April 04, 2008

Fav.or.it Beta Effort is Not My Favorite. Not Even Close.

Sometimes the concept behind a new service ends up being much better than the actual experience. And try as I might to find out what it is I'm missing about a "good on paper" product, it occasionally happens that holes in the product, a confusing user interface, or a smattering of bugs can get in the way of recognizing its true potential. Unfortunately, so far my experience with Fav.or.it, a new next generation RSS feed reader, has been one disappointment after another, taking what should be an evolutionary step in the way we share data and interoperate with feeds and instead, throwing roadblocks and confusing processes that will surely thwart the site's ability to attract significant users.

I first became excited about Fav.or.it's potential to compete with Google Reader after seeing Robert Scoble's initial gushing back in December. The concept behind Fav.or.it sounds wonderful - offering a fully-developed RSS feed reader with a river of news interface, integrated commenting which feeds back to the originating blog, and a detailed directory of blogs, from technology to news and even sports.

When Fav.or.it opened its public beta in late February, I was excited to see that blogs with Disqus could integrate comments. Also promising attention data and a full API, it seemed the service would be well on its way to being a serious challenger.

But from day one, I've had issues getting Fav.or.it to even function at a basic level. I'm no stranger to beta products with raw edges or underbaked features, but trying to figure out Fav.or.it, or get the service to even find my RSS subscriptions has been one headache after another - one major reason I'd held off discussing Fav.or.it until now, hoping I was just missing something.

In March, I traded e-mails with Fav.or.it founder Nick Halstead, saying it didn't seem "100% transparent to me", and he mentioned having "teething problems" common to any new site, so again, I figured the site would eventually come around. But it hasn't yet been the case.

Fav.or.it choked on my Google Reader OPML every time.

The very first step to creating a service that can compete with Google Reader is enabling simple OPML import to get the feeds I read today into another system. Fav.or.it makes me think it would be easy, but every time I would upload my Google Reader subscription list, I was told the data was in the wrong format - nothing more. Just a failure. There was also the option to add URLs one by one, so I tried that, adding a handful of my favorite sites. Only then did I see a warning that Fav.or.it was only allowing upwards of 25 feeds to be added, less than 5 percent of what Google Reader is handling today for me.

Everywhere I turned, more limits and warnings...

Even nuttier, I was met with warnings when I imported my sites, being told every feed I added would be available to the community at large, not just to me. Further, I was told I couldn't upload feed mashups, Non-English feeds, Spam, Shopping or Porn. While I hadn't planned to do so, the feeling within Fav.or.it was extremely hostile, without the feelings of security you get in Google Reader or other feed readers.

Fav.or.it also wasn't very bright as to handling the few sites I did put in by hand. I had provided upwards of a dozen unique feed URLs, of which half were from FeedBurner. Fav.or.it tried to resolve the feeds, and lumped all those that started with "http://feeds.feedburner.com/" as one single feed. Obviously, that didn't work, so I saw the dozen I tried to put in quickly whittled down to about five. And in contrast to the near-instant adding of feeds to Google Reader, Toluu, Shyftr or AssetBar, Fav.or.it showed a lengthy progress bar, testing my patience.

Slowly, but surely, Fav.or.it managed to import one feed...

But, eventually they did import, and I could add these new feeds to what Fav.or.it calls a "slice". I can view the RSS feeds, in river view, and even see integrated comments for those who use Disqus. One of the major selling points of Fav.or.it has been the ability to defragment the conversation and bring comments back to the original blog.

Fav.or.it in action, showing comments in line...

But while that's nice, and noble, it certainly couldn't overcome the interface oddities I seemingly encountered at every turn. My slice "Tech Blogs" was marked with a number of 1110, with no seeming rhyme or reason, and clicking the 1110 showed Twitter, del.icio.us or send to a friend, without any indication of what clicking those items would do. Clicking the first two items gave me a checkmark, but no action.

What fav.or.it does bring to the table is a detailed blog directory, organized by humans, into categories, much like Jason Calacanis' Mahalo. But for me, I'm not all that interested in finding new sites for Drink, Spirituality, Government and Weather, among the options shown. For an RSS feeder really to blow me away, I need to be able to read my feeds, and take action. On Google Reader, that action is sharing or e-mailing. On AssetBar, that action is sharing, talking with others or rating an item. On FriendFeed and Yokway, it's commenting and liking or giving stars. But while fav.or.it does enable comments back to the blog, unlike the other services, who delivered on their core mission, they never gave me what I really wanted in the first place, a solid feed reader that could handle more than 25 feeds.

Help! Wait... there is no help.

And if that wasn't bad enough, when I finally gave up and went looking for help, giving in to the possibility I'm such a tech dummy that I was missing the obvious, I clicked through to the Frequently Asked Questions area (FAQ). Sure enough, it was blank.

So I guess nobody has any questions. But I sure do - how can you take a service with such good design, slap on so many features that sound compelling, and then reverse optimize it so I'm completely incapable of using it? I'm typically fairly forgiving for well-intended entrepreneurs that are working hard on what could be excellent products, but things have to change dramatically for me to give fav.or.it another run. I need to get all my Google Reader feeds into the system. And the system needs to be ready for people to use it, not for people to be stuck due to its many limitations.


  1. Great writeup explaining every reason why I never really touched Fav.r.it after the first time I tried it. Fav.or.it has the most confusing interface I've ever encountered.

    You've also unlocked the key as to why I was so harsh in my post about Halstead dissing Slaven's WP plugin. His product doesn't need any promotion right now. It needs feedback and lots of it.

  2. Franky I have no idea why I gave you the time of day Louis, you have no understanding of what we are trying to do to move the blogosphere into a much wider market.

    You are obsessed with the technology side of RSS and that all that goes with it and this is not what fav.or.it is about.

    You concentrated on our restrictive import process which is there for a very good reason, we are making a service that anyone can use, we have to remove feeds that do not fit within the service because any feed YOU add gets seen by everybody.

    This is NOT a private feed reader, it is a way to access the content of the blogosphere in a more natural way.

    Nobody else on the internet is doing integrated commenting / conversation tracking and navigation by category all within one application - a fact you seem to miss completely.

    Luckily our audience is not you but I had hope you could see beyond your tech obsession and see the bigger picture.

  3. Nick

    When will fav.or.it be open to the public so I can actually judge for myself whether your staggering arrogance is justified ?


  4. puhh...
    that one was harsh louis

    I haven't been invited to fav.or.it, so I can't tell about them. But I understand what you mean and I think I came to kind of the same conclusion in one of my blog posts

    The problem with all Google Reader alternatives is not where they are heading, it's the basic functionality that lacks.

    @nick: I think you are underestimating one thing. Early adopters really can drive your product and be your marketing army. I already "evangelized" about 30 people to start reading RSS feeds (people like my dad or my not so tech-savvy colleagues) and I would like them to have an easier and better way than Google Reader. In fact more like fav.or.it, but I think it will be very hard to get the masses if the "opinion leaders" are not on your side. (it's like with Apple or Google)

  5. I've attempted to use Favorit several times since gaining access, all with the same feeling as yourself, Louis. For a product that is aiming to make things easier, I personally see more hoops than the more "technical" products available.

    Nick, free feedback and market research is a gift, not an insult.

  6. Hmmmm Wow, I jumped all over trying to get an invite but now I think I'm glad I never found one. Even on my little ole blog I can tend to be a bit harsh on new sites only to find out that it was a bug or something, but to see Nick's public response to you really makes me feel very sad for him.

    Nick, it is the early adopters techno geeks who truly do make or break any new idea on the web. If one person doesn't like what you've done, you should try to work with that person, even if now you must work with that person in public to try to get this person to understand. By attacking the reviewer, you frighten the rest of us away from ever trying your product.

    I suggest that you go to my little blog and read my discussions on 'Jaanix' as well as the comments from the founder and how we came to see eye to eye and I realized he did have a good product.

    Louis - always a fan! :)

  7. Sorry, just felt the need to show Nick that the info has been researched to prove my point. Check out Dan Zarella's blog at http://danzarrella.com/informational-cascades.html

  8. The OPML import problem might be because of the reasons outlined here:


    Google Reader doesn't put an XML tag around the entire thing, while I think the standard says you're supposed to.


    And Nick is turning out to be quite the spokesperson, isn't he? :)

  9. Bad news travels fast. I got here from FriendFeed after seeing Paul Buchheit's comments regarding Nick Halstead's comment in this blog. Having personally received some very nice comments from Biz Stone and Ian Kennedy over the last few months, I'm frankly surprised. I wasn't really planning on devoting a time slice to exploring fav.or.it, and now I'm even less inclined to do so.

  10. creating a web rss reader is such a huge problem. from the get go it's a technical feet to slurp in so much data from the web.

    then after google reader showed up then it also had to be a front end design feat. Just building the front end could take a whole team.

    all of that just gets you to a point where you can compete. then you have to innovate on top of that.

    the sad truth might also be that most people will never even use a feed reader and instead just want an iGoogle type home page.

    this is just a really hard market to be in. It would be tough for anyone.

  11. I completely agree. I was VERY excited about fav.or.it. Now that I finally got in, I'm completely confused.