The State of Facebook Software on the Mac
For as long as there’s been desktop applications for Twitter I’ve wanted the same for Facebook.
To be clear, I do not want the entire Facebook site in a floating rectangle on my desktop. I’ve got my friends links as a feed in Google Reader. Same with their Notes. Same with my Facebook notifications. I’d do the same with photos if I could. My Facebook events feed right into Google Calendar and iCal. Chances are that if something happens on Facebook I’ll know about it.
What’s more important, and necessary for a desktop app, is to let me see what’s going on right now and participate in it. Quickly.
For me, an excellent Facebook desktop app would be invoked by a key command, let me see Facebook statuses, comment and like them, and get back out of my way. This is what a lot of Twitter desktop apps are best at.
But despite many more users on Facebook, and almost a year since launching APIs for Facebook status the Facebook software landscape for Mac is a frozen landscape. Around that time many expected a flood of great software for these kinds of tasks. It never came, at least on the Mac. Instead, we got a bunch of crappy Adobe AIR clients.
I think many Mac devs, particularly those who are on Twitter (which is a lot of them), think Twitter is a much better site than Facebook. The community is better. The messages smarter…at least among the people they follow.
In short, they’re snobs about it.
They love Twitter, but Facebook? Gross! Nobody on Facebook says anything interesting. Why would you want instant access to that? Seriously, have you seen the shit they do? They take quizzes all day! They play Farmville. They join groups about how they’d leave Facebook if it started to charge. Facebook users wouldn’t pay for this kind of software, so why should we develop it?
Which may be true. But I think there is a segment of people that have both accounts and just want what they have with apps like Tweetie to work with Facebook, which is where the people they know IRL are.
And while Tweetie has set the bar really really high, there have been some attempts at this kind of software. For example, Socialite.
Socialite’s tag line is “All your social networks in one application.” That’s pretty accurate. It supports Twitter, Digg, Flickr, Google Reader, and Facebook.
But when I use apps like this I want only three things:
- To get in
- To take action (read stuff, reply, favorite)
- To get out
When I use a Twitter desktop app it’s usually because something is loading in the background (like Photoshop) and I have an idle moment to read updates. In my opinion, anything bigger than a bite-sized update doesn’t belong in a desktop app like this because there’s way too much risk that I’d end up dicking around on the internet after the idle moment has long passed.
Okay, so don’t configure Socialite for anything other than Twitter and Facebook updates and you’re there. Fine – but who decided to put all this other stuff in there?
Anyway, let’s break this process down.
Socialite has a keyboard shortcut for getting in, just like Tweetie.
So it’s simple to get in. Just hit the keyboard shortcut. I use the HUD because I find the full Socialite window too busy for what I want to do.
Alright, we’re in. Let’s see what’s going on.
Hah – “Remember Google Wave?” I can get behind that. Let’s favorite it. In Tweetie I’d hit F and it would favorite a tweet. Let’s do the same in Socialite. My command for that is Alt-Command-F because for some reason I can’t just use F.
Hmm – did it work? I hit the keys. The star didn’t change, so I guess not. Is it because I’m using Dvorak? Even using the menu item doesn’t seem to work. Guess I’ll have to click that star. Ok – one snag that could get fixed in a future update.
How about Facebook statuses? Well, Facebook doesn’t let you favorite a message. You like a message on Facebook. The idea is the same, so you might as well use the same keyboard shortcut for both, right?
Except it’s grayed out.
Let’s try replying to a tweet. Hmm – there is no keyboard shortcut for that. Got to hit that icon reply icon…there sure are a lot of icons here. Why not just have keyboard shortcuts for common actions?
Can’t comment on Facebook updates from here either. I have to go to the Facebook site to do that. Socialite lets me get to the update in my browser with a shortcut. Kind of defeats the purpose of why I’m using Socialite.
It’s pretty simple to send an update using Quick Send.
This window should look pretty familiar to Tweetie users. You can even see something similar in the experimental Facebook Notifications app. But I want to post to Facebook. I wish there were a shortcut to switch accounts, or maybe one shortcut for Twitter and another for Facebook. Back to the mouse again.
Getting out in Tweetie is pretty simple; you just hit the same shortcut you used to get in. You can do that in Socialite, but it just hides the window, not the whole application.
Adium does the same thing. It’s a minor annoyance, but still an annoyance. The behavior in Tweetie is better. It’s as if Tweetie hides itself.
I should give Socialite a few more days, but I don’t think it’s quite what I’m looking for.
- Socialite is weak on keyboard shortcuts, if they work at all
- Can’t do the same things to Facebook statuses as I can do to tweets in Tweetie.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Socialite to Tweetie, but after using Tweetie for a while I see how seldom I take my hands off the keyboard to use it. Seems like you have to click a lot of icons to do things in Socialite.
Socialite does have some things over Tweetie. It gathers all the unread Twitter and Facebook items under one container, although you might wonder why you’d bother showing that when you can just have the latest items in all your streams in the container…like Tweetie does. There’s also the Instapaper support, which Tweetie for Mac doesn’t have, although I suspect is coming in version 2 which is supposedly dropping any second now.
Socialite does have a more current implementation of Twitter with native retweet support, but again – that’s coming in Tweetie 2.
And this is ultimately the trouble I have when using Socialite. I just cannot use it without thinking of Tweetie.
The things that Socialite does makes me appreciate more and more of the things Tweetie doesn’t do. Tweetie does more with less. Tweetie doesn’t have an unread items view, instead opting to show you the latest items. Socialite has a keyboard shortcut for marking all items as read – Tweetie doesn’t, because it’s unnecessary (EDIT: Turns out it does, but I never use it). Socialite does all these other things like Google Reader and Digg, but I wish they hadn’t done that if it meant a more polished experience like Tweetie.
If I’m going to use Socialite and constantly be thinking of Tweetie while using it, why not just use Tweetie?
Well, because Tweetie doesn’t have Facebook support.
Despite all this, Socialite is still far ahead of the Adobe AIR apps that saturate the Facebook software space. So if you’re on a Mac and Facebook is that important to you then Socialite is the way to go.
But Socialite is hard to swallow if you’re used to Tweetie.
You could just dedicate Socialite to Facebook and use Tweetie for Twitter. That feels a bit dirty to me, like duplicated effort to do the same thing. In that case you could continue to use Tweetie as you do now, but use other ways to get your Facebook fix without having to actually go to Facebook.com.
Reading Facebook Friends’ Status
For following Facebook status, you can follow the steps here to get your friends’ statuses as a feed and put that into your feed reader like Mail.app, Google Reader, or NetNewsWire.
Updating your Status
Adium’s Facebook implementation lets you update your Facebook status. Assign a keyboard shortcut to it and, while not global, let’s you update your status pretty quickly.
Neither of those are great solutions, so I’m still hopeful that future versions of Socialite will get closer to what I’m looking for. But what I’m beginning to think is that Socialite’s focus is so broad that it will never be what I want from a Facebook/Twitter desktop application.
Truth is that Tweetie is just so well thought out that I’m not sure I want to use anything else. Since the actions I’d take on Facebook statuses are identical to the ones I’d take on Twitter’s tweets, why should I have to?
Tumblr thinks a lot of their users are like this, so they made an excellent way to fix this – just use a Twitter-like API:
The really cool thing – because our following models follow a lot of the same principles, we’ve been able to take advantage of a ton of native features:
- Retweeting = Reblogging
- Replying = Reblogging w/ commentary
- Favoriting = Liking
- “@david” = ”http://david.tumblr.com/”
- Conversations = Reblogs
Facebook could implement a similar API, using it like this:
- Retweeting = Sharing
- Replying = Commenting
- Favoriting = Liking
- “@name” = Friend tagging
But I think that is unlikely. And you’d still need Tweetie and other desktop clients to support it.
Maybe that will happen, but who knows? I mean, c’mon – we’re talking about Facebook users here…