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A Fresher FriendFeed?

FriendFeed redesign
FriendFeed's redesigned layout
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Social media sharing site FriendFeed unveiled a new design today that the company said is meant to make it more intuitive, consistent and "ideally, more elegant."

The biggest change is real-time updates. In earlier versions, you would have to update or refresh the page to get the latest feeds from friends. Now, updates simply stream in.

FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor said in a blog post today that the real-time aspect is "one of the most defining features of our redesign -- and what we believe will underlie everything about FriendFeed from now on."

The news comes at a time of increased interest in social media and social networking sites of all kinds, and real-time features in particular. The microblogging service Twitter has been all over the tech news headlines amid rumors it will be bought by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). Twitter is famous for its real-time status updates. Users are limited to 140-characters to say what they're up to, to post a short description and link of an interesting site, or simply to make an observation or comment.

Meanwhile, social networking giant Facebook recently unveiled a design overhaul aimed at adding Twitter-like real-time status updates to its home page. However, Facebook's changes proved unpopular with users, prompting the company to scale back on its modifications.

Such changes are aimed at cashing in on users' ever-growing need to stay abreast of their friends' activities. And with a growing list of social media sites vying for their attention, competition over features like real-time updates remains at a fever pitch.

"What we're seeing when we talk to younger, power users of these social media services is that they aren't in any one place. They are fragmented among services like FriendFeed, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook," Ben Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com. "Basically, they are utilizing whatever tool they think works best for communications. FriendFeed, for example, does a better job with photos and videos from a media-rich communications standpoint."

There's been at least one casualty already of the trend: traditional e-mail services. Bajarin noted that this ability to move seamlessly between different social media sites and communicate with networks of friends and colleagues comes at the expense of channels that don't offer immediate communication.

"You're seeing these sites up the ante in providing real-time communication, so people are alerted in real time, not two days later when they remember to check their e-mail," he said. "This is increasingly how younger people expect communication services to work."

Other aspects of FriendFeed's redesign include an improved share box that lets users post entries to multiple feeds, filters to segment out specific posts from friends or other favored connections, and keyboard shortcuts for common commands used on the site.

FriendFeed's Taylor noted that the redesign is considered a beta release while the company solicits feedback and addresses any bugs that crop up. As with Facebook's attempt at enabling more real-time features on its site, some of the early feedback from FriendFeed users were complaints that they preferred the old design.

"Don't like it, I prefer the old version," said a user by the handle littlefarbod.

Other users were more enthusiastic about the changes, however.

"Overall this is very slick," user Ken Stewart wrote. "There are somethings [sic] that I really miss like having the picture of my friends beside them in the subscriptions widget."