Thanks to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and a host of other social media services, people are more connected than ever. But keeping up with all the tweets, posts, and status updates isn't easy, because they often come from a variety of social media sites. So how do you connect the different services that keep you connected? How do you steer all of that stuff to one spot on the Web where it's a snap to manage?
New tools called social media aggregators have risen to address that challenge. Their goal: to provide you with one simple point of entry where you can keep track of the streams from any and all of the most popular social networking sites. A bunch of social media aggregators (or “life-streaming” tools, as they're sometimes called) have shown up in recent years, but some social media services don't always do the job you need them to do. Here's a look at the three that, in our estimation, fulfill the promise of social media aggregation most completely: Streamy, Flock, and FriendFeed.
Streamy is a Web site designed to collect not just all of your favorite social media sites but also blogs and instant messaging tools, putting them into one self-contained dashboard.
The first time you log in to Streamy, you won't see much of consequence–that's because you need to link your services with Streamy first. Click on the Setup link on the top left, and you'll see nine different services to choose from, ranging from Facebook and Twitter to Digg, Flickr, and even FriendFeed.
Unlike Flock and FriendFeed, Streamy doesn't pull all of your separate social sites into a single, aggregated river of social updates. Instead it keeps each service in a separate “tab,” which you can access by clicking on the icon for each service. The nice thing about this arrangement is that Streamy allows you to customize each service with advanced layouts and widgets to keep up with custom searches (in Flickr or Twitter, for example) or tagged photos or events (in Facebook).
As such, Streamy doesn't merely act as a dashboard for all of your social media sites; it also allows you to create a custom dashboard for every site, offering a heads-up view of what's going on at each individual site based on what's important to you.
Finally, Streamy makes it easy to post a status update to all of your sites in one fell swoop: You simply click the 'What are you doing?' status box that's always visible on the right side of the page and tick the check box of each service where you want your update to post.
Unlike the other two tools discussed here, both of which are Web services, Flock is a desktop application. In fact, Flock is a full-fledged Web browser, built from the same open-source code that powers the popular Firefox browser.
The difference between Firefox and Flock? Flock is a “social Web browser,” meaning that it's designed specifically to integrate seamlessly with over 20 social media sites, including Delicious, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, and even your Gmail account (see Flock's services tour for more details.)
Getting Flock up and running with your favorite services is simple. The first time you open Flock, it will prompt you to log in to supported social sites. Once you log in to a service, Flock can automatically add that service to your People sidebar (click on the Remember Account drop-down). This People sidebar is where Flock shines. Each time you log in to a new supported account, that account appears in the People sidebar. From there, you can click on any of the account icons to see each service individually, or you can click on the All button to see every status update from all of your services aggregated into one chronological feed.
You can even post updates to supported sites directly from the People sidebar. If you have a particular affinity for Facebook, Flock's FlockCast feature can even post any action you undertake on one of your other social sites–such as uploading new pictures to Flickr–directly to your Facebook account.
The fact that Flock is a download has its pros and cons. On the plus side, Flock doesn't require you to give the keys to your social media to just any old third-party Web site, and that helps to preserve your online security. On the minus side, social media aggregation is just one aspect of Flock–it's a complete Web browser, and unless you want to switch your Web browsing duties over to Flock entirely, using Flock just for social media aggregation is a bit like carrying around an entire toolbox when all you use is one screwdriver. (Some people won't find that bothersome in the least.)
Also, since Flock is not Web-based, you can access your aggregated social media via Flock only on computers where you can download and install the application, meaning you'll be out of luck on most public and some work computers.
Want to compare LAN/WAN management products? Visit the IT Product Guides now.FriendFeed was one of the first social media aggregators to hit the scene in a big way. Founded by a handful of former Google employees, FriendFeed consolidates social updates from 58 services (at the time of this writing), from Facebook and Twitter to Google Reader, Last.fm, and even Netflix (letting your buddies know what movies you've queued).
In stark contrast to the other two offerings compared here, which pull your friends' activity directly from your social sites into a centralized tool, FriendFeed focuses more on you, allowing you to pull all of your social output into one central location. That is, rather than providing you with a single place to keep track your buddies' output, the first thing FriendFeed does is provide your friends with a single place to keep track of you.
For example, FriendFeed can aggregate all of your tweets, Facebook status updates, and even posts from your blog, so rather than your trying to update all of your social sites every time you do something on the Web, your friends can just subscribe to your FriendFeed to see all of your updates in one place, no matter where you've posted them. As an added bonus, your friends don't have to go looking for you every time you start a new account somewhere, since presumably you'd add any new social accounts to your FriendFeed.
FriendFeed is laid out a lot like Twitter, but instead of showing just tweets, it collects everything you do online (or at least everything you do on a connected service). If you really like the FriendFeed interface, you can post updates to FriendFeed and Twitter simultaneously from your home page. As an added bonus, when you follow people on FriendFeed, you get access to all of their updates in real time–you don't even have to refresh your browser.
Next: Which Aggregator Is for You?
Now that you've seen what each social media aggregator can do, you're probably wondering which you should use. It depends on what you want to get from an aggregator, and how much time you are willing to invest to get those results.
FriendFeed does an excellent job of plugging all of your social output into a centralized river of social updates, but it's really only as good as your friends' willingness to adopt it (and creating imaginary friends is just too much work for something that's supposed to make your life easier).