Colin Walker

on social media, tech, blogging and the internet.

Mobile FriendFeed – there has to be a better way.

UPDATE: now there is a better way. Benjamin Golub has created ‘FF to go’ which gives you the ability to like and comment on items like the MojiPage widget but whilst also showing you what’s already there. See this post from Louis Gray for more details.

I recently called for a mobile interface in my post “A static FriendFeed is a worthless FriendFeed” which generated a bit of discussion. Loic Le Meur also called FriendFeed out on this via a direct post on the service itself.

After my post I started looking for other options as the FriendFeed page will not allow me to post to the service or add likes and comments to items thus taking away the whole social aspect of the service.

A few people have been using the FriendFeed widget on MojiPage which is a custom start page for mobile devices. MojiPage lets you add a number of widgets to give you functionality from a range of sites all in one place. The FriendFeed widget does let you post likes and comments but has its own limitations: you can only see the title of each entry (no text, comments etc.) and cannot post a direct message. Flicking between the FriendFeed site to read items and then MojiPage to comment on them is incredibly unweildy and frustrating but the only solution we have at present for commenting on existing items – having two browsers installed on my phone does it it a little easier as I have one page open in each.

While MojiPage does enable some sorely lacking functionality it still does not solve the problem of not being able to post messages directly to the service – cue moblf.

FriendFeed via SMS

Moblf logomoblf (mobile life) is a service which let’s you interact with Twitter and FriendFeed via your phone using SMS. Now, Twitter already has a comprehensive mobile setup via the web and text messaging so that side of things is a bit redundant but the ability to post direct messages to FriendFeed from your phone is presently unique.

How it works

Once you are signed up to the service you follow the moblf Twitter account. By sending direct messages to this account via SMS you trigger certain functionality such as getting the next 5 updates on Twitter. Sending a message with your FriendFeed username and remotekey lets you enable FriendFeed interaction via the moblf gateway and are then free to send direct updates to the site service straight from your phone. Full details of the commands can be found on the moblf blog.

The facility is still not available to share items, only to post a message, and it is of course dependant on Twitter being available but it is currently better than nothing.

While these solutions are not particularly user friendly and are still lacking in functionality they do illustrate that direct interaction with FriendFeed from a mobile is achievable. With ever increasing numbers connecting from their mobile devices we need either the FriendFeed team to develop their own web based solution or for someone to combine all these elements in to one site or remote client.

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May 21, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | , | 8 Comments

The changing face of FriendFeed.

ChangeHutch Carpenter wrote a very intriguing post over at I’m Not actually A Geek which details why he thinks the FriendFeed service will go mainstream but may take ten years to do so.

He defines mainstream usage as 33% of internet users and estimates the timescales involved by looking at the adoption of other technologies and services such as the Internet itself, Google and RSS feeds but what stood out for me in this post was his assertion that, come the revolution, FriendFeed will look rather different to how it does at present as more ‘non-tech’ folks join the service.

In his post “Friendfeed stats show its just Twitter with bookmarks” Alexander Van Elsas advises us that FriendFeed traffic is more than half made up of Twitter messages and that direct postings to the service account for less that 1% of all traffic. Hutch surmises that over time the amount of direct postings (which includes sharing a link directly on the site rather than via somewhere like Google Reader) will rise incredibly as more people latch on to FriendFeed as a worthwhile service but I would personally expect things to further than he has outlined them.

Go to your audience

With the Blogging 2.0 discussion saying that bloggers should go where their audience is I feel it is only a matter of time before this is taken literally. During the debate about linking and attribution I remarked “A FriendFeed blog anyone?” and with a few changes I could see it happening.

All it would take is for FriendFeed to add formatting options to the current comment box and it suddenly becomes a viable mini-blog platform. If they also extended the API so that remote blogging applications could submit proper posts (including images, links etc.) then we could see a shift towards really taking your blog where the audience is. Forget about the worry of having your posts scraped by third party services, what about having your actual content directly in peoples streams?

Please sir, can I have some more?

Despite having been around for a couple of years Twitter is still a relative novelty and once people demand more they will move to services where the potential is greater and the conversation is more engaging.

As I said before, FriendFeed is no longer just an aggregation service – it is now a community and enhancing its capabilities further would put it in a great position to capture the imagination. Current users are already pushing the boundaries; we have gone way beyond just ‘comments’ and moved on to full blown discussions and I feel it won’t be long before we are clamouring for extra ways to get our message across – an ‘inline’ blog seems a natural extension.

Your thoughts

Would  you use a blog hosted directly within an aggregation service like FriendFeed? Can you see the utility is a feature like this or would it bloat the system? How far will content creators go to be close to the audience?

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Image by TW Collins.

May 20, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | , | 12 Comments

A static FriendFeed is a worthless FriendFeed.

ExcludedI jokingly posted a message on Twitter a while ago as I was travelling home announcing that I felt isolated as I was unable to ‘like’ or comment on FriendFeed from my phone. The thing is, it’s not actually a joke.

Steven Spalding asked: “Other than Twitter? What is your favorite online community?” My answer was obvious – FriendFeed of course. Now Twitter does some things better than FriendFeed (see later) but, as I mentioned before, it is just not suitable for full and proper discussion. FriendFeed doesn’t just import your tweets it exposes them, it enables you to follow up in a way that @replies on Twitter just can’t. Conversation can quickly get lost in the Twitter stream but, as Andrew Dobrow says:

The threading system of FriendFeed sets aside a little nook for each separate piece of information. And this nook is always there for you to come back to, and to add more towards if you so desire.

Each response to a thread also brings that conversation back in to focus so you don’t have to go looking for it wondering if anyone has replied.

Why just aggregate when you can participate?

Louis Gray posted about this and said the keys to FriendFeed’s success were participation and discovery. He’s completely right on this one. Take away the social aspect and FriendFeed is nothing – just another place to view the information you’ve got elsewhere. It’s like watching your friends at a party through the window because you weren’t invited.

FriendFeed is no longer an aggregator – an aggregator is just a tool that gathers threads of information into one central location; it is now a fully fledged community and commenting solution (particpation) that just happens to let you bring in your – and other people’s (discovery) – stuff and discuss in all in one location.

Going mobile

FriendFeed have been working on a new UI for the iPhone but it is now time to provide full functionality for other mobile devices just as slandr has done for Twitter. Full interactivity is needed – likes, comments, and the ability to send messages from your phone is desperately needed. Twitter was built with mobile devices in mind so beats FriendFeed hands down in that regard but the time has come for FriendFeed to develop and, in a way, negate the need for Twitter or the reliance it has upon it.

Perhaps we have become spoilt by the Web 2.0 bubble and the way in which our online communities have evolved, static pages are no longer enough and when faced with something that is not interactive we immediately turn away. FriendFeed and Twitter are perfect bedfellows but for them to truly complement each other we must be able to interact on all platforms. Part of Twitter’s success is that you do not need to be anywhere near a computer to participate – FriendFeed must follow its lead.

Your thoughts

Is an interactive mobile UI for FriendFeed too much to ask or is it a necessity? How do you view the relationship betweenTwitter and Friendfeed?

UPDATE: Rober Scoble advises me that he can comment from both his iPhone and Nokia N95 so maybe it is just Windows Mobile that doesn’t like the FriendFeed UI. Let me know if your phone does.

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Image by malias.

May 16, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | , , | 1 Comment

Just because you use social media it doesn’t make you a social media user.

SharingIn his post “The danger of social media falling in on itself” Steven Hodson argues that sites like FriendFeed could potentially kill the likes of Twitter or Flickr as more people interact with their contacts via the FriendFeed interface without actually visiting the source sites.

While FriendFeed happens to allow posting of messages and comments these are secondary to its primary function of being an aggregator and, as Steven says in a subsequent comment, FriendFeed could not survive without those services it aggregates; it would be self defeating for FriendFeed to kill other services unless it changed its own model.

Using Flickr as an example, FriendFeed could only compete if it allowed you to store your pictures on its servers instead. Even if this were to happen Flickr would still remain dominant as it has become the ‘go to’ resource to upload your photos; this is something that goes way beyond ‘social media’ users.

Task oriented

Admittedly, anyone who uses something like Flickr is technically a social media user but the majority don’t see it that way – they are just looking for a way to perform a specific task such as share their images. Returning to Jim Tobin’s post “Think Before You Ning” he states:

 “Nobody wants to join a social network – and they never have”

The point he was trying to make appears to have gotten lost somewhere in the discussion but is totally correct. People do not wake up one morning and think to themselves “I know, I’ll join a social network today“. Instead, they may think “I need to find a website which will allow me to upload my photos so the rest of the family can see them“. Social Media and Web 2.0 is task oriented.

Of the millions of Flickr users – be they uploading content or searching for images to use – how many access that content via means other than the Flickr website? The answer will be an incredibly small percentage which illustrates that the average person is often not interested in the ecosystem that exists around the periphery of a service, only the core service itself. Once using a service they may become involved in the more ‘social’ aspect of it but this will be as an aside. Even Flickr itself has “Keep in touch” as the last item on its 7 point tour so little emphasis is placed on the social networking side of things.

Until the ‘concept’ of social media becomes ubiquitous, rather than those services we place under its umbrella, the services and web sites will remain predominantly isolated with only a limited subset of users making use of sites like FriendFeed.

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Image by Andy Woo.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Social Media, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Social bookmarking for social media.

A while back I asked why Digg did not have a category for social media. It seemed ironic that the most popular social bookmarking site did not cater for its own ilk.

While I received a couple of positive comments on the blog it was a completely different matter on Digg itself; I was essentially lambasted for even making such a suggestion – a typical example of the negative posting and burying that people have been critical of recently.

It appears that a shift away from Digg is occurring in certain circles and, as this new blog has more of a focus on social media I felt it was time to make a move myself.

Where to go?

It is very much flavour of the month to create just another Digg clone so finding other alternatives seemed a challenge.

One site I have been using for a while is Sphinn which is solely devoted to the sharing and rating of social media based content. Users have been complaining of spam recently but the quality content far outweighs the dross.

There has been quite a buzz forming around Mixx with reports emerging that the site has a good atmosphere without any of the snobbery that occurs on Digg. It also comes highly recommended by bloggers like SarahMatthew and Corvida. I signed up.

I has also become disillusioned with the Sphere “related content” system. I don’t know if its a question of the depth of its indexed content but it is very rare that I have found anything useful through it. This was highlighted yesterday when looking for specific content but getting back results purely because they had a word buried somewhere within the post – there seems to be context checking.

I had stopped using it (perhaps due to the issue that Scoble was discussing) but I am now making a conscious effort to make better use if FriendFeed as a way to find, share and comment on new content.

Changes

All of this means that there have been a few changes to the post footer on the blog. I had to recently removed the link to Twit This as the site appears to be down. Now, gone are Digg and Sphere, in their place are Mixx and Sphinn and the order has been adjusted.

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April 16, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Web applications and their desktop clients.

cloud Once a social web application gains popularity the developers invariably look to create client applications for use on our desktops to make the data more convenient to access and use but is this really the case?

Twitter has a plethora of client applications for Mac, PC and mobile including the likes of Twhirl, Witty and Twitteriffic, and now FriendFeed has the unusually named Alert Thingy. Does these applications make it easier to use the services they hook in to? Some claim that the applications are indispensable but I have personally never found them as useful as the native cloud based application – I hope to explain why.

The native page

Perhaps it is just the way that I work but I find the data in social media services easier to work with on the native website that I do in a client application for a number of reasons:

  • everything is in its native form and you are not trying to fit a lot of data in to a small client
  • you can browse it at your leisure
  • you can avoid the distraction of a client app beeping at you every couple of minutes
  • the web app is better at dealing with larger quantities of information

I am not someone who works on the same PC at the same desk all the time so only use social media services when I am settled and have the time to do so. In fact, many of the sites I have worked at block the likes of Twitter under their Instant Messaging firewall policy. This leads me to have a larger set of data to look at when I do use the service.

Trying to handle a large amount of data in a client application is virtually impossible. For example, whilst checking out Alert Thingy I left it to run through a few update cycles and was immediately lost – so many comments had come through that data was dropping off the bottom thus needing me to actually visit the website in order to read the bits I had missed. The same situation happens with the various Twitter clients I have used.

Attention seeking

juggling Client applications may be able to deliver you the information almost straight away but they are constantly demanding your attention leaving you in a constant state of partial attention. With a couple of applications open, an IM client and your email there is little hope that you will keep up to date with everything or be able to concentrate sufficiently on what you should be doing.

You may say that, just as with a web browser, you can close the client application if it is a distraction and go back to it later but I feel that this negates the need for it. It is supposed to be delivering you up to date content rather than being used to dip in to. This can be done just as easily via the original web page.

Clutter

Corvida of SheGeeks replied on Twitter that she doesn’t "like having so many tabs open in Firefox and most sites won’t auto-refresh for updates" – a good point but what is the trade off between clutter in a browser and clutter on your desktop? With numerous applications all vying for both our attention and space on our screens how long before things get unwieldy?

Your take

Perhaps it is just the way that I use both computers and social media services that I just can’t use client applications successfully so I ask you: which do you prefer – the native site or the desktop client and why?

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Social Media | , , | 2 Comments