I have been playing with the new FriendFeed beta for about a week. As promised, I wanted to give some level of feedback and review after my normal level of use. One minor caveat is that my current normal level of use is significantly lower than six months ago due to my day job being extraordinarily busy. That being said, there was still enough to review, and I am lumping things into general categories.
If you have not heard by now, the default view for FriendFeed is the real-time feed. One thing I noticed is that this is not entirely true. The old real-time feed had likes and comments as separate entries. This feed combines the real-time update idea with the regular feed. So the change for the users is not that drastic, unless you are viewing your home feed. The speed of the updates on your home feed is ridiculous if you subscribe to many people. This means that lists are almost a requirement, and that is probably a good thing. I know lists have made my FriendFeed experience much better. And in case you missed it, there is a pause button in the header bar to stop the updates.
There are two new features that have been widely requested, Direct Messages and saved searches. Direct Messages are internal only and act just like any other FriendFeed conversation. I do wish it was more of an email gateway, but it is better than nothing. The conversation is also a bit awkward as you need to “comment” instead of reply. Granted, this is the way that FriendFeed works, but for messaging it just seemed odd. Saved searches or filters are a big bonus for most people. It is very easy to create an ego search if you wanted, and the filter options are fairly extensive. I am a big fan of the filters.
One thing you will notice as you work with the new beta is that there is little emphasis on where the content really came from. Initially, I had mixed feelings about this. However, after a week I find this highly distressing. The problem is that if you are not paying close attention, you may be responding to a tweet or a Google Reader share. Knowing where the conversation is occurring is important to many people, but I understand why they did this. This is meant to keep the conversation on FriendFeed. I am here, I am not going anywhere, so there is no need to worry.
The new subscription list takes the place of the room list with a “bonus feature”. The idea is that you can list those subscriptions you want quick access to. For rooms or groups that is a fantastic idea. However, the management of this list is far less than ideal, and there is no significant cue that something is a room or a person. In addition, there is no reference to the last activity date like the current production version has. This means I have to click through a bunch of rooms to see if anything has happened. Sometimes it is the little things that can make an interface better, and this was one of them.
Now we get to those items that may drive me back to the old/current FriendFeed. I am not a designer, but the gray background is harsh. I liked the minimalist design and the current layout is OK, but a little more work is needed. They have gone far too minimal, and now the site actually looks like it was designed by someone with little experience, not the team we all know and love. To say it more succinctly, I was very disappointed.
My discussions are more cleanly designated, but they have neutered this feature as well. For anyone that has a lot of activity between sharing, like or comments, the my discussions feed is useless. There is no way to look just at your comments or just your likes. I used the comments to determine if conversations were still occurring, and now I can not even find things. Again, highly disappointed.
The final problem I have is that you still can not post something when you are viewing a list. I am not sure why this is so difficult, but there should be a way to post to your own feed no matter where you are. I have a feeling this is coming, but it is still something I miss and the push towards needing lists makes this even more needed.
I still love FriendFeed, and I like the real-time updating, but I am concerned they are trying to simplify something that should not be simplified. There are a bunch of administrative settings that are missing or hard to find, but I am guessing that they just have not been added yet. Overall, the direction could be good, but I do hope they are listening to their users. FriendFeed is a fantastic product that should not be “twitterized”. Hopefully, the beta is really a work-in-progress that is not ready for production release. Maybe I am just spoiled by the “royal” treatment we have been getting from the FriendFeed team. They have not done much wrong in the past, so maybe I am just being overly critical.