Strategies for Successful Development

Process and technology for small teams building real software

Quick glance at Seesmic

Posted by S4SD (Seth Morris) on 2009/06/28

I’ve been told I’m too grumpy-pants lately :-) So here’s a quick non-rant with what is, I hope, constructive feedback for an app I think I might wind up liking in a few revs.

I asked @dariusdunlap what he was using to follow hashtag searches on Twitter, since Twitter itself is so horribly broken about them and he was so well on top of the Community Management Unconference happenings a few weeks ago. He recommended Seesmic Desktop (@askseesmic). So, I’ve been giving it a quick glance-over.

As always, I’m just hoping the developer (who seems far too nice and with-it to do this) comes back and says, indignantly, "That feature is is the product!" because I love quoting the lesson my friend Sarah taught me with an off-hand comment once that changed my whole understanding of product design, especially from my end of it with the coders: "If the user can’t find a feature, it isn’t in the product." But I suspect Team Seesmic is ahead of that already.

Netnet

+ It’s worth a look if you need to follow search results regularly or if you want to separate people you follow into subsets for viewing purposes, both quite reasonable use cases most Twitter apps don’t support.

- No thought to the interaction metaphor or user flow means you’ll be learning to work around how the designer thinks instead of how to get your job done and the technology it’s built on (Adobe AIR) is a famously least-common-denominator platform that will leave you reaching for common, everyday conveniences Windows added in the 90s.

= Integrates Facebook viewing into Twitter, but only for one Facebook account and it doesn’t really "get" the difference in Facebook use. It’s really just a view of some Facebook stuff in your Twitter feed, so it’s a nice-but-not-important feature in the current implementation

Summary

  • Great for watching one or two of N things at a time and switching which one or two at will
  • Bad for grazing content
  • Badly needs some help text. I think this is what I needed to know when I started, but nothing actually tells you how to use the app unless you want to spend time watching videos:
    • The nav bar and the column immediately to the right are the whole of the basic UI. Some columns will be pulled out and stacked to the right of the nav bar’s column; these are called "detached," but they are still attached.
    • The "Home" view is what all of your accounts can see, in one timeline
    • The @Replies view is a search on Twitter for all of your accounts (but does nothing for Facebook)
    • When you send a tweet, check which of the accounts it will send it through: you may be very surprised (and embarrassed!)
    • Searching via the search box makes a saved Twitter content search. Searching via the search tab of an account searches for a Twitter username.
    • Make a userlist and add people to it. Then exit the app and check that you did it the way it expected. When you have it right, it will begin aggregating new status updates from those people into that list. It is not a search function: it is a new, special bin for new items to be copied to.

Some nice stuff
  • Love the handling of text over the length limit (graying out text after the line and changing the chrome UI)
  • Userlists are quite nice. Well, they would be if they worked (if they worked as expected, but they’re pretty nice so far)
But, some major, major problems

(These are probably showstoppers for using Seesmic in any non-toy capacity at this stage, but it’s still very much in development)

  • No app should change what a user writes without explicit authorization: the default install converts urls via some url-hiding company. This needs to be opt-in.
  • If you have Facebook enabled, scrolling down the timeline is unusable. As you scroll, it downloads images which cause it to resize the cells you’ve scrolled past, making things on-screen jump down, off-screen. Basically, if you have Facebook installed, you shouldn’t try to scroll the timeline unless you scroll it all the way (by paging, not by jumping the thumb) and then walking away until every picture it passed has been loaded, then heading back up. It’s amazing to me how unusable this is. I wouldn’t have expected it (and clearly Seesmic’s creator didn’t either, although s/he could have tested it)
  • Adobe AIR is easy to code for and can be a lot of fun, but it really isn’t ready for end-user apps: AIR eschews interaction standards on the OS; instead it behaves like Adobe’s former Macromedia people think the universe should.

    Even if you agree with them, having Seesmic be the one app on your system where control-right takes you to the end of the word, rather than the beginning of the next word, means you have exactly one app where all text editing takes all of your attention and breaks all of your habits. Sadly, I can’t recommend using any AIR app that hasn’t been custom-built to your needs, since it’s going to be so broken in little ways you won’t feel until after you’ve paid for it.


Some details

Bad UI

(Some of these might be AIR’s fault, but I don’t think so. I haven’t written for AIR in about a year, though)

  • Can’t resize columns. Hope they’re at a size you like(they aren’t for me)
  • Can’t stack columns. Horrible for splitting out several things to watch at once
  • Can’t fill people into a userlist unless you have content from them
  • Creating a userlist doesn’t do back-searches, even if the content is already present. I made a userlist on Friday and it doesn’t aggregate content until people start tweeting on Monday. Stupid.
  • Scrolling is horrible as images get pulled in, moving what you’re reading around while you’re reading it

Definitely AIR problems:

(Seesmic touts AIR’s ability to run on multiple platforms, which is kind of nice, but it means, at least in this case, that the UI implementation sucks on them all—it’s the same reason any UI in Java1. Consistency with the platform is why we don’t have to spend all of our time remembering what keys do what and can instead complain about what happened when they did it. If it works exactly the same on a Mac, then those users are just as unhappy in different ways.)

  • Whole-word selection is inconsistent with the platform
  • Control-arrow behavior is inconsistent with the platform
  • Can’t resize window except at lower-right thumb
  • Context menu behavior odd and inconsistent
  • Mis-reports its frame size. Maximize it and it will spill over onto the next monitor
  • AIRs drop-down lists don’t behave much like Windows lists (well, they behave similarly, but they try not to look like it, leading to user confusion).

Broken Bits

  • I cannot find a single link to the Seesmic web site anywhere in the app
  • Defaulted to editing my tweet text and using bit.ly without my approval. Editing my words should be opt-in!
    Note that I believe url hiding services are an evil that is rarely necessary.
  • No way to indicate that there new items in a search (this may be a feature request at some level, but it begs an interesting question: are searches polled or are they pulled on demand? the configuration UI implies that they are refreshed on demand…)
  • Need context menus on items in the left nav bar
  • Why does clicking a hashtag launch the web site instead of searching in the app?
  • Need to be able to size or hide the nav bar
  • YouTube videos are not a replacement for documentation. Ignore your ego, be willing to spend some actual effort writing words instead of code, and pen a few lines people can read (without devoting blocks of time and without needing audio) to decide whether to use your app and to learn how.
  • Sending a tweet seemed to send from two accounts at once when I didn’t expect it to. That’s an advanced use of the app, don’t make it so easy to blunder in to. Now that I know about it, I’m reasonably safe
    • As an aside, it says something that I assume the checkboxes on the account selector were a mistake and were meant to be radio buttons. The rest of the app is pretty clean, but that seemed like a likely mistake given the limitations of AIR, the stage of the product, and the general level of attention to detail in the interactions throughout the app.
  • Use of the X (standard meaning when on bar of icons affecting a window: close this window) to mean "delete the item that launched this window" is horrible. That it follows up with a task-interrupting modal dialog should be the clue that it’s bad design

    Let’s be more specific: here are the buttons on the title bar of a search frame:
         
    After the "refresh" button, we have 1) a trash can, 2) an X, and 3) a "go back (through the door)." Which one means "reset the data", which means "delete the search", and which means "close the window"? I’m betting on 99% of people getting it wrong the first time.

    And remember, every search frame will have all of those buttons forever, no matter how tired you are. Don’t ever click that X thinking it shuts the window…

  • Userlists remember that they are in "edit" mode far too much. Make editing a task, not a state.
  • Similarly, having "search for a person" be a state of an account means I can’t return to that account without cancelling the search and I can’t search for two accounts at once. This interaction model needs some thinking,
  • Button to enter edit mode on a userlist is nowhere near the buttons to end it. Very confusing, especially with the current bad IA around what editing means. Very easy to think you’ve renamed a list, but be wrong.
  • No feedback when refreshing
  • Adding a search us completely unlike adding anything else, but shouldn’t be. It’s one line of text, just like a new userlist, so it should have a plus sign on the nav bar

Missing features

  • Multiple Facebook accounts
  • Drag and drop to userlists (actually, dnd is missing everywhere)
  • # of new items by userlist and search (in the nav… the popup notification is nice but it doesn’t work well for "what’s new over lunch?") At least bold out the search if there have been new items since it was last active (showing in the special, left-most columns or showing in a detached column that has the focus)
  • Context menu on an unselected hyperlink should refer to the link, not the whole text of the item
  • Context menu on an unselected user id should refer to the user, not the whole text of the item
  • Export to some local format. Given the passable search handling and the very nice userlist feature, this would be essential to use this for actual business purposes
  • Let me separate the detached frames to a different top-level window or to the desktop. They are fundamentally different from the one, magic frame tied to the nav bar. This UI metaphor is pretty broken, but it isn’t easy to see what would be better, so give me a stopgap. I spent 10 minutes just trying to figure out why I couldn’t rearrange and resize the detached columns, since they are still completely attached, just not "leftmost"
  • Minimize to Tray
  • View list of people I’m following (and friends on Facebook) and apply to userlists from there

Wrapping up

It’s an interesting product and fun to use. I recommended that my gf use it to track some work with a client and I may make it my preferred "search watch" interface (at least until Trillian Astra gets one). Take a gander.

And if you’re on the Seesmic team, nice job for a 0.3 app! I’m happy to expand on my gripes if you want, I’m happy to shut up (at least to you) if you want, and I promise you: I only write this much about apps I think have promise and I it’s all intended to be constructive.

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1) Well, Java UI is also doomed because the client implementations leak memory, the Windows implementations crash, and new Java features aren’t free anymore, so the garbage collector fixes that would help most are only available to enterprise customers who buy the "non-free java" license. AIR’s way ahead of that. And it has scroll-wheel support, which means it’s at least caught up to 1998 user-side technology.

Listening to: Lou Reed – New York – Busload Of Faith

 

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2 Responses to “Quick glance at Seesmic”

  1. Seth said

    @askseesmic re: searches: let me name a search in the nav, need to be able to edit saved searches, pls auto-capitalize OR

  2. Seth said

    @askseesmic Weird and dangerous bug. Open a search, click on an @-tag link. Seesmic switch to unexpected account for replies/forwards

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