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 Last.fm 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]