03 May 2007

Social Networking for Dummies (like me)

The tech press and the blogosphere are innundated with references to "social networking" sites like YouTube, MySpace and FaceBook, which to most of us over the age of 30 look at and ask "why?" That's an acceptable enough reason to avoid them for most people, but in my case, I'm a telecommunications marketing executive, so I'm supposed to be all over this stuff and felt it was time to catch up with my customers.

The genre is evolving, too, and merging and converging into mobile and other services. The latest stuff to emerge (by "emerge" in this context, I mean hit the mainstream press, so that even people as uncool as myself have heard about it, signalling the teen digeratti that it's time to move on to the next thing) is the new Google personal maps site, where I'm keeping a running update of my wanderings from here, beginning when I left my home in Stockholm on New Year's Eve 2007. Another is a new genre of social networking site, sometimes referred to as "micro-blogs." I read about them in the IHT (my favourite newspaper), in this article from 27 April. These sites allow you to post photos and texts directly to the site, much in the way people SMS or MMS their friends with moronic little messages about everyday experience, like "dinner at Habana Cafe - awesome tapas" or "dude - u were right - snorting wasabi is a really dumb idea - can't make it tonight", etc. The difference is with these sites, you can post text or photos directly from your mobile, and your friends (or perfect strangers) can choose to receive them, either on the web or on their phone.

What the IHT didn't explain too well is that most of these sites were designed by and for 13-year-olds, so the pages explaining how it works are a bit short on detail, with instructions like "download the client, log in with your user name, and start producing shows on the go!" These are all the instructions 13-year-olds need to master new technologies -- by the time the time they finish reading that sentence, they've already got their first video live on the net, and they didn't interrupt the PSP game they were playing simultaneously in order to do it. People like me on the other hand, are still trying to figure out the "download the client" part three weeks later.

In addition to the four reviewed by the IHT (Twitter, Kyte, Radar, and Jaiku), I also found another similar site, called Rabble, which claims to offer "super cool awesome stuff," but which I found to be the weakest of the five. I'm hoping to play around with a few of them and perhaps later post a more detailed review, but my initial impressions of these sites are as follows:

1) Twitter and Jaiku are the most similar to each other, basically allowing you to post text and photos by SMS and MMS. Twitter, by the way, is used by at least two candidates in the U.S. presidential election -- John Edwards and Barack Obama -- to keep their supporters informed about campaign events and developments. Twitter's big downside is that it only allows you to post text, not pictures.

2) Kyte seems the most flexible and powerful, with all kinds of features like "channels," "shows," and "lifestream shows," as well as a mobile client that appears to allow users to everything from either web or mobile, although I haven't tried it yet. There is a pretty good range of Nokia and SonyEricsson phones that support the mobile client. Postings in text, pictures, video and slide shows are all supported. Posted pictures and videos can be embedded in blogs, etc., similarly to embedding a YouTube video. But Kyte seems more of a YouTube competitor rather than a true "micro-blogging" tool, so I decided to pass it up.

3) Radar I liked -- it was simple and straightforward. You sign up, you get a dedicated email address, you send text, pictures or video by email or MMS to that email address, and it shows up on your site. The email subject becomes the picture title, and the body becomes the descriptive text. A big difference between Radar and the others is that there is no way to make Radar pictures publicly available -- you have to send an invitation to friends in order for them to view your posts. The other sites allow to choose to make your posts public or private. Other than that, I thought it was a simple, elegant service, although the picture sizes are a bit small.

4) Rabble I never seriously considered, since its mobile client is based on the Qualcomm Brew platform, meaning that's basically useless to all except a few thousand North Americans clinging stubbornly to their proprietary technology. It's a pity, because it seems like a well designed, flexible, feature-rich service -- sort of the power of Kyte with the elegance of Radar. Also cool was the real-time stream of posts showing up on the home page, which gave some hint of why Radar may have chosen to make all images private -- it seems that for many, "social networking" means "trying to get laid".

5) Overall, I liked Jaiku the best. First of all, it's based in Finland, not San Francisco like most of the others, which means that it doesn't have the U.S.-biased perspective most American companies do. It has a really simple way of adding posts, which can include all kinds of media, it has a good mobile client, and it has a bunch of cool functionalities. You can share things like your availability, based on your phone's active profile (e.g., in a meeting), share your location information based on the cell tower you are connected to, items from your calendar, etc. You can add new posts by simply SMSing to a regular number in your home country, and you can link it to RSS feeds, other websites, and -- of course -- your blog. So I've set Nomadicity up that way, so that blog updates generate a new "Jaiku". This icon shows when I'm on-line: My Jaiku presence
Some of this stuff is pretty cool. However, I still think it's not quite mature. What's needed is a Niklas Zennström to come along and integrate it all into a slick, user-friendly cohesive package like Skype. Jaiku comes close, but we're not quite there yet.

Mexico City
2 May 2007


DJ Grouper said...

Hey man, my sister met her second husband on-line. That's how she spells "getting laid," ha ha.

But seriously, a relationship that starts in Cyberspace probably has a better chance of developing into something meaningful than, say, a meeting in a bar or at a cocktail party, I think.

That is, if you're not a prankster

A meeting of like minds is what smart people are really looking for. If minds can mesh nicely than, y'know, the rest, the squishy parts will...


P.S. The link you put in your first post isn't working. Please fix it!

Derrick Oien said...

Hey sorry you didn't get to check out Rabble properly. Rabble is not just in Brew, but also J2ME, Windows Mobile and XHTML. We also support the Blackberry, the Hiptop and will be rolling out a Flash Lite client very soon. If you want to get a slight flavor of what it is really like point your WAP browser to mobile.rabble.com. I think you will actually be really impressed.


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