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Prismatic: six months later

by Rob Friesel

If you’ve been following along, I’ve become a huge fan of Prismatic, and have written about it twice: once after 24 hours, and once after six weeks. Now it’s been about six months of daily use, and I would like to reflect on it again.

So: some thoughts, critiques, and praises; in no particular order…

The Prismatic team is super-responsive.

Speaking very generally: customer service among software companies is garbage when you can get it, and/but usually it’s just flat out non-existent.1 But the Prismatic team has been very much “on it”, and there’s a very obvious love for this property that they’ve put out there on the web. I’ve gotten quick and personal responses to issues I’ve raised (email response) and blog posts I’ve written (Twitter @reply). And in some small ways, I feel like I’m being heard. Back in my original post, I remarked how the “Favorite” label on the star button seemed… too strong. Well: now it’s the “Recommend” star.

A snooze button for sources.

If you recall, in my “six weeks” post, I speculated that it would be nice to “snooze” certain topics. Well, I’m finding that I’d like to “snooze” certain sources, or perhaps even dismiss them all together. A case study for the former case:; the number of articles/posts that I read each week is now up about 500%. Which is great–because I feel like I’m getting a lot of valuable news this way. But I also feel overwhelmed by Steve Kornacki and Tracy Clark-Flory sometimes. I like what I’m reading but… give me some diversity.

As for the latter example, dismissing a source all together: Wikipedia. Seriously, Prismatic team? How did that get through? Wikipedia is a reference. I know where to go to find that. So does just about everyone with a laptop or a phone. Having Wikipedia articles show up in my Prismatic feed is just… tacky?

Snooze a language.

I don’t speak Japanese. That’s not helpful.

About those bigger images.

Starting around July I started noticing more images showing up in the Prismatic feed. And some of them were pretty big. More often than not, this increases my interest and converts another click that I might not have otherwise made. The images are a tremendous value add–making the site more visually appealing and (when the images are relevant) more useful. But did you catch the parenthetical there? Sometimes the images don’t seem relevant; on a few occasions, the featured image appears nowhere in the actual source article. How does that work?

When the Internet goes nuts for something, so does Prismatic.

Perhaps this is not worth pointing out, but when the web goes bonkers for some story, its many permutations are suddenly every third story in the Prismatic feed. Case studies: the Mars Curiosity rover, and Mitt Romney’s compound gaffes over Big Bird and Binders Full of Women. I wind up with mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, it’s a great way to get a big aggregate dump of the blog posts etc. that are floating around out there; on the other hand: Big Bird. I get it. I was watching the debates, too.

To cut the team some slack though: they’ve made it trivially easy to just keep scrolling, to just keep hitting the down arrow and skip right on past those stories.

Speaking of “I already saw this…”

The “X”. “Remove this story.” But what does “remove” mean here? “I am not interested in this” or “I already saw this ten times”? I wind up being afraid that there’s an implicit zero-sum game happening under the covers. If I dismiss enough things, I will wind up with a very homogeneous stream of stories from a very narrow set of sources. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to dismiss some political stories because “oh, I already saw this” only to accidentally put myself in a position of never getting stories on voting rights ever again. A ridiculous? Perhaps, but it’s one I have.2

Saved Stories.

This one I discovered first on the iPhone app.3 This is another new feature that I immediately fell in love with, and it felt like something that came out as a response to some of my own feedback.

In a nut: I was (and I’m sure others were doing this too) clicking stories in order to add them to my “Read” list, and then not reading them, only so I could circle back later and scan through that “Read” list to find the unread stories, so that I could then read them. Saved Stories is now an explicit and intentional bucket for exactly that. Which I’m psyched about.

There’s just one problem: I keep forgetting that it’s there. Why? Two reasons.

First, I keep forgetting that Saved Stories is there, because it’s under the “Your Profile” section in the sidebar which is collapsed by default. I hop over to Prismatic and start scanning down and completely miss it. It’s not even that it’s too subtle, or that there’s no badge with a count of the unread items in Saved Stories… It’s completely invisible unless you go looking for it.

Second: Saved Stories is not my “go to” place for the stories I’ve saved for later. Well, you ask, if it isn’t Prismatic, then what is that go to? Well, that would be Pocket. Pocket is integrated into Twitter. There’s a handy Chrome extension. Pocket is already everywhere. So now I have two places where blog posts go to die wait for me to catch up. The key difference here? Pocket is a stand-alone site whose sole purpose is to serve as a collector for these posts and websites and videos I want to come back to. In other words, when I click “Open All Bookmarks” in Chrome, things saved in Pocket get front-row treatment while Saved Stories in Prismatic languish in obscurity.

I come to Prismatic to discover new stuff. And I’m going to keep on doing so. I’d love to be able to save stories from it directly into Pocket.

Parting thoughts.

Prismatic is now deeply entrenched in my daily routine. For me, it’s on par with Twitter as a source of new and interesting material. And it has started to deliver those kinds of interesting things to me faster than a lot of other sources now. It really is a clever piece of software, and I can’t recommend it enough.

  1. Granted: if you’re not paying for that software, then there’s precious little incentive for them to bother helping you. Right? (Yeah. I think that’s bullshit, too.) []
  2. Contrariwise, I don’t want to only get stories on voting rights, either. []
  3. Did I mention that they have an iPhone app now? Well, they do. And it’s pretty sweet. I still prefer my in-browser experience, but the iPhone app is great for sitting in a waiting room somewhere. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night; weekend homebrewer. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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