Recycling social data: facebook versus pulse
At the beginning of the summer, I signed up for facebook.com. They have a nice mixture of attractive and useful structure with ample areas for customization and self-expression. I am most impressed by two key characteristics of facebook: it is vibrant and it just works.
In terms of vibrancy, people really use it. I decide to see Knocked Up because of a recommendation from a friend; I learned that my cousin moved to North Carolina in search of her first job; I reconnected with an old friend who had moved to Sidney, Australia; I saw a funny video of my good friend’s 2-year old’s masterful performance of “singing in the rain.” Great stuff that I almost certainly would have missed. Also, random stuff like who’s friending who, sharing links, etc., has also been fun in an unexpected way.
And boy does it work well! Just today, I finally submitted and entered my AIM creditials and it instantly found 19 new people to invite as friends. The site is incredibly dynamic, but it always loads quickly. And the open application architecture has spawned an enormous set of interesting new features.
But there is a downside: facebook is a black hole for your data. They make it really easy to put your digital life in, but they are remarkable closed about getting it out. As you can see, I’ve added a facebook “badge” at the top of my left-hand sidebar. That’s all I can get out from facebook. It’s pretty sucky, because I’d like to make the commitment to facebook as my primary place for my social data. For example, I’d like to have a more complete profile exposed on this blog and perhaps configure a version of my feeds to appear somewhere here. After all, weiksner.com is my public face and a good portion of my public persona comes from more private social interactions!
Enter plaxo’s recently launched pulse product. From CNET’s good review of the service: “Pulse is really one part microblogging platform and one part RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader. And despite the fact that such a description sounds nauseatingly Web 2.0 pitchy, this is a service that Plaxo hopes will appeal to a less technologically adept set of users.” E.g., it’s for sharing pictures and videos with your grandparents!
I was skeptical, but the service is well done. Of course, there is a bootstrapping problem. Do I expect my parents to recruit everyone to a new network and then start posting pictures? And my wife seems pretty happy with email and yahoo groups. I think that they need to figure out something to hook people (free video hosting? free phone support for retired people?) And some technical problems: I haven’t gotten my outlook sync to work; where did all my contacts from the classic plaxo go?
But the site works pretty well for a beta launch that is feature rich yet clean and usable. And remember how Plaxo used to be known as a personal spam machine? (In fact, I gave in and signed up several years ago when a buddy solicited me to update my contact information with the plea: “I’ve signed up with plaxo since it’s the only way I could figure out how to get it to stop sending me email requests.”) Well, they have done a 180 and they are going to be a loud advocates for “social portability” and privacy.
Let’s see if they get my 60 facebook friends to start using their service and a dozen or so of my extended family that doesn’t use any social networks to sign up. Good luck to Plaxo!