Working with social media poses a considerable problem.
In most cases, social networks were not designed specifically with professional applications in mind. Look at MySpace and Facebook, two of the real heavy hitters. Both essentially began as places for friends and family to connect and share. As if it weren’t hard enough to focus on work, if you’re business uses social media, your work tools are designed to distract.
Enter the aggregator. One-stop shopping for all your social networks, or at least those it supports. The hope is that you can eliminate the dreaded window Cycle.
You know the one; you alt-tab, Exposé or click your way through a number of browser windows/tabs and applications, obsessively checking for updates in each. But do aggregators really save you time and attention? Here’s a look at some services, and my experiences with them.
Relative newcomer Power.com is still taking its first baby steps, so it’s hard to say for sure how useful this service could eventually become. At the moment, it only supports four services, though they are some of the major players in social networking. Specifically, you can add your Facebook, Orkut, Hi5 and MySpace accounts. Not a perfect storm of social media, to be sure, but a nice enough kick-off lineup.
The Power.com start page is well conceived. Your messages (comments, wall posts, actual messages, etc.) are listed in chronological order in one convenient window. This is a nice feature, since even on individual sites, I don’t like having to root through three or four different screens just to find everything specifically directed at me.
Unfortunately, beyond that, I find there’s little benefit to be had from Power.com. Clicking most links opens the network’s own site, with a Power.com wrapper which is more distracting than helpful. And the presence of obtrusive ads throughout only adds to the visual congestion.
Eventbox supports Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Digg, Pownce (not so important anymore, I guess), Reddit and any RSS feed. It doesn’t provide all of the features and functionality of Facebook, but it does do just enough to satisfy your fleeting moments of curiosity, giving you status and photo updates.
I like this application because it does the work of four I was using previously. It also has the benefit of offering just the basics in a clean interface, so you won’t be tempted to go off on unnecessary tangents. With the upcoming HUD interface, it’ll be even more of a wallflower.
We’ve mentioned this Mozilla-based browser designed for social networking before. Flock provides unparalleled integration for services like Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, flickr, and WordPress. Of the options listed here, this is the only to also support blogging sites, which is a definite plus.
For me, though, Flock offers too much of one and not enough of the other. I find its social networking capabilities too full featured, and liable to distract me from core business activities. Fore web working purposes, I would much rather have the customization options of Firefox add-ons, than the all-encompassing social focus of Flock.
Now FriendFeed is a tool I can get behind. It’s far more targeted than the other services, in that you define the scope of the information you wish to make available, and information you wish to find. You can use it to make a one stop promotional tool for all or a select portion of your personal and professional endeavors, making it basically a self-updating social media C.V.
On the other side of the coin, you can cut through the static and focus on a single contact, making networking a far more refined affair than digging through your various social networks and trying to assemble the resulting information fragments yourself.
When you get right down to it, social media aggregators should be tools that enable greater control, not distractions that control you. In my opinion, that means being utilitarian in the feature set you offer, and leaving access and update decisions to the user’s discretion.
Do you use social media aggregators in your work? What features would you like to see in future versions/products in this category?