Saturday, 24 May 2008

My Content Mess

So, I was making a diagram of all the services I use online, just to help myself better understand how things are connected. To start with the fact that I need a diagram to make sense should be cause for concern. I am a programmer and that should mean I am quite good at holding things and connections in my head. Still, I needed a diagram, so here it is:Now, while making the diagram, I made a number of observations:

For one thing, I use more services than I thought I was. There are 13 services listed here, and this is not everything.

Also, their interconnections change relatively fast. I repeatedly had to update the connections in the days I was making this, so I don't expect it to stay current for a very long time.

Another observation: I have followers in many of these services. Aside from my blog readers, my Google reader friends can see my shared Items, I also publish my starred items feed, I have a lot of connections in Facebook that can see my activity there, and also some connections in Friendfeed. In fact, since all these services offer open feeds, there are people who could be following me on any of them. There may also be overlap in these sets of people, and I try to maximize it by sharing content between services as much as possible.

Although this all seems a bit complicated, it is better than having one provider do everything for me. Yes, I could do most of these things with a combination of Facebook and Google Reader but it would not be nearly as easy, effective or enjoyable as it is now that I use the best of breed tools in each category. I do have a number of problems though:

1. Too many passwords and accounts. Please someone start using OpenID so I can log in everywhere with single set of credentials. I know it's not perfect, but it's the best we have.

2. Facebook is selfish. What can I say? In the diagram, you can see the little arrows going in, but nothing going out. Why? Because Fb does not let me take my data out of their walled garden. Apparently, what happens in Facebook, stays in Facebook. That's their choice, but that's also the reason I am moving my activity elsewhere. For me, Facebook is turning into a place where stuff gets posted automatically for my old-fashioned friends to see. I avoid posting original content inside Facebook. My cool friends are moving to Friendfeed, that apparently trusts its users more and traps them less.

3. Overlap. What if I write a blog entry and then share and star it on Google Reader, and Facebook, and FriendFeed? Well since I have linked all these together, It may end up 3 times on FriendFeed and 5 times on Facebook. But it is the only way it can get to the widest possible audience, all the people who are following me on all these services. Someone want to do a smart filter that merges all the identical entries? I have heard talk about something like this on Friendfeed, let's see.

4. Not only can I not merge overlapping articles, I also cannot aggregate comments. So what if I post something here, then share it inside Facebook and Friendfeed? There is a possibility that independent comment threads will start and I will have to follow them in three places. There are a number of new ideas coming up in this area, I will look into using them and I hope they generally catch on. (Of course, keep in mind #2)

5. Friendfeed and recently Facebook, are acting like aggregators. This is cool. I like it. But they don't let me integrate with any site I want. They offer me a choice. For the moment, FriendFeed offers everything Fb offers and more, but this may change. My problem is that I have other websites where I am or could be active. Examples are Zotero, Threadless and DeviantArt. The first website that makes it easy for its users to write the adapters themselves, is the winner. Less work for them, more capabilities for us. My money is on Friendfeed, but we'll see.

6. Status messages: there are just too many! I have status on Facebook, Twitter and Google Talk. They generally offer me the same utility. Someone make it easy for me to keep them synchronized? (Of course, keep in mind #2)

7. Bookmark managers. and Google bookmarks each have their own advantages. has a great firefox plug in and a nice social aspect, but Google Bookmarks makes my Google searches more relevant. So I want them both to have access to my favourites. I have found a way to transfer data from the one to the other, more or less, but I would like them to be synchronized. I also would like them to be synchronized with foxmarks which I use to keep my browsers at work and at home synchronized. Any ideas?

8. And now for my favourite complaint: Everything is centralized. Waaaaah! Why doesn't anyone build something where I can keep doing my work as I like without being tied to a single entity? Or many single entities for that matter. Perhaps then all the other problems would be moot since I would be able to solve them myself. Oh well, I guess my PhD work is relevant here, in the long-long term.

Overall my little content network is complicated but works mostly Ok. I wonder how many of these will be solved by next year. Maybe there is a ray of light on the conventional horizon called SwitchABit. It's still in development but sounds interesting.

Yet another blog post that I thought would be small but turned out huge. Oh well. I need more experience blogging.


simon said...

im totally not getting friendfeed, its just seems like more work , an like you say .. another status update ...

Alexandros said...

Hello simon, thanks for stopping by.

My reason for using FriendFeed is that I need a place to aggregate everything. And right now it's Facebook or FriendFeed. Since Fb has decided to wage war on its users, I go with Ff. If I can post something to Fb as well without too much effort, fair enough.

Of course Ff is not perfect. But there is an element of trust involved. Their track record is one of oppening up. Facebook has a record of being closed. I trust Ff more.

The cool thing is that there is no extra work involved, once you set it up. Right now, if i favourite something in youtube, it will find its way to Ff and Fb automagically. If i add something to my amazon wishlist it goes to Ff only. (Fb has no integration) So no extra work required there either. If anything, less than it required to manually post everything inside Facebook (until Ff came along and nudged them to become a little more open)