Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Social Network Aggregators

When I moved from Jakarta (Indonesia) to Virginia (USA) to go to college in the early 90's, it took about a month via post mail to tell my mom how small my dorm room was. Now in 2008, I get up-to-the-minute updates from across the world via Twitter on what my friend's dog is licking. Some people have a whole universe of "friends" on the internet. They post their thoughts and opinions using Multiply, update their friends using Facebook, or give mini-updates using Tumblr. They share web bookmarks using delicious, recommend interesting stories on Digg, and showcase photos on Flickr. These sites are called social networking sites (check out a cool video explaining social networking here). There are literally hundreds of social networking sites out there, relentlessly feeding you streams of your friends' new blog posts, recently snapped pictures, snarky comments and pets' activities. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

How do you keep up? Enter social network aggregators. These services aggregate updates from the various social networking sites you subscribe to, so instead of having to go to all those different social networking web sites, you can get the gist of your friends' updates by going to one web site.

I have managed to get my hands on three so-called social network aggregators: Plaxo Pulse, friendfeed and socialthing!. Here is my impression of them.

Plaxo Pulse

plaxo Plaxo started out as a company that promised you that your address book will always be up-to-date. By using Plaxo, when your friend updates his contact information (phone number, address, etc.), your address book will be updated automatically. In August 2007 Plaxo had a vision to be more than just your address book's synchronizer and be the internet's glue. They came out with Plaxo Pulse which is a social network aggregators for your Plaxo contacts (aka friends).

Plaxo Pulse was built on top of their existing service, which is address book management. This strategy certainly has some advantages. You may already know a lot of details about your contacts, e.g. their birth dates -- Plaxo Pulse uses this information to give you birthday reminders. You also have different security/sharing settings depending whether your "friends" are merely business contacts, actual friends in real life or family members.

On the other hand, due to their address book model, the people that you befriend in Plaxo Pulse will likely be limited to those you know in real life and not the internet celebrities that you freely follow (stalk? Smile). This is probably the main reason why Plaxo Pulse has not caught fire since it first launched. To a lot of people, the social networking scene is about quantity of relationship, not quality.


FriendFeed FriendFeed officially launched on 25 February 2008 and have been gathering a lot of steam lately. Unlike Plaxo Pulse which starts from the continuously-updated address book analogy, it's a lot easier with FriendFeed to "follow" the activities of a person who is not in your address book. You can follow the activities of just about anybody who shares their social networking activities publicly (i.e. the internet celebrities).

FriendFeed does not have a lot of features right now, but I'm sure they will be adding more and more.



Along with friendfeed, socialthing! is probably the social network aggregator with the most mind share these days. socialthing! is still in invitation-only private beta, but it has been garnering positive reviews. Like friendfeed, it's easy for you to follow somebody's publicly-available activities. Its main differentiator from Plaxo Pulse and friendfeed is that it recognizes your existing friends. For example, if I tell socialthing! my Facebook account, it will import my Facebook friends automatically and provide me with their updates from within socialthing!. Another differentiator is that you can interact with Twitter (e.g. reply to Twitter post) without having to go to the Twitter web site.

I expect a lot of good things coming out of socialthing!, however as of the writing of this post they have a fairly limited number of social networking sites partners.


Here's a comparison between the three social network aggregators:

  Plaxo Pulse friendfeed socialthing!
Aggregated sites (as of 19 March 2008) 35 28 6
Comment on feed entries Yes Yes No
Marking feed entries as "favorites" Yes Yes No
Pros Better security granularity when sharing information: your contacts are divided into Family, Friends, Business Contacts and Public.

Have the most features and partners compared to other aggregators.
The community is already large and interactive -- they create comments and join discussion, etc. Plaxo Pulse provides the same features, but the community is more quiet. Automatically recognizes your friends.

You can post to Twitter directly from socialthing!
Cons Does not have the "excitement" and the mind share of socialthing! and friendfeed. Web site design is dry compared to socialthing! As of now, does not have a lot of social networking partners