Two apps that one-up Facebook on smartphones

Likes and Jildy are two useful products for people overwhelmed by or disappointed with Facebook's own mobile apps.

Likes! is a nice, simple way to find things your friends have liked near you. Rafe Needleman/CNET

There's more than one way to use Facebook, especially if you're mobile.

That's a good thing, since while Facebook has its own mobile products, the main Facebook iOS and Android apps are, at least in my opinion, bloated and confusing. (The Windows Phone app is stronger.)

Facebook also has its own highly focused app just for sending messages. From a usability perspective, it's a better bet. Two other new focused apps from third parties are similar, philosophically: They both slice off one piece of Facebook and give you a nice, clean mobile-friendly interface to it.

First up: Likes!, a simple app for iOS or Android that gathers the "Likes" that your friends (and their friends) have marked for locations near you. If you're in a new city and looking for a good restaurant, it will show you those around you that your network likes. You can also re-like something you see on Likes.

This is a good idea, and the timing is right. There are more location Likes popping up on Facebook, so anyone with a reasonable network should be able to get at least some good, local advice from the app.

There are also some issues. In particular, there should be a lot more Likes. But Facebook doesn't make it easy to Like a location on the run. Try it from the mobile app to see: You can check in, but Liking is missing.

Likes is quite different from other location advice services, in particular Foursquare, and from reviews sites like Yelp. Because it's based on your Facebook network, which is probably your largest and best-maintained social net, it should have the best and most current recommendations for you, without flooding you with opinions from people you don't know.

There's a lot of potential here. All Facebook has to do is making mobile Liking easier.

Jildy automatically created this feed of updates from people I was in college with (not just distant contacts who went to the same school) Rafe Needleman/CNET

Next: Jildy, an iOS app that makes smarter friends lists than Facebook does.

In addition to letting you see your Facebook lists, Jildy also creates lists based on clusters of your friends who communicate a lot with each other. It finds cliques, in other words. A word cloud shows what people are yapping about.

It also maintains a few other lists, like one list for men and one for women, and another for people who live in your city, and one for infrequent posters (the updates that Facebook probably filters out of your feed).

You can also set up your lists based on keywords, which is useful. I set up a list called "Parents" with keywords like "kids, children, school," and so on. It's like Google Alerts for your Facebook networks. Very handy.

Jildy can save links your Facebook friends put up, to Instapaper. Also handy.

The app can be slow to load up at times, and it contains some ridiculous features, like a radial chart of peoples' astrological signs.

But Jildy is a useful tool to improve your connections to what's happening in your Facebook network. Using it, I had the feeling that its algorithms worked the way my own social brain did: It organized people the way I would and let me quickly set up my own networks without requiring too much thought.

Both apps are free, and worth trying out. Jildy will be useful to most people out of the gate; Likes could user more content but some people may get value from it already.

 

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