Twhirl

Getting Very Tired of AlertThingy

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I’ve been using AlertThingy for a while now. I like the concept a lot. It started out as an Adobe Air front-end to FriendFeed.

Let’s begin (briefly, at least brief by my normal standards) 😉 with FriendFeed itself. At a minimum, FriendFeed is a social media aggregator. You can have it create a feed for you, with many (currently 35!) different services (e.g., Twitter, blogs, Google Reader, iLike, Facebook, etc.). Now, if someone wants to truly follow you, they can become your friend in one place, and not have to have accounts and joint friendship with you on all of the different services that you belong to (or will in the future!).

Great idea, and for my limited use so far, pretty darn good execution as well. I’m definitely a FriendFeed fan.

There are a number of ways to consume FriendFeed, including just by visiting their website only when you want to see what your friends are up to. You can also get updates via email. Because FriendFeed is part of the wonderful trend of services that provide full APIs, you can also use other clients to access FriendFeed.

AlertThingy started out as one such client. While it has a nice UI (at least a reasonable one), one instant quibble is that I can’t find a way to quit the program (perhaps I’m just dense). I have to go to the tray, right click on it, and select “Exit AlertThingy”. Yuck. Also, on the settings page, I have checked off the Launch at Startup box, and yet, it continues to launch every time I start up Windows. 🙁

So, let’s start with the good. Instead of having to log on to the FriendFeed website, and refresh every once in a while, AlertThingy will instantly alert me to anything that the people I’m following have to say on any of their services. Cool. Perfect? No.

The first problem is that not everyone that I follow has a FriendFeed account (or I haven’t bothered to look for them there, etc.). So, in addition to following some people on FriendFeed, I still have to check (in any number of ways) Twitter (for example), for those people whose tweets I’m interested in. Of course, if I launch a Twitter client (Twhirl is fantastic, also written in Adobe Air), I’ll see the tweets I’m interested in. But, I’ll also get an alert in AlertThingy as well, for the same tweet, if the person is also connected to me on FriendFeed as well.

That’s not the end of the world, but it’s not pretty (or conducive to managing interruptions) either. Now multiply the problem for every service you check (beyond the one Twitter example above), and you can see that it could get out of hand quickly.

Of course, this is not an AlertThingy problem, just a social media proliferation one, where the FriendFeed aggregation is getting in the way, by duplicating things. Of course, in this particular instance, if everyone was on FriendFeed (well, at least everyone that I cared about), that one part of the problem wouldn’t exist.

Now on to my real complaint, and why I’m getting tired of AlertThingy. AlertThingy was not satisfied in solely being a front end to FriendFeed. Since other services have APIs too, they started (a while ago) offering direct Twitter integration (Flickr too, and probably more coming).

Sounds great at first. I don’t have to launch Twhirl any longer (for example), since now I can see tweets from non-FriendFeed people directly in AlertThingy. Of course, when you think about it, it’s not a great idea, because it becomes it’s own sort of FriendFeed, while still providing FriendFeed… Ah, so there will be duplicates for people who are on FriendFeed, no? No! AlertThingy cleverly (yes, italics are there for sarcasm) removes duplicates (at your request).

No, they do not do it cleverly. They do a few things wrong, including alerting you multiple times. First, you get an alert when the real tweet comes through. Then, you get another alert when the FriendFeed broadcast of the same tweet comes in, even though AlertThingy only shows it once. But, that’s not the real problem at all. When they de-dupe, they totally screw up the timestamp. One or the other message gets timestamped with Greenwich Mean Time rather than local time.

For me, that means that these alerts get sorted to the top. Then, a new alert comes in on FriendFeed only (say a Google Reader share), which never gets duped, so it has the correct timestamp. That will be sorted below the de-duped stuff. Possibly, even pages below, since I’m five hours behind GMT!

This one super-annoyance is maddeningly easy to fix, and I sent feedback to the author on his site (and never heard back). All one needs to do is never accept a timestamp in the future (dupe or otherwise). If a message is about to get timestamped (and sorted), it should be the lesser of now and whatever timestamp the message claims it is. Simple.

So, what happens to me is that AlertThingy makes a noise and flashes, and then I have to look through a very long list of alerts to see which one is new, and it might be 20 down from the top. I can’t stand it any longer…

What makes it really bad for me is that I follow one particular person who is a prolific social media person (it’s part of his job, so I’m not blaming him). Today alone, he has created 43 separate alerts that are still visible in AlertThingy (others have already scrolled off the bottom and have been archived). It’s not only 43 new things. When he blogs, I get a blog alert, a tweet pointing to his blog, a Tumblr alert, etc. That’s a FriendFeed problem, as he needs to ensure that people see his stuff no matter where he posts it, and he too can’t be sure those people know about his FriendFeed.

He’s not uninteresting, and he’s one of the nicest people I know. That said, I’m dying to unsubscribe from him, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Since he’ll likely read this (and know who he is), perhaps I can get away with unsubscribing now. Especially today, since he started using Digg beyond belief, and his FriendFeed automatically picks them up. His acceleration of alerts is killing me.

So, I’ll probably both ubsubscribe from him, and also stop using AlertThingy, and start checking FriendFeed on the web (less frequently) or via a once a day email. I’ll hear about things later than I would have (other than tweets, which I’ll likely still follow via Twhirl), but my sanity will return…