First Look: Alert Thingy for FriendFeed

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It’s been a couple weeks since I last blogged about FriendFeed. Today is the perfect day to write about it again. This morning, an Adobe AIR client for FriendFeed was launched.

I already use twhirl for my Twitter account, and have for weeks now. I don’t want to go back to the website; twhirl is that much better. The new FriendFeed client is refreshing, and a wonderful sidekick to twhirl. I do have a couple things to say about it in the aim of making it better.

Alert Thingy, developed by howard/baines, is locked in a semi-transparent display mode. There are no color or display settings; you’re stuck with translucent black. The text is a bit funny-looking, though that’s probably an AIR thing. I’ve seen twhirl users report similar problems.

I first saw rumors of Alert Thingy two weeks ago on FriendFeed, when Bret Taylor (one of FriendFeed’s co-founders) posted a link about it, complete with a screenshot. There has been a lot of buzz about it since then, and it finally launched around 12:30 UTC today. There’s even a TechCrunch post about it.

But anyway, on to my review. Aside from the aesthetic issues, Alert Thingy displays all the information available on the FriendFeed site, including Likes and comments. One can post comments from the app, which are (at the moment) added along with a small “(via Alert Thingy)” tag line. There’s been some discussion about adding a “from” bit a la Twitter, but so far no changes to FriendFeed.

Liking (but sadly not un-Liking) is also available from Alert Thingy. A sound effect plays whenever new items appear or old items bubble back up (due to a comment or Like), accompanied by a notification in the lower right corner of the screen. I can foresee a potential conflict between Alert Thingy and twhirl if both happen to check for and find new items at the same time, but that’s an edge case. I won’t worry about it, because neither feed is that busy. It would help to know how often Alert Thingy refreshes… There are basically no settings right now.

I do have one major gripe about it, though. FriendFeed’s API may or may not return items hidden using the interface on the site—the documentation just says that fetching the main feed returns what would be visible on the site homepage—but Alert Thingy displays everything. For the record, so does twhirl, but somehow it’s more noticeable in Alert Thingy. Perhaps I’m just used to the hidden stuff being hidden?

One more thing: All comments are displayed. The site has expandable comments, and I think Alert Thingy would do well to emulate that interface. Displaying all comments on every story seems to overwhelm the window, which I cannot resize at the moment (not sure if it’s a bug with Alert Thingy or AIR). And speaking of the comments, it doesn’t appear that hyperlinks are hyperlinked yet.

Overall, though, I like this new toy, and I can see it becoming the main way I use FriendFeed in the future. It’s just that a couple things have to happen first. Number one, I have to get used to the interface. Number two, Alert Thingy does need to get a few refinements. But how could I expect a perfect app two hours after release? 😉

Update (15:00): I’m not the only one who’s expressed some concerns about Alert Thingy. Steven Hodson posted about the opacity and text size issues on FriendFeed Watch, and there’s been a steady stream of comments coming in to the major FriendFeed items themselves.

Update (04/14): Updated to v1.1, with fixes to the opacity and comment-verbosity complaints. Moving right along… 🙂


I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

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