange as contrasting colors for blue and gray? Speaking of the gray background – what are you thinking?

During the beta phase of this abomination one of the members of Friendfeed, Lindsey Smith, did a mockup of what was something that maybe should be consider as a possible interface for FriendFeed. You can see it here and unlike the current version of Friendfeed it is easy to see that a real designer had something to do with it

mockup - click for larger view

Sorry but design wise Friendfeed has become an embarrassment. Where I usually had it running all the time in a browser on the other monitor I now only open it up when I want to take a minute and try to catch up.

Some general observations

The above are two of the most glaring problems with Friendfeed as it is now but in some ways it gets even worse when you start digging behind the scenes. Things that worked well before are either gone or they have been changed for the worse.

Simplicity is great right up until it is pointless

I get the whole simplicity thing. I really do. There comes a point though when you have dumbed something down so far that it is borderline unusable. If you were to look at the main (home) page of Friendfeed for the first time I would be willing to bet you wouldn’t have a frikken clue as to what you are suppose to do. Hell I look at after using Friendfeed for over a year and I went WTF am I suppose to do now.

ff3At least with the previous version of the site there were some clues as to what you can do. A good example of simplicity carried to far can be found when you look at the Groups block on the right side of the page. Now it might be cute and a great way to show off your coding ability to make the Pref option link only show when you move your mouse over the block area but really that is just irritating. Not to mention but a new user would probably look at it and go – Ya .. so .. now what.

Groups – no longer a productivity gain

The other thing with the Groups menu area that really really pisses me off is that they have totally changed the way it works. In the previous version of the site you could in a single glance tell which of your Groups (or Rooms as they were called) had any activity happening. This was because when something got posted to them that Group moved to the top of the list with the time the activity last took place. Now we just have a lifeless useless static list of Groups that unless I take the time and go through them manually I have no way of knowing if they have been active. Ya, that’s a great boost for productivity.

Ode to the missing Source Icons

One of the other really big complaints that is resonating throughout any of the conversations I have been following is the removal of the Source Icons. These icons were the graphical display of which of your importing services had added items to your timeline. It was an excellent way to be able to identify – again – at a glance what was coming from where. Now you can’t tell because those icons have been removed and it is really pissing people off.

Another area where these source icons are invaluable is on the profile pages. Unlike a lot of people it seems I actually like to check out who I might be subscribing to when I get a subscriber notification. Even more importantly I like to see what kind of stuff they are going to be bringing into my activity stream if I decide to follow them back. In the previous version I used to be able to tell what was their Twitter input, their additions and their Facebook meandering. Now I don’t have a frikken clue which means I’m less likely to be following as many people. Way to go – make something totally useless why don’t you.

Did someone send out a memo about hating dropdown lists and I missed it?

Everywhere it seems in Friendfeed, including its bookmarklet, dropdown lists have been banished to some netherworld. Instead we have some fancy combination of a text entry box and a auto complete dropdown. What this means is that if you don’t want the item that is displayed in the text area you click on the little ‘X’ to make it go away. Then you start typing the name, group or whatever in the text area and magically a dropdown list will appear with a list of items Friendfeed thinks you mean based on the letters you have typed in.

Gee, thanks. Good luck figuring that out all you new users as it was it took me a minute or two to figure about what the hell was going on. so tell me – other than being a way to show off some ninja javascript skill WTF is the point? Are proper dropdown lists so un-cool, even though they are simple to figure out and use, that they need to be replaced with a ridiculous option. C’mon give me a break.

In the end

Friendfeed has lost some of the best things that made it attractive and as a result it has become more work. I have always said that Friendfeed was one of the best tools out there for people need to keep their fingertips on the pulse of what is happening.

Use to.

Now it’s like taking the pulse of someone having a heart attack. Whether or not I stick with Friendfeed the way I have in the past is debatable. It’s not like anyone will really notice that I, or other unhappy users, have left or gone into maintenance mode, because they’ll be too busy trying to keep up with all the real time dribble.

Good luck Friendfeed because I really think you are going to need it.

[old Friendfeed screen capture courtesy of scriptedlife]

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13 Responses to “Taking a hammer to Friendfeed”

  1. Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

    Interestingly enough, and this is something I considered doing today – someone familiar enough with the API could create an interface that worked exactly like the old version of the site, allowing for posting and reading of FF in the old style.

  2. StevenHodson

    I agree with you Chris and it doesn't bode well for Friendfeed in my opinion. Even if they gave the option to switch between this stupid ass real time display and the previous refresh time frame as well as return the Source Icons I could live with the gawd awful design. I'd probably still find things that irritated me but those two things are pissing me right off

  3. Sprague D

    If their churn rate shoots up because of the weird design choices, they'll react. Perhaps they think real time will be a differentiator for them. Maybe, but aside from a small population of hardcore users, I can't think who will invest the time to make the new design work for them. I sure as hell won't. I've already noticed I'm spending more time on Twitter since the FF beta started.

  4. patricia

    Point of clarification:: That mockup wasn't done by Lindsay D. She put out the call for people to make mockups, that's true. But that mockup was done by Lindsey S.

  5. Mark Wilson

    Excellent article Steven. It's like the FF Development Team lost their minds. I see a lot of self-congratulatory posts coming from Bret lately. Oh well, whatever. I'm not about to lose any more time or energy worrying about what's happening. In the grand scheme of my life, this is small potatoes.

    P.S. The mockup was done by Lindsey S (aka Lindsey is Fierce) not Lindsey D.

  6. Isha

    Excellent article.

    I'd like to add just one thing: I used to go to the standard Friendfeed pages when I wanted to catch up (and like you I find the enforced “realtime” version stinks), and then I'd click on the “Realtime” link & then click on the “Mini-window” link. That way, I could have a coupla mini-windows of a coupla my FF list feeds open on the right of my computer screen, & do something else in the rest of the screen. Whenever there was a new addition or comment or like added to the two feeds, I'd notice out the corner of my eye.

    I changed my whole work pattern & subscriptions as a result of this feature, & it was a great feature to have. It was widely praised. And now it's gone. In one day. Without notice. Friendfeed has just killed something that they gave great fanfare to & that got them lots of praise.

    And guess what – I can't change my subscriptions back to what they were without taking days over it, because the new FF is so difficult to use.

    Nil points Friendfeed. This could just be the beginning of your end.

  7. Isha

    I should have added in my comment above: anyone who manages to create something that I can use that is exactly like the old Realtime mini-window please let me know about it. Friendfeed user @eddale has over 5,600 subscribers to his Friendfeed, and he taught us how to use the mini-window to great effect – most of us were using it. FF realtime mini-window RIP.

  8. jorgeblanco

    The new friendfeed has many issues to handle… I can't beleive they called this out of beta… I is true that there are some new improvements that are nice to have, but definitely not at the cost of loosing everything they took away. especially since now it is not an option to have the classic interface. Didn't we all learn from the Facebook fiasco? Leaving your users without a choice is never the best option. Facebook rehashed its policies just to give users a choice… why can't we have a choice of interface wit FF? I don't know. I hope this gets better soon

  9. StevenHodson

    thanks .. Lindsey S got a hold of me on FF and smacked me around for my mistake (j/k) I've since corrected the error and added her FF link

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