Category Archives: Opinion

RIP FriendFeed


A website called FriendFeed shut down last week after years of being disassembled and neglected after Facebook bought them over. It’s been about 7 or 8 years since I first stumbled upon it. In its heydey, FriendFeed was a vibrant social network with realtime updating and interactions, it connected to all of your other social networks and provided all your updates in one place – so you didn’t need to traipse round half the internet to see what your friends were up to. The design was simple, the themes were fun (there was a Duck Hunt one with a flying duck you could “shoot” at – which was amusing for all of about 5 seconds, but still, it serves as a nice illustration of the “feel” of the site), and it worked seamlessly. Admittedly, it didn’t really take off with the masses – only with a few, but the few who used it absolutely fell in love with it.

I spent hours on FriendFeed and made friends with a lot of lovely (and awesome) people I’d never, ever have come across otherwise (I still keep in touch with them even years after we all stopped using FriendFeed) and I know that this is a sentiment that is shared with many from the FriendFeed community. For me, FriendFeed was a place to come and get away from it all, where I could confide, laugh, and see the world in a completely different way. I found a group of people who didn’t know anything about me in real life but we all connected in a way and FriendFeed almost encouraged silliness and fun – the fact that we could bounce ideas off each other in real time meant for some really lively conversations.

Everything was awesome until Facebook took over the company in 2009 – then it became the black sheep of the family. It seemed like things stopped working left and right and they’d be left like that for days or weeks (or in the case of the Advanced Search, just never get fixed). It became more unreliable, and as that sense crept in people lost hope that it’d be improved. The community started to dissipate (something that FriendFeed cited as one of the reasons for closing – a bit of a catch 22, I’d say).

Facebook took on some of the attributes of FriendFeed when they bought it over, but they changed them in ways to fit their own rigid design and almost seemed to take the soul out of them. Facebook is far removed from FriendFeed, despite having similar functionality when you boil it right down.

I logged back in just before it was closed down to salvage my posts and comments, and to save some memories (pages) from being lost in the ether. I was really surprised how much it made me reminisce about the days when I’d used it daily and the fondness I felt seeing the old site again (admittedly, I was mildly irritated to find that the search feature still hadn’t been fixed after about 3 years). I found some old posts that were downright hilarious, the group live-chats about Eurovision which had about 60 people involved from countries all around the world, silly posts about ridiculous things – we had a great time.

This may sound like I’m describing some kind of IRC chatroom uber-nerd session but I’m not, and that was the best thing about it – these were all regular people (OK, some of use were pretty nerdy). If you ask me, the internet lost something special in the closure of FriendFeed.

Impressions on Android: Redux

I had an Android phone several years ago – the HTC Hero.  You may remember it as the one with the weird ‘chin’. Initially, I was quite pleased with it but I slowly started to notice issues with the apps and general ‘feel’ of the OS.

I kept getting a ridiculous ‘Socket is not connected‘ error. WTF? Signal strength in hilly Scotland back then was, let’s say, patchy at best – so I assume it was due to that but still, I don’t think that’s something an end-user should be viewing. Then there was the lack of finesse in the apps. They looked basic, like no one had bothered to design them beyond using bog standard UI.  The whole phone slowed down when it was downloading app updates, lockscreen clock lagged (which I found incredibly irritating) etc. etc.

Then I became most irritated when I discovered that my 6 month old phone wouldn’t be updated to the next version of Android.  Meanwhile, the shiny new Windows Phone 7 OS came along with its slick design. Android & I parted ways shortly afterwards – with me vowing never to go back.

Cut to last year, when, after several years of insisting that I had no use for a tablet, I decided that for £100, I could find a use for one. I bought a Nexus 7 (2013 edition) and I actually quite like it. Contrary to my previous beliefs I do have a use for it too. Don’t get me wrong there are moments when it’s installing things in the background & it lags the keyboard etc. where it drives me absolutely potty but on the whole, it’s pretty good. Continue reading Impressions on Android: Redux

Windows Phone 7

Having gone to a TechMeetUp way back at the start of September 2010, I signed up for one of the related events – Developing for Windows Phone 7 last year. This was a presentation given by Gergely Orosz at the Microsoft Edinburgh premises. Having done my MSc dissertation project in .net I was interested in seeing just how developing for Windows Phone 7 would work. Also, I must admit, I was partly drawn by the suggestion that there would be a pre-release developer device on hand to play with (ooh shiny!).

First off, I didn’t even know Microsoft HAD offices in Edinburgh! It turns out it’s in the old Waverley Gate building alongside NHS and Amazon that nearly burnt down a few years ago. Of course, it’s been completely gutted inside and it’s just the outer shell that’s got the old feel. I was instructed to take the lift to the 5th floor – and let’s just say, if the lifts in this building were set up as some kind of Google-style psychological testing facility, I failed completely! Lifts are evil to begin with but when they say ‘Going up’ and then proceed to do nothing there’s something mildly worrying. After standing around politely thinking ‘Just go already’, then 30 seconds of bashing the buttons, I noticed there was ANOTHER control panel on another wall. DUHHHHHH!

My inability to work lifts aside, I’d seen the Metro interface in some preview photos but it looked really nice – so nice, in fact, that I bought a second-hand Trophy from ebay earlier on this year.  The only thing I really missed were a few apps and the ability to send MMS (something I never thought I’d say).

Design-wise – it looks great, everything is pretty polished. A lot of thought has gone into the UI – not just to differentiate it from previous Windows phones but to stand out from the smart phone crowd. The way the user can select a colour to apply throughout and which is also available to app developers means that everything – including non-microsoft apps can have a consistent ‘look and feel’. As an Android user, this is appealing – god knows there are some ghastly-looking apps for Android. It is shiny enough to potentially win over some iPhone users (I admit this is quite far-fetched) and certainly has a great chance of coaxing the undecided back towards Microsoft.

Development-wise – the tools are awesome. There’s no escaping that. Microsoft have provided a barrage of tools – including libraries, Visual Studio express edition, Expression Blend 4, and tons of documentation. Apps are basically written in c# or XNA. This means that anyone with experience of writing Silverlight, websites or applications, or even XBox Arcade titles should be able to dip their toes in with little or no trouble. The app store has potential to grow vastly.

Games-wise – As previously mentioned, games can be written in XNA – this means that there is the potential for porting Arcade titles to the phone. Xbox Live support is built in to the OS, so while I’ve never been a big mobile gamer, I am enticed by the fact that I can collect gamerpoints on the go.

The mango update has added some nice touches – the ‘me’ tile for those who miss push notifications, MMS capability, better email integration, customisable ringtones etc.  Overall, I think it’s a great OS.

I wouldn’t go back to Android unless they changed it drastically and fixed the fragmentation with vendors (and iPhone is not an option).  I think Google are awesome but I’m rapidly losing faith in their ability to push out products.  Even if Google fixed those issues, the design, the smoothness, the consistency of the apps (they’re gorgeous compared to Android apps), the fact there is no push notification (yes, this is a selling point for me) make WP7 exactly right for me at the moment.  I’ll be interested to see where it goes with the new range of handsets coming out soon.

Google Wave

I was sent an invite to Google Wave the other day (thanks Thomas).  I had been resisting asking for an invite because I really dislike this method of publicity and closed Betas for something that is so well publicised (there’s something to be said for hype but once that initial buzz is over you’re just being sadistic and pissing people off) but, of course, I wasn’t going to say no when offered the chance to give it a go.

Wave Interface

Initially I felt totally disorientated.  I happened to be online at the same time as a friend so we embarked on a giant IM-style ‘wave’ of discovery and button-bashing – inserting images and videos left, right and centre.

I then decided it was high time I read the documentation Google had provided me with.  I found it decidedly lacking. For such innovative people, Google’s implementation of help documentation and general explanations is pretty terrible.  I found the same thing with Google Maps when I was using the API – one page would say one thing and then on another page the example would use an entirely different (often depreciated) version of the code.

This wouldn’t ordinarily be such a big issue, but because of the restricted method of release, lots of new users have little or no guidance from their own contacts and, as a direct result, literally every single public wave devolves into a discussion of Google Wave itself and how to use it within a few posts. Clearly, this doesn’t help improve the chances of attracting return users.

Wave in Education

So, while there are hundreds of fascinating possibile uses, it is nigh on impossible to find any that are actually implemented well within the swathes of people blabbering about how Wave actually works (and almost everyone is guilty of it).  Of course, this will presumably change once everyone finds their feet, but it is quite fascinating to note just how many waves there are on the same topics – a public search for ‘education’ will reveal a huge amount of results.  Why these people setting up new public waves on the same topic as everyone else don’t just join forces is a complete mystery to me.

Google Wave itself grows quite dull very quickly unless you find guidance. I found The Complete guide to Google Wave almost indispensible. Thereafter, some of the third party development plug ins are incredibly promising – games, chat modules, sound recorders etc. All of this is a mile away from email functionality.

In terms of innovation, Google deserve a gold star – Wave is an entirely new way to interact online and does have an incredible amount of potential.  However, in terms of progress – having watched the full hour-long preview at Google I/O in May, it doesn’t seem like they have done a whole host of much to it since then. Judge for yourselves: