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Social Aggregation Archive
Earlier this week AJ Batac posted on Friendfeed about Pubwich, an “open-source online data aggregation PHP application.” I was intrigued, so I decided to check it out. The application is still very young, with a lot of work to be done, but it’s a great idea.
Initially, I was hoping that Pubwich would actually aggregate data from multiple sources into a single interface (the way Friendfeed does), but I soon learned that it actually just allows you to place information from multiple sources on a single page. Still, though, I think it’s a great idea and shows a lot of promise. In my case, at work, we have five Facebook fan pages, a Twitter account, a Flickr account, a YouTube account and at least two major RSS feeds. Rather than simply providing our users with links to each of those accounts, Pubwich provides me with an easy way to show our newest information to our visitors in one place. Continue reading “Aggregate Your Social Data With Pubwich” »
Over the past month or so, there’s been a lot of chatter that Friendfeed users want this person or that person to use the service. What these FriendFeed users are missing is that the people they are talking about are already using Friendfeed. So what’s the difference between using Friendfeed and using Friendfeed?
As social aggregators like Friendfeed continue to grow in popularity, there are two basic types of users: passive and active. Once you create a Friendfeed account and add some feeds to it, you are now a passive user. Regular commenting and/or clicking the "like" button on threads moves you into active status. The other categorization puts a user into either the publisher category or the user category (you could fall into both categories). Publishers are looking to get as much traffic out of a service as they can while users are there to be part of a community.
If we look at the old style of forums, you basically had to be an active user. There was no other way to participate and even then it wasn’t easy as pimping your own stuff was typically a no-no. In the new world of forums 2.0 (i.e Friendfeed), you are welcome to pimp your own work as heavy as you like.
Let’s assume that one (or more) of the major tech bloggers has not already created an account (either as passive or active) on Friendfeed. Now he or she creates and account and adds feeds for their blog, videos, photos, etc. Because they are a big name in the tech world, people instantly begin to follow him/her on Friendfeed. Basically the work for that blogger is now done as a publisher. They will enjoy having their content shared, liked and commented on by other Friendfeed active users and will receive additional traffic to their blog.
I am not sold on why publishers who are using social aggregators as traffic drivers should participate. How does it benefit their blog? In fact, I wonder what percentage of high-profile bloggers signed up for a Friendfeed account early on, used it for a few days and then left but are still "participating" via other users.
In addition, if you are questioning how they might participate in conversations on the social aggregators around their content – there’s an easy answer for that. Commenting services like Disqus and blog plugins are pulling comments from Friendfeed back into the publisher’s blog. So it makes sense that the publisher comment on his/her blog and have their readers benefit from the responses. And services like Backtype will feed the comments back into their Friendfeed account, completing the loop.
Naturally for Friendfeed to grow, they need to register more active users not passive publishers. But if these passive publishers don’t participate on other blogs, what makes you think they will participate on Friendfeed? I do believe that everyone should have a Friendfeed account and participate as a passive publisher. There’s just no reason not to.
The social web spawns a new network every 5 seconds. Roughly.
And every 3 seconds, a new app rears its shiny little head to offer centralization, aggregation, and status- or file-pushing for the dozen or more profiles and sites maintained by the average user.
For profile whores (guilty!), these sites tempt with promises of the ultimate tool for managing your online presence in a cohesive way, assembling the fragments of data into a unified front for your personal brand. Forgoing any commentary on the narcissism and navel-gazing of a fruitless generation, I’ll limit my overarching criticism of these services to two main points: They’re not sticky, and they cause redundancies.
With regard to my first point, it’s very common (for me, at least) to sign up for a still-in-beta site after being digitally flirted with across a few channels, only to discover that the range, scope, usability, and urgency (what I’d call the addictiveness factors) of the offering weren’t compelling enough to prompt return visits.
As for the second point, we’ll get into more specific detail in the reviews below; let it suffice to say that I’m connected to most friends across several networks. If you or I use a status-pushing or file-pushing service, I’m getting the same message from you on Twitter, Facebook, and likely the aggregating site, as well. And no one wants to see your TwitPics of breakfast three times in a row.
“But that’s not how it works!” you may cry. “Site X eliminates your need to go to those other sites!”
Welcome to the real world. Like most users, I still occasionally have to visit Facebook; and I even (gasp!) still use the Twitter.com web interface. So until your Super Magical Candy Mountain stream-aggregating site gains critical mass and actually fulfills its brand promise of being “the only social site you’ll ever need to use,” redundancies are an unfortunate fact, both redundancies in content and redundancies in services offered. In other words, don’t pitch your site as “the ultimate contact address book.” I’ve already got one, and it’s already got the critical mass to live up to that promise (here’s looking at you, Zuckerberg). Likewise, building an independent microblogging function into your service is pointless on top of pointless; God already made Twitter once.
Now, let’s get on with the roast!
FriendFeed: Like a Mao Suit for Your Social Streams.
The granddaddy of aggregators, FriendFeed is more commonly known by its street name, “Scoble’s lapdog.”
The ‘Feed pushes updates to Twitter, rounds up links you like, streams activity in any feed reader, and even generates a nice little widget for your blog or site. From FriendFeed, you can post text, photos, or links; you can also grab other RSS feeds and insert them in your stream.
The three problems I’ve had with FriendFeed since the Scoble pimping began are that it’s butt ugly (no objections, right?) and that it totally typifies the two abovementioned overarching objections.
Customization: Gives new meaning to the term “absolute zero.”
Content Posting: You can comment on and “like” posted updates or links, and you can share links through a bookmarking function. You can also post text and photos. Rather thorough!
Mobile Functionality: Email, MMS, and an “iPhone-optimized interface.”
Roasted: Well done, but could’ve been done much better. “Mmmm” for “missed opportunity.”
Chi.mp: Hollered Beta.
Chi.mp gives the best vanity URLs of any social site. Username.mp. So simple. So easy to remember. And the user interface stands out as one of the prettiest, most fleshed-out in its class. Still, customization is minimal; I can’t even suss out how to change my avatar. I’m guessing it’ll change when I update my Facebook avatar, but shouldn’t that be a bit more intuitive?
Also, the idea of “personas” has been employed to some effect here. Mom and your boss and your Friday night crew all get to see different sides of you, on the web as in life. But shouldn’t we have the ability to decide how many personas we get to have? And how do we know which users see which content? O’Dell is confused on this point; it seems like a great and necessary but complicated concept.
I can’t offer praise for Chi.mp’s “mini blog” or photo upload functions; on my profile, they push updates to Facebook and Twitter, but not to WordPress or Flickr, which would be the more intuitive choices and would eliminate the need for visiting other sites to repost redundant content. I also question the usefulness of the email forwarding; I can set up email@example.com and have those messages forwarded to my Gmail account, but… Why?
And why in god’s sweet name do I have to fill out a profile for personal and professional information when the site’s already syncing with my Facebook and should be able to do the same with my LinkedIn? After bitching on said point on Twitter, Anthony from Chi.mp kindly “hollered beta,” admitting there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Customization: I can pick one of a few backgrounds. Or even a solid color.
Content posting: Mini-blogs and photos which update to Facebook and Twitter.
Mobile Functionality: Uuuuh…
Roasted: Rare, but keep cooking. Put that shrimp back on the barbie, or whatever it is they say in New Zealand.
Retaggr: Thanks for the Widget.
Retaggr is a pure-as-the-driven-snow aggregator. Your custom URL is your social web “business card,” so to speak. Your Retaggr card can be emailed, tweeted, pinged, etc.; and the Retaggr widget makes a handy all-in-one stream feeder for your blog or website. Heck, even I use it. It also gives you a nifty ClicktoAdd.Me URL that allows users to quickly peruse their Internet-stalking options and (in some cases) instantly connect to you across those social sites.
But the widget’s rather ugly, the profile page is useless, and the functionality is limited. As a result, the odds you’ll forget about the site shortly after you sign up are pretty high.
Customization: Users can choose themes, backgrounds, colors, and a vanity URL.
Content Posting: None; this baby’s a pure aggregator. You can tag images, but only on Retaggr-enabled sites.
Mobile Functionality: See above; so, none.
Roasted: Throw it on the coals and douse it in lighter fluid. It’s done.
Pixelpipe: Actually Doesn’t Suck!
For some cosmic/hormonal reason, I hated the Pixelpipe live demo I saw last week at SF New Tech. After TechCrunch’s review, I spewed some bile into the comments section about how there are already too many value-free aggregating/status pushing services and went on with my life. I now must nibble lightly on my words; Pixelpipe doesn’t suck.
The suprisingly simple three-click process for adding most “pipes” is among the fastest processes I’ve seen yet. Unfortunately, it’s giving me unidentifiable technical problems with pushing status updates to Facebook (mystery error message FTW?), and double-posting to TwitPic/Twitter (see the all-important redundancy note at the beginning of this gargantuan post). And I still can’t get the background image upload form to work.
Customization: Allows for custom or colored background/headline on a hosted page; but so far, I haven’t been able to make that work.
Content Posting: Uploads status updates/microblogs, photos, videos, audio, and other files; then pushes the content to any relevant social sites you’ve linked.
Mobile Functionality: Email, MMS, an iPhone app, an Android app, etc. Seems poised for mobile greatness.
Roasted: Medium rare. Stick a fork in it and send feedback to @brettb.
Cliqset: Back to the Drawing Board, Kids.>
This is literally the profile I forgot I had. I tried to sign up for a beta invite, only to discover my username had already been taken… by me.
Even the Cliqset blog seems confused on what the hell Cliqset is supposed to do. The product is unfocused and, currently, it doesn’t… do… anything. Wait, is that even possible?
Oh, right, it’s the social web. Ninety percent of these “revolutionary platforms” don’t do anything.
Cliqset, however, is particularly offensive, spurning existing aggregation services and data portability while offering the most grandiose and amibitious plan to offer users a single social identity on the web.
Unfortunately, Cliqset neither gathers data from my other social sites, nor does it push my updates to my existing profiles. Guess what it is? Just another microblogging service, but with less functionality and no mass of users.
Content posting: Status updates that go nowhere outside Cliqset.com
Mobile Functionality: Kill me now.
Roasted: You can’t roast a turd.
Posterous: Emailing Like It’s 1996.
The setup process (sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org) was delightfully novel, leading me to a super simple two-button service-adding process for linking my Posterous account to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, the ol’ blog, and… and…
Oh, wait. I guess that’s it.
No support for Last.fm, YouTube, Vimeo, Plurk (hah, ok, that was a joke), or anything like that. Users can send email to email@example.com to suggest more services.
Posterous offers an interesting bookmarking function for quick posting and commenting, and users can control what gets posted where by specifying an email address (Twitter-only posts go to firstname.lastname@example.org; but what if you want an update to go only to Twitter AND Facebook without having to send two emails?).
Overall, the functions are all tied to email and limited accordingly (good luck uploading that 3 minute video clip, dude!), and the “meh” factor is high.
Customization: I get to choose my avatar.
Content Posting: Borderline CMS-y. Can post videos, audio, photos, and text to a blog.
Mobile Functionality: If you can email from your phone, you’re golden.
Roasted: Medium. The blog part is tasty, but the constant repetition and redundancy can be a bit tough and chewy.
And that’s the lot!
Who did I miss? Did I leave out your startup? Do you have a better idea?
Regator is an Atlanta-based startup which provides curated blog aggregation. They have created aggregated pages for over 550 topics ranging from arts to health to local interest to politics. Readers can vote a story up or down within Regator and that helps to make the story more important in the Regator index.
Check out my chat with Regator co-founder Scott Lockhart where we discuss Regator along with his tips for growing a site when you aren’t located in the valley.
Let’s Get Serious About FriendFeed; the 1995 Message Board, the Smart Consolidator and the Stolen Conversation
To borrow a phrase from a friend, "I’d like to get serious for a minute," and tonight I’d like to get serious about FriendFeed. They launched "Friendfeed Rooms" today and many bloggers are juiced about it. Philip over at Google Blogoscoped has a good writeup about it. Earlier this week I sat behind Robert Scoble at the Mediabistro Circus conference in NYC. What I saw was Robert looking at Friendfeed every second – it seemed every other second he was clicking the comment button and typing something in (I couldn’t see what). I watched this behavior for about 20 minutes before he went on stage.
There are two sides to FriendFeed; a 1995 message board and what I call a "smart consolidator." Not sure I really need to talk much about the 1995 message board except to say it works. You can start a thread and others can comment on it. Of course it doesn’t do it as well as Vbulletin or PHPbb does, but it works. I am ok with another message board tool.
The other half of the FriendFeed is the smart consolidator. What it does is allow you to add all of your social services to one place, creating a rich stream. The consolidated stream is a great idea – I can subscribe to Louis Gray’s feed and keep up with everything that he’s working on. From his Flickr photos to his blog feed to his Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc, etc, etc. There are a lot of these social aggregators, FriendFeed seems to have won the game because of their "star" founders and their ability to generate buzz in the "250". Josh Catone from RWW discusses the need for blogger buzz to get the engine going. I’d suggest that FriendFeed got pumped because of their "star" founders more than because of the quality of the app to start with.
If FriendFeed stopped with the great smart consolidator, they would rock. Instead what they have done is "steal" the conversation in an attempt to keep people within FriendFeed. Let’s use Robert Scoble’s post about his laptop as an example. Robert posted a message on Twitter with a link to a photo on Flickr of his laptop stickers (where’s the CN one Robert?!?!). Here’s the FriendFeed thread on the "topic". Thirty replies on FriendFeed, potentially a hundred on Twitter and a couple dozen on Flickr. Is this type of fragmented conversation ok? It makes sense on Flickr since that’s where the conversation started and it makes sense on Flickr because that’s where the image lives (one could argue that the conversation belongs only on Flickr). The conversation does not make sense on FriendFeed. When someone sees the link to the Flickr photo on FriendFeed and clicks to view the photo, why not comment there, on the actual photo? Instead the user returns to FriendFeed and comments.
I’d like to offer a simple solution that would satisfy me and actually make FriendFeed 1000x more useful. Remove comments from FriendFeed and have FriendFeed aggregate (view only) the comments from all of the social services they aggregate. That would be the absolute best scenario. A user can read all of the comments on FriendFeed but to actually comment they go to the source. Then anyone who isn’t a FriendFeed user can still see the entire conversation, participate in the conversation and FriendFeed users don’t have to look at multiple sources to see the entire conversation. What this also does is allow the content creator (photo, video, whatever) to get involved in the conversation without having to monitor FriendFeed as well.
The bottom line is that a reader should see and contribute to the conversation as a whole and the content provider should have the same ability. And I am not just talking about text bloggers.
In a chat tonight with a powerful tech blogger he said, "I mean, you can talk wherever you want, I guess… but I don’t need to pay attention to you if you’re doing it outside of my post." And this is why the conversation should be centralized where it begins. Will it work 100% of the time? Of course not but it will work in the overwhelming majority of the time. Why does FriendFeed want to keep comments on the FF site? Simple… it’s the business plan. Stealing the conversation is where the money is – just go talk to Digg to see. Check out my article regarding why Digg shouldn’t allow comments.
Does FriendFeed have potential to go mainstream? Sure. If they could learn to create a service that benefits both publishers and users (they currently serve neither well), they would create a powerful force in social aggregation.