Since FriendFeed’s launch of a new still-in-beta redesign, there’s been much debate over some of the features and style changes – both on blogs, and within the service itself. While any change is sometimes met with reluctance and skepticism, as Facebook has realized with their latest changes, there’s a number of reasons why the aesthetic and functional revamps of FriendFeed are helpful for both its users, and for the proliferation of real-time data on the web. Here’s a breakdown of why I believe FriendFeed has made a lot of correct choices in their transition from data aggregation, to a broad conversational hub for the web.
1. Perceptual Familiarity
Since FriendFeed has a complex amount of data to display, attraction of users unfamiliar to the service proves to be difficult for many casual web users. One of the primary reasons other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook have garnered buzz and widespread adoption are because of their ease of entry, and narrower focus.
What makes Twitter and Facebook‘s interfaces work – showcasing the people that we connect with through the use of avatars – are how we’re used to seeing content displayed. The new inline visual cue from the content’s creator, via an avatar image, goes a long way to breed familiarity and a sense of “I understand this already” for new users. Along with simpler things – rounded edges to the interface, even column distribution between navigation and content – all create a sense of uniformity with services elsewhere – which allows users to spend more time communicating and sharing and less time trying to understand the mechanics to do it.
The ability to have instant discussion about topics across the web is becoming increasingly important to stay relevant in the ever-increasing pace of the flow of news. FriendFeed’s decision to make real-time the standard has propelled the discussion of stories to be faster than even Twitter can react. With a broader userbase, story reaction through immediate discussion on FriendFeed could allow them to become the main source of the absolute earliest debate and dissection of content funneling from the web.
The removal of service icons (the graphical representations of the content’s source) in the new FriendFeed helps to eliminate distraction from viewing the content itself. Ultimately, if you see a picture from your friend, does it matter whether it came from Flickr, Smugmug, or Picasa? Why should it?
Eliminating the distinction between Groups & Feeds also aids the initial comprehension of content management that sometimes confuses users at first. While I do think there’s still considerable room for further term elimination (groups, feeds, filters, friends, subscriptions – there’s just too many), the infrastructure is arriving at a simpler solution to visualize a myriad collection of content.
4. Advanced Search
The new “Filters” of FriendFeed offer a way to save complex searches, which allows for a level of data mining never before available. The following of trends, brands, story topics, and people has never been simpler – or with as much variable control. The simple, but powerful, form-based searches in the new FriendFeed often make for an even more accurate result than even Google or Yahoo can deliver.
While direct messaging has been a staple of other services, FriendFeed’s new implementation takes the concept even farther by allowing for simultaneous broadcast and private messaging. Being able to send content to individuals, or groups of friends on the new FriendFeed, now effectively creates an instant, private, and real-time discussion thread. This is an unprecedented level of immediate discussion. Within seconds, users can be debating the river of information as it flows from the many sources worldwide – in a centralized location. Where reading RSS feeds, or content on blogs or other websites fail to offer the ability to announce a timely, reactive viewpoint, FriendFeed delivers the most spirited, instant reaction on the web – without reloads, comment verifications, captchas, and all of the other barriers that other sites present.
Among all of the advancements, there are still more elements of FriendFeed that require sharpening and refinement, such as:
- better user management that allows for sorting your friends by level of engagement
- clearer and immediate notification of direct replies within comment threads
- and naming systems that are intuitive, and accurate for the various views that FriendFeed offers (“My discussions” for example should not include posts that I’ve never commented on)
Since the site is still being actively refined during the beta process, now is the time to make your voice known of the things you want that aren’t yet present, and the things that are being done right. With an increase in user participation, the developers of FriendFeed have an opportunity to create the largest vehicle of content discussion and dissemination in the world.