FriendFeed released its new beta on Monday morning. I’ve had a chance to play with it the last day or so, and I’ve come to the following conclusions:
- I like it
- It appears to take aim right at Facebook
That second statement may surprise some people. But after looking at the two sites, I see a lot of growing similarities. And given Facebook’s incredible momentum, it’s not a bad thing.
The new features are described in detail, but here are the highlights:
- All real-time, all the time
- Cleaner separation of individual entries
- Direct messages
- Preset filters
- More people-centric visually
- Limited bios
- Other nice touches
I’m going to hazard a guess that the default real-time experience is going to cause the biggest reaction.
Before discussing the explicit Facebook angle, let’s examine the new features.
All real-time, all the time
This may be the most abrupt change for people. The current FriendFeed offers two choices: pages that reload every minute of so, or real-time. The new FriendFeed is only available in real-time.
Now since there already is real-time with the current FriendFeed, what’s the difference with the beta release? Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of the different versions below:
On the left is the new beta UI. On the right is current real-time UI. Now on the right, take a look at the top there. See those gray bars with smiley faces and text? That’s how a Like comes through in real-time. Disconnected from the original entry. And see that comment by Luke Kilpatrick? That’s how comments come through. Again, disconnected from the original entry.
On the left, the beta solves this problem. When a new Like or comment occurs for an entry, it remains connected with that entry. Just like the non real-time version of the current UI, Likes and comments cause the entry to “bounce” back to the top of your page.
If the stream of entries is too fast for you, you click Pause to slow things down. In my useage on a Sunday (lower volume day), the pace of entries flying thorugh my home feed was fast, at times too fast. But then I’m following 1,600 people. On a regular work day, I’m guess things will be flying by rather quickly.
But if you follow a more limited number of people, say 150, the real-time pace will be fine. Or live in your Lists more regularly.
Cleaner separation of individual entries
The new display of entries is very well-done. Each entry stands alone, partitioned by light gray lines. Visually, this separation helps a lot with tracking distinct content on FriendFeed.
On the current UI, separation is achieved with an extra margin of white space. This makes separation visible, but the page in total can run together in a blur of text and graphics.
The cleaner separation will be welcomed by users.
Yes, FriendFeed now allows you to send direct message to others. This has been something that users have asked for. I love this feature.
You can’t just DM anybody on FriendFeed. You can only send DMs to people who follow you. Twitter has the same restriction on DMs. Once you DM someone, they can reply with a comment. So your original DM includes a thread of the entire conversation. Very nice. You can send a DM to multiple people at once. You can include a picture with your DM, which is very handy. Someday…files?
One thing missing is the ability to search the conversations you have via DM. I had a DM conversation with Louis Gray, and he used the word “marathon” in one comment. I later ran a search on “marathon”, but our conversation didn’t show up in my search results. Adding that would be useful for later recall.
Got a favorite search you like to do? Well now you can set up a search, and save it as a filter on your side bar. The search becomes another “filter”, which you access with a simple click. The saved search can include all the parameters that FriendFeed provides on its regular search, including:
- Specifying which users or groups to search
- Minimum number of Likes and/or comments
- Likes or comments by specific users
The saved search is a powerful feature for finding relevant information.
More people-centric visually
With the move to all real-time, all the time, the user picture becomes the focus of each entry. In the current UI, the icon of the service that fed the entry is dominant. In other words, you’ll see a Twitter icon, a FriendFeed icon, a Del.icio.us icon, a YouTube icon, etc.
The prominence of the service icon in the current UI puts the focus more on the source of the content. And for many people, it matters. I’ve seen a number of users say they hide all Twitter entries, for instance.
The beta UI puts the focus on the person first. It’s actually hard to see which service is the source for the person’s entry. Your first impulse is to think of the person.
I like this. Philosophically, it says people are the core, regardless of the source of their content.
This is another oft-requested feature. People can now include a short bio on their profile pages.
This is very handy, it’s a quick way to find out a bit more about someone without going to their LinkedIn profile or blog About Me page.
I decided to put my job, the fact that I’m a father and my location into my bio. HTML tags aren’t supported, but you can include a link.
Other nice touches
There are some other nice features as well. Two caught my eye.
First, there’s a page called “My discussions”. Previously, there was a hard separation between entries you originate, and entries you comment and Like.
My discussions dispenses with that separation. It includes everything that you’ve:
- Commented on
This is a great move. Makes it very easy to track all content you’ve touched in FriendFeed.
The other thing I noticed is a change in the way those you follow are listed. The Subscriptions box appears to show those with whom you’ve more recently and most often interacted. The current UI shows a random set of subscriptions.
Making those with whom you interact more prominent in your Subscriptions list is a great way to foster repeat visits to those peoples’ feeds. Which means more interaction.
Take a look at the comparison of the FriendFeed beta and the new Facebook home page:
Here’s are the similarities I see:
- Person’s picture leads the entry
- People can Like and comment on entries
- Clean separation between entries
- Timestamp of the entry
- Filter (on the right for FriendFeed, on the left for Facebook)
- Ability to message others directly
- Bios of each user
The soul of the two services still differs. FriendFeed makes following anyone easy, and everything is searchable. The new beta puts a premium on real-time, and it delivers. And with saved searches and a million filter possibilities, information management is still at the heart of the service.
Facebook has the two-way follow requirement, and you can’t search for anything that people have previously posted. Things still feel slower there, although that is probably because I follow much fewer people on Facebook, and those people tend to share share less abundantly.
All that said, I still see the gap narrowing between the two. This competition between the giant and the innovative start-up is great for users.
Give it a road test
The URL for the beta is:
Give it a try, and let the FriendFeed guys know what you think.
See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22FriendFeed%E2%80%99s+New+Beta%3A+Taking+Realtime+Aim+at+Facebook%22