Recently a co-worker of mine was telling me about his account on Facebook, and how he prefers it over the other social networking sites because it’s a cool place for his old friends to find and keep up with him. I then explained to him him why I prefer LinkedIn, mainly because it’s a professional resource to make business connections and exchange ideas. Then I thought about a couple of family members who swear by and use Myspace exclusively…
Personally, I think all are great tools, but why must we have a different tool for each purpose? All three of these platforms do essentially the same thing but are being used in just a unique enough way to set them apart. Myspace, LinkedIn, and Facebook and now Twitter – how many different ways do we need to keep in touch with each other?
This reminds me of the explosion of instant messaging applications many years ago, when ICQ came out and shortly thereafter MSN and Yahoo both released their own versions to try and steal away market share. Some people branched away to each, and before long all of your friends were scattered between three different networks. Now you have Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, Jabber, and countless other IM clients all competing for the same market. This actually makes it harder to communicate because, until tools like Trillian came out, you had to have several different IM clients installed just to talk to all of your friends – and even then you couldn’t link communications of different people on different clients together at the same time.
Now it’s deju-vu all over again, this time with social networking sites. Every time I want to find an old friend of mine, I can’t just visit MySpace or Classmates.com and do a search. I have to visit about 10 different social networking sites and search through hundreds of different results, signing in to each one along the way to see pictures and other bits of information. What a pain! And in many cases, Google isn’t enough, because there could be over ten thousand results for “Robert Warren”. How do I know which one is my friend from grade school unless I can search by location and/or age?
This got me thinking, what kind of tools exist in the wild that will let me manage all of these various sites together from a single tool or web app?
Twhirl is one such tool and is off to a good start along these lines. Twhirl will allow you to connect to multiple accounts, search various networks, cross post to several different sites and display information from multiple social network tools all in a single interface. But there are many sites that Twhirl doesn’t support, so hopefully they can continue to add and imporve on this application. Right now, while useful, it’s still very far away from being complete for my purposes.
Ultimately, the whole social networking experience still has the feel of a college lab experiment gone wrong. There are too key pieces missing from this mess to make the overall project worthwhile. There is no one single, useful tool used by everyone to:
- Send an instant message or email to a friend
- Post a message about what you’re doing ‘right now’
- Post pictures of your cat, kids, house, whatever
- Allows the development of third party applications
- Allows for embedded music/sounds/video if you want as part of your profile
- Allows you to write long, informative blog posts if you’d like
- And have it all linked into a single interface that anyone can search to find YOU
Instead, we have dozens of different tools. Flickr, Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, IM Clients, Twitter, WordPress, etc. etc. It’s way too much. I like the comments given in this article, “A social network is only as strong as the amount of people that are a part of it”. And, “figure out which social networks to participate in”. Very sound advice. The article also mentions several tools you can use to manage various networks, such as Tubemogul.
Ultimately, if you really want control over yourself and your content online, the best thing you can do is buy a domain name for your name. If your name is Ryan Chen, think about buying RyanChen.com. Then go about designing your own website around it, which will allow you to put up links to all of the various Social Networking sites that you’re a part of. You can participate in the ones you like and ignore the rest. And if your friend ever wants to find you, he can simply Google your name instead of sifting through dozens of websites. From your website he can then pick and choose which networks to connect to you on.
Having your own domain name is an important first step, the next is making sure that you’re at the top of the list when someone does a search for you. That often involves SEO and Website Promotion. Who ever said it was easy being famous?
I think I’ll go back to work tomorrow and tell my friend that, if he wants to find me in the future, just Google my name. 🙂
PS: The added benefit to having your own domain is your own email address. Think, email@example.com. If you don’t know how to do this for yourself, don’t worry. It can be very affordable to setup your own personal website.