One year after my last review of some social media tools and networks, here's the 2009 version. Included are:
- UPDATES on the services I reviewed last year and how I've integrated them into my work (or not) as an executive coach and consultant: Tumblr, Twitter, Utterli and (on the lighter side) Don't Break the Chain. (In this section I also reference a number of Twitter clients, but I don't discuss them in depth--more on that front later.)
- Reviews of a few NEW TOOLS I didn't discuss last year or am currently trying out: Tumblelog Facebook Application, FriendFeed, Tumblr Post Firefox Add-on, and Shareaholic Firefox Add-on.
- QUICK LOOKS at some tools I'm considering trying or have ruled out for various reasons. This includes a number of "social network integrators" -- AlertThingy, HelloTxt, Ping.fm, Posty, and TarPipe -- as well as some assorted blog-related social tools: Blogrollr, BlogScrobbler, Lijit, Disqus, IntenseDebate, Psolenoid and Zemanta.
Tumblr has become my tool of choice for sharing interesting links. A "linkblog" like this occupies a perfect niche between my Delicious bookmarks and my blog posts here. My bookmarks are publicly searchable, but they're intended primarily to help me keep track of resources I might otherwise forget about, and they're often related to topics that are unlikely to be of interest to others. My posts here are original essays, and although I hope a personal voice comes through in my writing, I typically focus on topics related to executive coaching and change management consulting. In contrast, the links I post to Tumblr are (hopefully) of interest to a wider audience, and they touch on a wide range of subjects, including a number that I'm unlikely to write about here, although they're still more tightly focused than my bookmarks.
I publish content from my linkblog in several different places. First, I've configured Tumblr to send my posts to Twitter and to FriendFeed as updates--more on both of those services below. I'm using script provided by Tumblr in yesterday's Interesting Links post as well as in the left-hand sidebar here (at least for now). And I've added the Tumblelog Facebook Application, which creates a new "Tumblr" tab on my FB profile.
Two features on Tumblr I haven't yet done much with are the option to follow other people's Tumblr blogs, and the ability to customize your own blog's look-and-feel. Tumblr generates an RSS feed for each blog, but I haven't yet bothered to find other blogs I want to keep up with, subscribe to their feeds, and integrate them into my regular reading--that seems like way too much work right now. Tumblr allows you to aggregate blogs you're following on your Tumblr "dashboard," but I'm not inclined to work yet another web page into my routine. And because I'm publishing my Tumblr links in so many other places, as noted above, I don't expect many people to actually visit my Tumblr page, so as long as it doesn't look too awful, I don't really care about it.
All in all, Tumblr's a great resource, and I expect to use it even more intensively in the future. (I wouldn't mind having all my Tumblr posts tagged on Delicious as well to make it easier for me to access them in the future, but I haven't bothered to take that extra step.)
I'm sorry to say that I haven't yet come across any other executive coaches or change management consultants who are using Tumblr consistently (which isn't to say they're not out there--I haven't been looking all that hard.) Mark McGuinness clued me in to Tumblr in the first place, but he hasn't posted there since June '08--given that he's the most web-savvy coach I know, I assume he's just channeling his energy elsewhere.
Twitter didn't seem that compelling to me a year ago, but it's come to serve several useful purposes. As noted above, I send any interesting links I post to Tumblr to my Twitter account. My assumption is that if you're following me on Twitter, you're likely to be interested in links that I find interesting, and integrating with Tumblr in this way allows me to share them as easily as possible. But I've also begun to make more use of Twitter as a social network. I initially synched Twitter with Gmail, which allowed me to begin following nearly 200 people, but I've whittled that number down to about 50 (with the help of MyTweeple, because Twitter's admin features are pretty minimal), with an emphasis on people I know personally and/or people who share my focus on coaching and consulting.
Although you can lock your Twitter account, preventing people from following you without your approval, I allow anyone to follow me because Twitter's not reciprocal--unlike Facebook. (One of the downsides of Facebook, particularly in the "new" FB, is the huge amount of stuff the system sends me that I'm not interested in, simply because I'm connected to people who haven't taken the time to "weed their feeds." As a result, I'm much less likely to accept friend request on FB now and will probably begin culling that network as well. But with Twitter, this isn't a problem because the system allows one-way relationships, so I can follow people who aren't necessarily interested in my tweets, and vice versa. Fred Wilson recently described how he downsized his Facebook network while continuing to use Twitter and Tumblr to broadcast to a larger audience.)
I could conceivably send my Twitter updates to my Tumblr blog, but I've decided to make that a one-way channel. The links I post to Tumblr are all (conceivably) of interest to anyone following me on Twitter, but tweets are likely to be more personal and ephemeral, and I don't really see the need to "archive" them on a linkblog.
All this said, I know I'm not using Twitter to its full potential. We seem to be at an interesting juncture in Twitter's evolution--perhaps a classic chasm moment--when the true innovators (the Twitterati?) have become intensive users, and the early majority are just hearing about it for the first time. Early adopters like me (who know just enough to get ourselves in trouble) are still figuring out precisely how it adds value to our lives. I do realize I could make much more extensive use of Twitter if I found better interfaces--on the web and via my cell.
I've looked at a few web clients--TweetDeck and TweetGrid seem popular among the people I follow--but choosing one over another and getting up the learning curve hasn't been a priority. I'm probably at a point where I need to just pick one and get on with things.
On my cell, I just realized that I can use Twitter's mobile site--the browser on my Treo 680 isn't great, but it works reasonably well (and the mobile site looks pretty good on a laptop, too.) And I'm testing MoTwit, a Palm OS application that provides a slightly better interface to enter updates (it fills the screen, rather than limiting you to a tiny text box), as well as links to your primary Twitter pages (accessible via your mobile browser.) If I was motivated to change my cellphone plan, I could text or SMS updates to Twitter, but they currently cost me a nickel each, which is just enough to hold down my usage.
Unfortunately, the best mobile channel for me is email--that's the main reason I've stuck with a Treo for so long--but Twitter doesn't currently allow updates via email. There's an interesting work-around (involving a dummy Blogger account, TwitterFeed and OpenID--uh, no thanks) and some third-party apps like TwitterMail, EmailTwitter, and MessageDance (which offers more extensive social network integration as well), but I haven't tried any of them yet. (Although my next post on the subject will probably be a review of all these options.)
There are few coaches and consultants I follow on Twitter who seem to have sorted it out, and Pam Fox Rollin is first among them--she seems to have a perfect feel for this new medium. Eric Pennington, Kristen Beireis, and Mark McGuinness (that's where he's been!) are also well worth following.
Utterli (formerly Utterz) is, among other things, an easy way to 1) record a conversation using your phone and generate an audio file on the web, 2) add a photo or other contextual data, and 3) share it as a podcast. It works well for this purpose, but the admin and network controls leave something to be desired--for example, I'd like to have more control over who can view certain files.
But Utterli is more than just an auto-podcasting service--it's really a "social network integrator" (much more on those below) or even a "rich media cross-posting platform," if you like. You can configure it to post photos, audio and video not only to different social networks but also to multiple private blogs. I do think it's a useful service, but I've realized that I'm a writer, not a podcaster. And while it's nice to know it's there if I need to record an interview, I'm not going to rely on it regularly until the admin controls are improved.
Don't Break the Chain isn't really like any of the other tools I discuss here, but it's worth noting because it's probably had the biggest impact on my life over the past year. You simply tick off days in a calendar to create a colorful "chain" that shows how many consecutive days "you've been getting things done." In my case I use it to track my exercise, and it's been an incredibly powerful motivator. I've configured Firefox to open up the site as a new tab each time it launches, and I can't help but want to extend the chain every day.
As noted above, the Tumblelog Facebook Application allows me to add a "Tumblr" tab to my FB profile. Pretty simple, but what's not yet clear is how best to integrate it with FriendFeed (see below), which is currently also publishing my Tumblr links to FB. I'm not sure what advantages, if any, the FB app offers over FriendFeed.
FriendFeed is the first "social network integrator" I encountered (although I didn't call it that then). I started using it just over a year ago, although for some reason I didn't think to include in the first version of this post I wrote at that time. I'm currently using FF to integrate content from this blog's RSS feed and feeds from Last.fm, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. In theory, the content from all these feeds is aggregated on my FriendFeed page (although no content from Last.fm or LinkedIn is appearing, and I'm not sure why.) In turn, I use the FriendFeed Facebook Application to publish some of this content to FB. As noted above, I have some redundant links on my FB profile, and I have to take a look at which apps are posting what content to whittle it down. (I used to have FriendFeed configured to integrate my Delicious bookmarks and publish them on FB, but that was way too much unnecessary content.)
As you might expect, FriendFeed also allows you to subscribe to your...wait for it...friends' feeds. But I really have no idea how my current network of friends on the service became established, and I just unsubscribed from most of their feeds, leaving only a handful to experiment with.
FriendFeed's been useful as a FB publishing app, operating in the background, but I'm certainly not using it to its full potential. I'm getting enough content from my various networks via FB and Twitter at the moment, so I don't really want more--but given how much useless stuff I have to wade through on both of those networks, FriendFeed may offer some way to increase the signal-to-noise ratio.
The Tumblr Post Firefox Add-on is a great way to post interesting links to my Tumblr linkblog. The official Tumblr bookmarklet relies on the URL that's in your navigation bar at that moment, so if you're scrolling through a blog and see a post you'd like to share on Tumblr, you have to find that post's unique link and click through to it before you can use the bookmarklet. But with the Tumblr Post add-on, you can drag-and-drop any link on the page to a small icon at the bottom right corner of your browser window. I've configured it to allow me to add text and tags as well before posting to Tumblr, but even with that additional step it's faster than the official bookmarklet, and I prefer the default formatting (although the bookmarklet does give you some more flexibility in determining what text will be displayed.)
And the Shareaholic Firefox Add-on is another way to post to Tumblr, but it's also a more full-featured social network integrator that allows you to post to nearly 30 other services as well, from bit.ly to Y Combinator. In my case I'm testing it with bit.ly, Delicious, FriendFeed, Tumblr, and Twitter. I love the Firefox integration--a nice drop-down menu added in the navigation bar, as well as a listing in your right-click menu--BUT apparently Shareaholic relies on the basic Tumblr bookmarklet function, so you get the same (slow) pop-up and (worse) you still have to click through to the actual page you want to post, so that the URL is displayed in your navigation bar. It's nice to be able to post to a range of services simultanously, but Shareaholic isn't nearly as helpful as the Tumblr Post add-on. (There's also some unintrusive but unwanted integration with Bzzster, which apparently developed this add-on.)
Below are some tools I've taken a quick look at but have either rejected or haven't yet tested.
First up is a list of social network integrators that allow you to post to to multiple networks and services (Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.) simultaneously. I'm only active on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and I'm connected with different people in those networks so I'm inclined to use them for different purposes (although I'm still in the process of discovering just how they differ and just what those purposes are), and--as noted above--I'm still exploring FriendFeed's capabilities, so I don't feel an urgent need to test these integrators. That said, it's been interesting learning more about my alternatives:
AlertThingy allows you to post updates as well as to receive content from the services you select. It also serves as an RSS reader, which is appealing. However, it runs as a separate application, which make it a non-starter for me--I want as few apps open as possible.
HelloTxt allows you to post to over 40 services via your phone, email, IM and their Facebook app.
Ping.fm allows you to post to over 30 services from another network, your phone, IM, or email.
Posty but it's unclear to me whether it's strictly web-based or provides access to your networks via other channels as well.
Finally, here are some assorted tools and services that I've taken a look at recently:
Blogrollr is a new service launched in the last few weeks as a result of Fred Wilson's wish for a better blogroll. This tool
supposedly* allows you to install a widget that tracks the blogs you visit and compiles a rolling list of the most popular sites and the most recent posts. Thanks to an astounding response from Fred's commenters, Blogrollr launched just two days later. Interestingly, this would have been a perfect application for the AttentionTrust recorder--and it's not surprising to see Stan James involved--see below. *Unfortunately, the site crashed before I could even install the widget, so I haven't been able to try it out and don't know much other than that it looks good on Fred's site--currently just below his sidebar ads. I'll keep trying. Their site's back up, and I was able to install their Firefox extension and set up a widget on another site. It's pretty slick and seems to be just what it's billed as: a Last.fm for blogs.
BlogScrobbler is another application developed on the fly in response to Fred's initial post--and this was created by Stan James, who developed the AttentionTrust recorder. (The name derives from AudioScrobbler, the application that underlies Last.fm, because what Fred wanted to replace his static blogroll was "a Last.fm for blogs"--in other words, a dynamically generated "playlist" of the posts and sites he visited most often.) BlogScrobbler is a Firefox extension that tracks your blog reading habits within certain parameters (recording a site only after you've been there for 15 seconds, for example), and then sends a list of "scrobbled" posts to a Twitter account. You have to create a display of your scrobbled post data using one of the many Twitter widgets out there. Very interesting stuff, and it was nice to learn a little about what Stan's been up to as a result, but it involves a bit more "bolting together" than I feel like dealing with at the moment. (Which is why I'm an early adopter, not an innovator.)
Lijit is a social network search service that allows you to create a customized search box for your users that includes content from your site, your social networks, and any other sites you designate (such as your blogroll) in the results. Lijit was founded several years ago by...Stan James! (It's hard to believe that I haven't been in touch with him since my AttentionTrust days and then ran across his name on three projects in a single post.) I created an account at that time but never actually set up a Lijit search box--I'm currently trying it out on a test site to see if it's worth including alongside my site's standard Google search box.
Disqus and IntenseDebate are blog comment services that offer a variety of features that improve upon the (very) basic functionality offered by, in my case, TypePad. Both services improve the user experience for the commenters, but they also allow your commenters to interact as members of a social network, in a sense, and it seems to me that the service that succeeds in encouraging a critical mass of commenters to register will win. This isn't a high priority for me right now, and I'm not ready to ask my commenters to choose one over the other--I'd rather follow the market on this one--but if TypePad doesn't make some improvements in this area, I'll take a closer look at implementing one of them.
Psolenoid allows you to reciprocally connect your blog posts to related posts by other bloggers. I appreciate the potential value of a network of people writing on related topics, established through a series of direct connections between specific blog posts, but at this point it doesn't seem worth testing to me. Both you and the other person need to have Psolenoid accounts activated on your site, you have to manually establish the connection between any two posts, and it looks like it'll add some clutter to the bottom of the post.
Zemanta is a browser extension (for Firefox, IE and others) that suggests "tags, links, photos and related articles" when you're composing a blog post and when you're using a web-based email service. Their demo is fascinating, and I appreciate not only the potential time-savings but also (if true) the range of purported benefits, such as their claim that their suggested tags will improve your SEO. That said, I haven't tried it out yet--it looks like it adds some clutter to your blog posts, and (at least at this point) I actually like taking the time to "hand-roll" my posts, without content that's automagically created for me.