Social Software Inbox

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

- Sir Winston Churchill

Whenever I complain about email I am reminded of that quote from the eminently quotable Sir Winston Churchill. Think about it for a second, what would you do without email? The power of email lies in it’s complete pervasiveness and total interoperability, which is far more than anything one could say about any other communication tool except the telephone.

Having said that, the inbox is certainly not without faults. I don’t think anyone would ever say that they don’t get enough email or that it’s even close to be efficient for high volumes. Products have been promised for this but I doubt it’s anything that is solvable within the current email model. Sam Lawrence notices that a lot of social software seems destined for the same problems that plague email, overload:

Even the people who develop email software like Microsoft, Google and IBM know that the inbox sucks. We don’t need a new email inbox we need something completely new. The problem is that Social Software seems to headed into the same problems as email and we certainly don’t need another dump zone.

[From Go Big Always - We need a social software inbox]

It’s hard to disagree with Sam but at the same time to throw the “baby out with the bath water” would be equally hazardous. Part of the solution will be found in our human ability to adapt and filter, which at the end of the day outstrips any software by light years, and the other part will be enhancing the venerable inbox with social graph features the serve to collapse down all the networks we participate in.

FriendFeed has done this to some degree and while it is not email it is also not a stretch to consider that email is just another lifestream that can get pumped into FriendFeed based on predetermined qualifiers. Companies like Xobni are working on unlocking the social graph that is represented in everyone’s inbox, something that a great many of us are anxious to do.

Bringing application function to the lowly email is something else that is really interesting. I’m tempted to say this would be like the old Firedrop stuff or even Zimbra’s email widgets, but I think it’s something different, maybe adding semantic tags and/or microformats with handler apps to email messages. I saw the potential for this when I upgraded to Leopard and saw how email, ical, and address book could be integrated at the message level by simply interpreting that “next wednesday” meant a date that was a week from this wednesday in ical, or that a phone number in a message could be added to the address book with a simple drop down. It’s startling how much you come to rely on this functionality when you have it.

So while Sam isn’t wrong in suggesting that the inbox paradigm is wrong for social software, I think the answer is found in enhancing the social features in email and building interoperability to non-email systems. Inboxes are here to stay, let’s figure out how to get the most of them, I say.

Alert Thingy Killed Facebook

Just like Thwirl and Snitter totally changed the way I interact with Twitter and drove up my usage as a result, Alert Thingy is doing that for FriendFeed.

As Dennis says, who btw I ripped off the title for this post from, the result is that I am evolving in my behaviors with social networks at a fast cycle rate. The result is that I haven’t logged into Facebook in months and find little reason to resume.

With regard to comments escaping the blogosphere, I’m finding myself engaging in more discussion threads as FriendFeed comments attached to items, something I find both very convenient and very concerning.

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Mainstreaming of FriendFeed

I think FriendFeed is pretty cool, but I still don’t know why it’s a must have. So it aggregates a wide range of social networks and media to present a social feed… but why should you or anyone else care? What value is this creating in my life? But none of this is stopping the cheering section from declaring FriendFeed the winner in social network feeds before a market has been defined.

FriendFeed has been described by different folks as a social Web lifestream, by others a Web services aggregator, or as a conversational platform. But it’s not just one of these things – it’s all of these things. There are a definitely a wide number of sites out there that let you share all your activity in one place, or to track friends’ activity, but FriendFeed is the only one that lets you share items directly to the feed, elevate discussions through comments and show “likes” to highlight individual posts.

[From louisgray.com: Duncan Riley Misses the Point of FriendFeed: Silicon Valley Blog]

Adam Ostrow says that FriendFeed has crossed the chasm. No offense to Adam, but that statement is so patently absurd on it’s face that it rises to the level of being preposterous.

First and foremost, the only people that are connecting to me on FriendFeed are the same people that connected with me on Facebook last year and the same people who are on Twitter and the same people who connect to me on every shiny new toy I try out. FriendFeed can’t even see the bridge to cross the chasm, it certainly hasn’t crossed it yet.

Adam says that they are collecting gobs of data about what we do, but I say that doesn’t mean the data is commercially viable or even commercially accessible (witness Beacon). Just having data doesn’t mean shit, you are no closer to defining a service that can be delivered to an economic buyer than not having the data at all, in other words just having the data doesn’t mean you have the right data.

But in the end the biggest failing of FriendFeed is that it’s like standing in a very crowded room with everyone shouting at you, there’s no sense of proportionality or authority that helps define what I should be paying attention to.

I still think it’s pretty cool.

FriendFeed Accelerates?

I’ve been getting a lot of FriendFeed notifications about new people subscribing to my feed. Based on anecdotal comments from people I have talked with, it appears I am not alone and that makes me wonder what is happening that is suddenly causing a bump in activity. Could it be Facebook’s own efforts to do something similar raising awareness?

FriendFeed is like Facebook’s news feed. But it’s more of a dynamic conversation among close friends about what they’re up to all over the web — and not so much a social network.

[From Friendfeed, the best software for conversations, raises round and launches publicly » VentureBeat]

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