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(over) a year with Prismatic

by Rob Friesel

PrismaticWell, if I had been paying attention, I would have run this piece back in May. As it is… I’m running it now.

I continue to love Prismatic, and at this point it has completely replaced the RSS reader(s) that I used to use for aggregating.1 As I did at six weeks and six months, I wanted to jot down a few notes to capture my feelings, thoughts, critiques, and lauds. In no particular order…

Loved the re-design.

They did a re-design in late-November/early-December of 2012 and it was excellent. They streamlined the overall experience of the site and put a better emphasis on the content. More and larger images to highlight the stories, more clearly marking the author (when she can be inferred), and just generally more intuitive controls.

Prismatic screenshot

A screenshot of what greeted me in Prismatic this morning.

That being said, the controls become even more confusing when I switch over to “saved” stories. Saved stories feels like this weird purgatory where good stories go to be murdered. (Or forgotten about.)

“Works on my machine!.

Prismatic has been working out splendidly for me. The signal-to-noise ratio continues to be mostly signal, and if I’m clicking through on fewer stories, it’s because there seems to be just too many to keep up with. But among the friends I’ve recommended Prismatic to, the reception has been… mixed, and mostly lukewarm. People tell me that they just aren’t seeing the same ratio of good stories, that they’re either getting a lot of irrelevant stuff, or else the stories are very low quality. I wind up feeling like I need to apologize on Prismatic’s behalf. I tell them: “It just needs a little more training!” And I wonder if that’s even true.

Which raises two questions for me. First: how much training does it really need? Second: what is the “new user” experience like for first-time Prismatic users now? It’s been so long since I signed up that I can’t remember what the guided tour was. (Was I even paying attention to it?) What’s the secret sauce that makes it outstanding for me, but so mediocre for them?

Don’t fear the buttons.

I’ve gotten over my fear of the “remove” button. Enough stories wind up re-appearing that I’ve become convinced I’m not really removing them as much as “down-voting” them or re-scoring them. I’m teaching the machine some new equilibrium with whatever algorithm it’s using to pick these headlines.

The “favorite” stories button was also re-branded (relabeled?) as “recommend”. This makes more sense, and is comforting. It shows an important attention to detail.

Speaking of attention to detail…

Two nit-picks:

  1. Finite infinite scrolling? If I’m in a given view and I’m removing items with the remove button, the list grows shorter. But the plumbing isn’t telling the list to get any longer. So it becomes possible to empty the list of stories in that view.
  2. Slideshow JavaScript doesn’t make a story about JavaScript. This isn’t common, but it happens about once a week or so. I’ll get a story in my stream that’s tagged as about JavaScript and though the preview text shows some JavaScript… it’s just the code for their slideshow or else some ad tracking code or something. So… not quite right.

Nice to see you again?

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts on Prismatic, and there’s seems to have been no rate of change here. I see an article, and then I see it again. Maybe not the same day, but maybe later that week. Or the following week. Or months later. When this happens I wonder about the timeliness of some of the other “new to me” items in the stream. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I’m sure it’s an indication that some specific topic has percolated up as the most relevant one to me; it’s just unfortunate that I’ve already seen these, and that the machine doesn’t remember that.

Saved Stories.

I’ve definitely talked about this before. I won’t beleaguer the point yet again–I’ll just throw it out there that this is a great idea that the team simply hasn’t quite found “the right” solution for. I know that they must be working on making this one “right”. And I can’t wait to see it when they do.

Lastly…

I love how open the Prismatic team is. They have a great blog covering both their products and their technologies, and the team continues to be really engaged with their users both over Twitter and email. I have to imagine that this level of intimate communication can’t really continue as they continue to grow, but I would like to imagine that they’ll try.

Good luck Bradford and team!

  1. More accurately re-phrased: a combination of Prismatic, Twitter, and Facebook has completely replaced those RSS reader(s). []

About Rob Friesel

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

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