Hang-ups Reading FriendFeed in Google Reader

I recently wrote about how to de-clutter FriendFeed. I also alluded to the fact that there were some things that were keeping me from consuming all my data in FriendFeed. I wanted to talk about some here.

First of all, I have some specific requirements for data consumption applications. It simply has to be a web application. Desktop clients such as Twhirl (which works for both Twitter and FriendFeed) simply won’t do for me because I spend so much time on that damn iPhone. So, it needs to be a web app, but it also needs to have an acceptable interface for a mobile device.

Recently, I have been enjoying aggregating my feeds within FriendFeed and then reading them in Google Reader. Google Reader’s mobile interface is superb. Also, it has many of the features that I’d like to see in a FriendFeed client—for example, read/unread and starring (“liking” an entry is nice, but I don’t necessarily want it public).

But, I have some complaints about FriendFeed in Google Reader.

Imaginary Friends Aren’t in Your FriendFeed Feed

I have long touted FriendFeed’s “Imaginary Friends” feature as super cool. The dirty truth is that I haven’t really used it much. And now I realize that I can’t really use it for what I want.

First, what is it? To follow someone’s feeds in FriendFeed, you need to subscribe to the set of feeds that they have chosen to group together under their identity. But, what if you want to follow a person that hasn’t signed up for FriendFeed? The service allows you to aggregate their feeds by creating an “Imaginary Friend”.

I demoed the feature for Pam (BatchBlue’s President) and added her as an imaginary friend. But for some reason, I wasn’t getting her updates in Google Reader. Today, I paged until I could find her latest blog post (it’s her birthday!) on friendfeed.com. It looked like this on friendfeed.com:

Imaginary Friend in FriendFeed not "public"

“Why the lock?” I thought. I hovered over it and it said “Pamela O’Hara has a private feed”. Well, actually it’s not a private feed. It is all public data that I have aggregated. She’s just an imaginary friend. If that’s the reason I can’t see the feed in Google Reader, just let me know somewhere that imaginary friends’ data can’t be passe through the API or RSS. Instead, I’m confused.

Even though it is private, I can “like” it or comment on it. But I checked—that info is only visible to me when I’m logged in (not others).

Why does this bug me? I was hoping I could use FriendFeed to make a master feed of ALL services from ALL of my contacts (portable to and from anything that reads an RSS feed). For those contacts not on FriendFeed, I could create imaginary friends and insert them that way. Alas, no luck. I still need to keep dozens of extra feeds in addition to the FriendFeed one.

Inconsistent “more” Link Solutions

FriendFeed makes very few attempts (by default) at hiding some of the feed clutter from you. But one thing they do is group multiple postings from the same person to the same service over a short period of time into one feed entry. This, for the most part, is pretty awesome.

So, in Google Reader, I would see this if my friend TJ posted 20 photos at once to Flickr:

Flickr entry in FriendFeed via Google Reader (1 of 3)

If I was on friendfeed.com, clicking that blue arrow would make the other thumbnails appear using Ajax. Of course, in an RSS feed entry, you can’t employ Ajax. So, Google Reader sends me to the permanent link for that single entry on friendfeed.com.

Flickr entry in FriendFeed via Google Reader (2 of 3)

From there, I can expand to reveal the other thumbnails.

Flickr entry in FriendFeed via Google Reader (3 of 3)

This is a sweet solution, though you could argue Step 2 is unnecessary.

BUT they don’t keep this functionality throughout. For example:

Delicious entry in FriendFeed via Google Reader

Again, nice of them to try to limit the clutter by grouping more than two recent Delicious entries into one entry. On FriendFeed.com, clicking that “one more” link shows the third with more Ajaxyness. But in Google Reader? Nope. It opens up the main page of friendfeed.com. Totally useless.

Why does this bug me? It’s not consistent. In fact, it is so blatant that I’m thinking it might just actually be a bug. I hope so.

Next, I promise to focus on some features of FriendFeed I really like. Because, while I’m complaining a bit in this post, I find the service extremely compelling. Sure it’s not pretty and sure the best way to consume the content has not yet been discovered. But remember, things like @replies weren’t originally part of Twitter. It was a usage pattern that was adopted as a feature. FriendFeed doesn’t have enough established usage patterns.

But rest assured, these are smart people. FriendFeed will continue to improve.

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