Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Review of social aggregators / lifestreaming services

The difficulty in keeping track of one's activity on an increasing number of social media sites (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc.) has, somewhat ironically, spawned a whole new breed of site - the social aggregator (a.k.a. lifestreaming services). Below is a review of 15 products currently in this space. I've tried to keep the focus on aggregators, rather than services which have more of an emphasis on inputting new content (e.g. microblogging platforms such as Tumblr or Jaiku) although the lines are clearly blurred.

Key to success in this area is minimising the work the user has to do to setup their aggregation. Scanning services against specified usernames (rather than adding each service individually) or automatically pulling in friend lists from the services added are both massive timesavers which lower the chances that you'll decide it's not worth the hassle and give up.

Another important factor in determining which aggregator is the best fit for you, beyond which services they supports (see comparison table at the foot of this post), is whether you want to keep track of your own activity, your friends' activity or a combination of the two. The below services all handle this in slightly different ways, both technically and presentationally.

1.) Profilactic

Launched way back in 2006, Profilactic is the daddy of social aggregators, not least because it's notched up support for an astonishing 144 services. It also has a decent UI and some nice bits of functionality, including search and filtering of your 'mashup' (poor choice of label imo - too many other connotations). I also like the fact that it pulls in decent sized Flickr images rather than thumbnails, although I guess that's just personal preference and others may feel they take up too much space. Perhaps Profilactic's most compelling feature (now shared by newcomer socialthing!) is that it automatically draws on your friend lists from the services you add rather than forcing you to add them manually, which removes a massive barrier to take up.

Pros: number of services supported, search & filtering, large Flickr photos, automatically pulls in friends from other services
Cons: Lacks the design elegance of socialthing!

Features: 5 stars
Ease of use: 5 stars
Design/UX: 4 stars
Overall: 5 stars

2.) socialthing!

Still in private beta, socialthing! is a masterclass in the less-is-more school of interface design. The main page is filled with your 'Lifestream' with everything else tucked away behind a 'Settings' tab. Adding feeds is super easy and you can choose on a per-service basis who to share updates with (everyone, only friends or only friends on that particular service). There is also a checkbox to determine whether your friends' updates appear in your Lifestream or not (although they seem to appear regardless of whether I have this box checked, which I'm guessing is just a beta bug). The major drawback of socialthing! at this stage is the small number of services currently being supported, although that's likely to change as the beta progresses. I have 10 socialthing! beta invites to give away - leave a comment if you'd like one.

Pros: Sweet interface, iPhone-optimised version, draws on your friend lists from the services you add
Cons: Limited number of services supported, bug whereby friends' updates always appear

Features: 4 stars
Ease of use: 5 stars
Design/UX: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars

3.) FriendFeed

Founded by a handful of ex-Google employees, FriendFeed is as spare and functional as you'd expect. It accepts feeds from 28 of the most popular social media sites and boasts a simple user interface with three main tabs (friends, me, everyone). Throw in a a decent Facebook app (which saves time by keeping your Mini Feed updated) and some nice extras (stats, recommended friends and, best of all, add an 'imaginary friend' to keep track on feeds from friends who don't yet have a FriendFeed account) and you're looking at a decent alternative to Profilactic.

Pros: good range of services supported, clean interface, decent Facebook app
Cons: feeds have to be added individually

Features: 4 stars
Ease of use: 5 stars
Design/UX: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

4.) iminta

iminta (strap line: what are you inta?) matches FriendFeed for number of supported services but doesn't quite match its simplicity of interface. It does however, offer some neat bits of additional functionality including the option to limit visibility of different feeds to different friends (via groups) and the ability to filter the stream by type (e.g. stories, events, videos) and/or by site.

Pros: groups, filter stream by site/type
Cons: busy interface

Features: 4 stars
Ease of use: 4 stars
Design/UX: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

5.) Plaxo Pulse

After an inauspicious start, Plaxo seems to be back on the straight and narrow and rapidly gainly in popularity. It's Pulse component can accept feeds from an impressive 34 sites (second only to Profilactic) and you can choose whether to share updates with friends, family, business contacts or a custom group on a per-service basis. There's also a nice option to sync your Plaxo Pulse status with Twitter and a drop-down enabling you to filter the stream by type. The interface is more cluttered than socialthing! or FriendFeed, although it is trying to support a fully-featured social network.

Pros: Twitter-sync option, filter by type
Cons: Slightly cluttered interface

Features: 4 stars
Ease of use: 4 stars
Design/UX: 3 stars
Overall: 4 stars

6.) Readr

Readr falls very much in the middle of the spectrum of social aggregators. Aesthetically, it borrows very heavily from Twitter, right down to the customisable wallpaper backgrounds, which is no a bad thing - the Twitter design works very well. Functionality-wise, it covers all the basics, including the ability to make individual feeds public or friends-only. However, it fails to make it into the top tier by not automatically pulling in friend lists from added services.

Pros: live update of your lifestream as you add services, range of embeddable widgets
Cons: Friends have to be added manually

Features: 3 stars
Ease of use: 4 stars
Design/UX: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

7.) Second Brain

Second Brain provides a clear and simple layout with some nice interface touches including speech bubbles for tweets and preview thumbnails for URLs bookmarked using del.icio.us. Unfortunately the finessed design isn't matched by the usability - adding feeds is a laborious process, involving lots of authentication and watching a spinning progress indicator, which other services seem to avoid.

Pros: Clean interface, search functionality, tags
Cons: Adding feeds is laborious, erratic feed updates

Features: 2 stars
Ease of use: 3 stars
Design/UX: 5 stars
Overall: 3 stars

8.) Soup.io

Soup.io is visually very appealing, offering customisable 'skins' and pulling in large Flickr photos, Digg icons and full blog posts. It doesn't offer much in the way of additional functionality though and lacks much integration with your friends activity (beyond a link on the homepage).

Pros: Large Flickr photos and full blog posts
Cons: Limited functionality

Features: 2 stars
Ease of use: 3 stars
Design/UX: 5 stars
Overall: 3 stars

9.) Onaswarm

Visually very clean and simple, Onaswarm is another site whose functionality doesn't live up to the polish of its visual design. 'Calendar' sounds intriguing but turns out to be a blank page, whilst clicking on 'with friends' doesn't appear to present anything different to the individual view. It does however offer one very cool piece of functionality which is the ability to scan available services for specified usernames. I was thus able to turn up fabricoffolly accounts on multiple services by just typing in one word.

Pros: Good looking, scan services for username feature
Cons: Broken or opaque functionality

Features: 3 stars
Ease of use: 2 stars
Design/UX: 3 stars
Overall: 3 stars

10.) where is me?

where is me? supports a relatively modest 13 sites but manages to cover off most of the big hitters. Adding feeds is a relatively straightforward process, although both Flickr & Twitter require you to look up and enter your ID number, which is a bit of a pain. Another minor frustration is that updates can only be ordered by service type not chronologically, so you don't get a true picture of your updates over time. One cool feature, which the other services would do well to emulate, is the ability to specify a tag so as to only show posts which match that tag.

Pros: per-service tag-filtering
Cons: can't order stream chronologically

Features: 2 stars
Ease of use: 3 stars
Design/UX: 3 stars
Overall: 3 stars

11.) liveZuu

Matching FriendFeed and iminta for number of available services (28), liveZuu is let down by an esoteric interface which squeezes most of the interaction into a tiny portion of the screen and forces the user to adopt a trial and error approach to finding what they're looking for (it took me ages before I realised how to get to the fullscreen lifestream). It's a shame because the actual functionality is pretty good (although I couldn't get it to play with my Flickr feed).

Pros: Good range of services, Facebook app
Cons: Confusing UI

Features: 3 stars
Ease of use: 2 stars
Design/UX: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars

12.) Superglu

Superglu offers a blog-style presentation of your lifestream with main content updates down the left and a column on the right with recently listened to tracks, tags and month-by-month archives. Unfortunately the pulling in of the feeds seems a little erratic (no update on mine between the 12th Feb and 1oth Mar). There's also an issue with the image crashing into the right-hand column (see above grab). The good news is that Superglu does enable advanced users to manually edit the stylesheet (so I could go in and sort if out were I so inclined).

Pros: Manual CSS editing
Cons: Erratic updates, lack of friend integration

Features: 2 stars
Ease of use:
Features: 3 stars
Design/UX: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars

13.) iStalkr

The functionality of iStalkr is really not too bad but it's let down by poor design and UX, not least the fact that there is so much furniture at the top of the page (Google Ads, logo which isn't clickable, Digg icon) that the main event (the stream) is invariably pushed down beneath the fold. The user is just made to work too hard (why do I have to type in the name of the service? Why can't you do it and I'll overwrite it if it's wrong?). There are some redeeming features, including search functionality and an activities timeline (although the labels are often too truncated too be meaningful and the full description doesn't appear on hover), although they're not enough to counter the UX shortcomings.

Pros: Activities timeline, search stream feature
Cons: Sub-optimal design/UX,

Features: 3 stars
Ease of use: 2 stars
Design/UX: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars

14.) correlate.us

correlate.us is the most lo-fi of the services reviewed here, employing a del.icio.us-esque design aesthetic and linking to photos and videos rather than pulling them into the data stream (or 'river', as correlate.us calls it). Only six services are currently supported (although they are some of the biggest hitters) and adding feeds can be a bit of a pain (to add last.fm you have to log in the last.fm site and temporarily change your country to Timor-Lest). On the plus side, there's an aggregated tag cloud and some basic stats on what number of posts are coming from which services.

Pros: tag cloud, basic stats
Cons: limited number of services supported, convoluted feed additions, doesn't pull media assets into stream

Features: 2 stars
Ease of use: 2 stars
Design/UX: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars

15.) OneSwirl

OneSwirl didn't fair too well in my testing, returning MySQL database errors on the homepage (doh!). The only feed which I could get to appear in my stream (Twitter) wasn't very effectively presented (too spread out, necessitating a lot of scrolling) and the design looks very dated to me. In fairness to the developers, it's only been live for two weeks and they're clearly aware they've got some way to go with it. Casting around for a redeeming feature, I did quite like the inclusion of a calendar, enabling you to easily jump back to specific dates (although, of course, it doesn't work).

Pros: Er...
Cons: Database errors, not all feeds successfully updating lifestream

Features: 1 star
Ease of use: 1 star
Design/UX: 1 star
Overall: 1 star

Comparison of services supported by social aggregatorsSocial aggregators comparison table


Matt Galligan said...

Thank you SO much for such kind words! We're really working hard at getting you a lot more services to play with. Our biggest hurdle was the initial technology, so now that we've got that up and running, expect some big things at a fast pace from us VERY soon!

Glad to have you as a user!

Anonymous said...

Awesome article; thank you very much for the insightful reviews. I would love an invite to SocialThing! It seemed to be all the rage at this year's SXSW.


Dan Taylor said...

Thanks Katrina - twitter me (@fabricoffolly) your email address and I'll ping you an invite

sMoRTy71 said...

Dan, thank you for the kind words about Profilactic. We really appreciate it. Being #1 on the list really means a lot to us.

Dan Taylor said...

@matt galligan and @sMoRTy71 - no worries - just keep making good products and I'll keep being nice about them :)

Hunee's Blog said...

I am probably the only Asian to comment first in here and I just want to say thanks for smorty71 for the tweet. If not for that tweet I wouldn't know other sites. This time I guess you are right about the difficulty of having too many accounts (facebook and alike) because you have to track each one. To be honest it is my first time to hear about lifestreaming on twitter..looks fun..and will probably try soon but I have to read more articles like this to help me.

Thanks for the article :-)

Rob Diana said...

Excellent review of the lifestreaming sites! This saves me the time of posting a review that probably would have looked very similar.

Anonymous said...

Nice survey of the landscape. Seems that there are a few too many of these for them all to survive for very long.

If you still have any of those invites to socialthing, I'd be very appreciative.


Scott said...

invite to social thing would be cool, if still have spares. Good overview by the way. I have been trying to do something similar for about 2 months witout getting around to it.

Bob Boynton said...

You wrote a very extensive review of this particular corner of the web world, and is thus very helpful. When I was looking for a lifestreaming aggregator I only saw about half of these.

I chose Second|Brain because, in addition to working, I liked the way one can organize the materials going into the service. It imports del.icio.us tags so you have a built in tag cloud. It knows about content types so you can filter the list you are looking at by type. It also has collections that let you bundle together content into related materials.

As the content grows over time this kind of organization is essential if you want to get back to what you have put into the system.

Dan Taylor said...

Thanks for the comments guys. Todd & Scott - I still have invites if you want to ping me your email address (fabricoffolly on twitter or @gmail.com)

Tad Chef said...

Profilactic sadly owns all of your content:

"Our sites include a combination of content that we create and that our users create. All materials published on our sites, including, but not limited to, written content, photographs, graphics, images, illustrations, marks, logos, sound or video clips, and Flash animation, are protected by our copyrights. You may not modify, publish, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, or in any way exploit any of the materials or content on our sites in whole or in part."

Also it does not support StumbleUpon stating that SU does not support RSS which is not true.

sMoRTy71 said...

Tad Chef, To be completely honest, we kind of "borrowed" the language for our terms of use from another site.

We don't want to own your content. In fact, I have removed that section from our terms.

As far as SU is concerned, we added support for them a long time ago. As far I know, they didn't have RSS then. If they do now, we will definitely add them.

Andrew Shuttleworth said...

Thanks for the great review.

Do you know of http://www.spokeo.com/ ? The service seems to do a good job of finding your friends on different sites if you import your address book. I find the friend grouping feature a bit difficult to use but still useful.

As for Profilactic - the service I prefer for creating a mashup of my own content - it would be nice if they offered filtering of friend's content by friend and content source.

sMoRTy71 said...

Hey Andrew, we do offer filtering of friends' content by person at source.

On the Friends' mashup page, you can select any friend and see only their content.

If you go to that person's own mashup, you can filter by each of the sites that they use.

If you had other filtering in mind, please shoot me a note at feedback at profilactic dot com.

zoltandragon said...

Thank you for this informative and useful review. Also, if you still have some, I would love to have an invite to SocialThing :)

Dan Taylor said...

@zoltandragon - still have invites - ping me your email address (fabricoffolly on twitter or @gmail.com)

Shannon said...

Excellent post - thanks for the comprehensiveness. If you have a socialthing invite left, I'd love one. phatmommy@gmail.com

Joseph said...

Might you consider reviewing the new Flavor of Love facebook application?


- Joe Raciti

(I work for the company that developed the application.)

Jacob said...

I find mybloglog too doing pretty good job. Any review from your side?

Jeremy Horn said...

Awesome detailed review of all the aggregators!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

funDiva Christy Hoffman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sMoRTy71 said...

funDiva Christy, your signup on Profilactic went through fine. I just checked our DB. What problems are you having?

Serge K. Keller said...

Interesting review, I think you included all the main lifestream-sites out there. Perhaps something could be added (in a future article) about self-hosted and home-built systems? My guess is that quite a lot of people savvy enough to implement a lifestream would tend to go the self-hosted way, but I may be mistaken.

On an unrelated note, have you still got an invite left for socialthing? I'd love to get one if at all possible.

Best regards

Staump said...

We have added support for both YouTube and Flickr as services! This means you can set up your Staump.com account to automatically post to your lifestream when you upload a new video or post new photos. For more information about lifestreaming and the services we support, please see the FAQ.

Lots of things are happening at Staump.com. Check out the news thread for more and continuing information.

OurStage.com and Staump.com have teamed up to provide more great opportunities to more talented artists every month!

Staump.com will also be providing a few prizes to Ourstage winners.

On OurStage, artists, fans, & industry professionals all come together ? to discover, judge, & enjoy the best new music and the best new artists online. The fans decide who's best and the top-ranked artists receive significant career-building promotion and support from established artists, industry professionals, and a broad assortment of partners, including AOL Music, Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot, Newport Folk Festival, JPaste Magazine, CMJ, and many others.

Visit The Staump Ourstage Page For More Information!


Tim Staump

Kasper said...

Excellent compilation & analysis! Thanks!


Rex Gibson said...

can somebody send me a socialthing! invite? I'd really appreciate it.
please send to noamt1 at gmail.com

Rex Gibson said...

Thanks Dan

seo company said...
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stev4n said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I would love a socialthing! invite if anyone has one. Thanks in advance!
Please send to hoferster at gmail.com