FriendFeed has launched a new feature that allows viewers to see updates on the site in real time.
The new, experimental real-time view offers comments and posts at the top of a users feed as they are posted to FriendFeed, without the need for the user to fresh the site. According to FriendFeed, the feature
"is accomplished by a technique called long polling, where our server doesn't respond to your browser's request until there's something it wants to send. This is great because we can show your FriendFeed faster using far fewer requests than before."
Along with the refreshing feed, users now have the option of a pop-out for any page on the site into a mini window, allowing users to follow a room without the need to have a full browser open, or to use the popup to track a room while browsing the rest of FriendFeed as usual.
The first test for the live feed in FriendFeed came with tonights Presidential Debate. The 2008-Debates room offered a live stream of comments and entries from FriendFeed users as they happened. The immediate parallel is with Twitter's election room, and the way the content hits the site live is identical visually, aside from the respective branding on both sites.
It's a welcome additional to the FriendFeed mix. It's an opt-in or out at any time feature for FriendFeed users, so you can choose to not use it at all, or on only some pages. It takes FriendFeed into the live chat room and even more into the forum and microblogging space than it has been previously (it already had some of these traits) so it may serve in expanding FriendFeed's appeal.
What I don't like about it: entries are streamed, but not bundled, so unlike a standard FriendFeed view that includes an entry then likes and comments underneath, all we get in the live feed is the comments in a standalone setting. It might be great for a service like Twitter, but bundled comments under a heading is a FriendFeed strength that has facilitated richer conversations. The second negative was the ability to respond to people with the live service turned on; I constantly found myself missing the comment or like button because the stream kept moving, and even when I thought I had clicked on it, it didn't register. This is the nature of a live stream like this, but it does take away from the base that FriendFeed is liked for, by making it harder to participate in a direct manner on the same thread as others. Still, you don't have to use it, so although I might play with it at times in the future (it will be great in tracking big events when you're dividing your attention say with a video stream), the rest of the time I won't be using it...but maybe at 33 I'm just not as quick as a 19 year old in clicking buttons either :-)
Update: Louis Gray has another take, noting that FF doesn't come close to Twitter.