Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reading FriendFeed via Google Reader (Sean McBride's suggestion)

Introduction | Preliminary Results | Mobility

You'll recall that I previously linked to Louis Gray's list of suggestions for the FriendFeed user interface. While my post at the time primarily concentrated on business issues, perhaps this would be a good time to revisit Louis Gray's first suggestion:

FriendFeed Must Have a Lite Version for New Users

New users signing up to FriendFeed, by default, see all updates from all friends who they are following, as well as updates from friends of a friend. This means that even if you start out following only a few dozen people...you can be flooded with updates from Twitter, Blogs, bookmarking sites, external commenting sites, BrightKite location notices, photos from Flickr and other sites, videos from YouTube, and even items from Amazon.com wish lists. And not only do you have to see all this from the people you know, but you'll even have to see updates from friends of those you know, if your friends have made an action on their updates.

What needs to happen is that FriendFeed must tier their offering....The Lite version would probably start out with blog postings, Flickr photos, and native FriendFeed entries. The default behavior should be that you would need to "opt in" to see a service, rather than be forced to opt out or hide every single one of them as FriendFeed adds them....

You can read the whole thing, as well as Gray's other suggestions, here.

Frankly, I think this is a wonderful idea, and one that Paul Buchheit and the others at FriendFeed should test with new users, and with people who can't or won't use the service.

Well, this morning Robert Scoble shared some other UI ideas for FriendFeed. These ideas were written by Joshua Porter, who describes himself as a web designer, researcher, and writer. His company is Bokardo Design.

I'll get to Porter's suggestions in a minute, but first let's note how he arrived at them:

We must start with the simple question: What is the core mechanic of Friendfeed? What is the one thing that Friendfeed does that makes it a valuable service? I would argue that it’s reading the feeds of friends in order to discover valuable content.

The first thing you’ll notice when you set up an account, however, is that Friendfeed is a fire-hose of content. Like other streams, it produces way too much content to keep track of comprehensively. To that end, one of Friendfeed’s primary goals has to be the efficient management of the fire-hose.

While Porter grants that FriendFeed does have search and filtering features, he believes that the interaction with the content is inefficient. Specifically, Porter identifies the following problems:
  • Too few items per screen

  • Secondary information clogs up each item

  • Difficult to scan content titles quickly

  • People who aren't my friends
The reaction of some people to Porter's suggestions can be summarized as follows:

You don't understand FriendFeed and are using FriendFeed incorrectly.

I beg to differ. While I personally do not agree with Porter's UI choices, we have to recognize that different people use tools in different ways. And frankly, when you combine Porter's ideas with Gray's "Lite" interface, you have the basics of a powerful, easy-to-use tool. New users, or users who are turned off by the firehose, can start with this interface and then, in Gray's words, "opt in" on items when they feel comfortable with them. For example, John McCain may be sitting at his computer one day and may say to himself:

Oh, you can find out what people think about all of these items by turning on "View Comments." Maybe I'll do that!

So anyways, in the course of the discussion on Joshua Porter's item in Robert Scoble's feed, Sean McBride entered a number of interesting comments. You probably should view the entire comment stream to see them in context, but I've taken the liberty of reproducing a few of his major points here:

I've solved most of the problems Joshua mentions by processing Friendfeed friend, room, list and search feeds through Google Reader. And I can absolutely guaranteee you that, using the GR interface, I can run circles around anyone using the FF interface in terms of grokking all the new FF activity in the areas of greatest interest to me (or any areas). Lightning-fast scanning and filtering. I can easily see all new posts in my favorite feeds as simple lists, and zoom in on items of interest. Generally I focus on the top 10% of items in my subscribed feeds. Locating that top 10% quickly is the trick, and GR provides the solution.
Anyone here can try this simple experiment: create a Friendfeed folder in GR, and add a few FF friend, room, list and search feeds. Be sure to include feeds for FriendFeedLinks, FFholic Most Discussed and Best of Day. You'll be able to rip through hundreds of items with the greatest of speed and efficiency, dismissing large collections of old/read/scanned items with a single click on "Mark all as read." I haven't any idea how people are able to use Friendfeed productively from the FF interface. I've tried, and I can't, and I am a speed reader.
I discovered this post through GR, by the way.

In the course of the conversation, Sean offered this suggestion to me:

Ontario - try this experiment: add the feeds for your five favorite friends to a Google Reader Friendfeed folder. I think you will find that you will be able to track their new posts with much greater speed and ease than from Friendfeed. One is not equally interested in all the posts from one's favorite friends: GR makes it possible to find the most interesting posts with a quick scan down the list.

Well, I've started to conduct a variant of the experiment that Sean suggested. Here's what I did:
  • The first thing that I did is that I went to my "SallyField" list. This is a list that I set up some time ago, and includes people who (according to FriendFeed) have liked my stuff - the theory being that if they like my stuff, I will probably like their stuff, and the stuff that they like. My "SallyField" list current includes the feeds from 11 people, as well as their Comments and Likes. (We'll return to this shortly.)

  • I then created a Google Reader folder called "friendfeed" and added all 11 feeds within this folder. (Yes, I know it's 11 and not 5, but I can't count.)

  • It's important to note that the feeds that I placed in Google Reader do NOT include the Comments and Likes from these 11 people. Why not? For the moment, I'm trying to focus on efficiency. However, should this interface pan out, it should be easy enough to add the Comments and Likes, thus resulting in a 1:1 equivalence between my "SallyField" FriendFeed room and my "friendfeed" Google Reader folder.

  • Once I set all of this up, the "friendfeed" folder had 445 items. At 11:36 am, I marked them all as read to start with a clean slate.
Since that time, I have not visited my "SallyField" list in FriendFeed.

As of now, it's almost 12:36 pm, and my experiment with viewing things in Google Reader will have to wait. Why? Because of the lag. In the same way that there is a lag in getting stuff from various services into FriendFeed, there is a lag in getting stuff from FriendFeed into Google Reader. My friendfeed folder, which was zeroed out about an hour ago, ist sill empty. [12:42 PM - You know what I meant.]

I'll let you know how things develop. In the meantime, join the discussion here (the item in my feed) or here (the item in Robert Scoble's feed) or here (the item in Joshua Porter's feed) or here (the item in Louis Gray's feed).

Gotta love comment fragmentation.

However, since Porter, Scoble, Gray, and I are not in my "SallyField" list, I won't see any of these unless I'm in FriendFeed itself.


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