There aren’t too many products that have launched their new versions on 60 Minutes that I can think of in the computing industry. Last night we got the first look at the new profile feature on Facebook. (Having trouble finding out how to turn it on? Go here — they sure don’t make it easy for you.)
While interesting, this just points out the real rag-tag collection of tools on your desktop and phone to read, post, and add friends to your various social networks. Sometimes you use your desktop browser, sometimes you are running an app, and sometimes you just have to get real work done and wish you never got started Tweeting or opening up your life to your 14 ex-girlfriends and former co-workers. (Only somewhat kidding)
I have been looking at a few services to try to better manage my social networks, and will talk about three of them here: the new service from Nimble that consolidates your contacts and allows you to collate their conversations on a single screen, the Flock browser that presents the real-time stream on a sidebar and can be used as a reasonable replacement browser on our desktops, and the Open Xchange email service which also can import and organize your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts.
There are lots of services that allow you to concurrently post to multiple networks, such as Pixelpipe.com and Ping.fm. There are many other services that are designed for multiple network access, such as Gigya.com, which has a single sign-on for social media sites. It has to be implemented from a Web site operator as opposed to by an individual.
These products aren’t what I am talking about here: I assume you are already using something like this, or have hooked up your networks so that a post on your WordPress blog automatically goes out to LinkedIn and then to Facebook and Twitter accounts.
No, what I mean is the harder problem: you have been diligently growing your networks, and now you want to dig deeper and manage these contacts. For example, you want to figure out whom to follow and whom not to, what folks that you have in your database that are missing from one or more of your social networks, or add people to one of your networks that are in another one. Ideally, I would like to run queries to see who is on both my Facebook and LinkedIn networks, and who isn’t, to see whether I should spend more time on one or another to expand my network or focus my attention.
Let’s look at how of the three services stack up.
Flock can set up its own ad hoc groups of contacts that can span all your social networks. You set up an overall Flock account on their site, and then import your contacts from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. You can then create various contact groups and then pick and choose who goes into which group, which is great for trying to understand your “social graph” of people that you pay more attention to on each of these services. While I liked the real-time feed that is displayed on the sidebar, it is distracting and there are a few Web sites that don’t display properly in a Flock browser session, and I found myself going back to Firefox and Safari for my daily Web browsing dose.
Nimble can also consolidate contacts, but doesn’t yet have any easy way to organize or group them (although they promise it is coming soon). It will display everything involving that contact, similar to how ACT or other contact managers work.
OX.IO is the site where you can import your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts. You set up a free account, and import them. In the process of doing my Facebook import, something suspicious flagged my account and Facebook wanted to make sure that it was I who actually was accessing my account. It is more of an email client that has some social media stuff bolted on.
Both Nimble and OX can import your Google address book and combine these contracts with their imports of the social media contacts too. But my Google address book has so many contacts that I was loath to try this out. With both of these, the imports can take some time and the service will email you when it is done doing the import, which is nice.
You can also use Nimble and OX.io as webmail clients, although it would take a lot to get me off of using an ordinary browser to access Google Apps and Gmail.
In the end, I probably will not use any of these services with any consistency. I liked all three’s attempts at trying to bring some more order to my social networking life, but they are still not yet ready for production use. In the meantime, I have some fiddling to do to get my Facebook profile the way I want it in the new “60 Minutes” schema.