A Better Contender in the Quest for Aggregation: Pip.io

Ever since social media data started growing like bathroom flora, there have been aggregation tools to make managing your stuff easier. Some are limited in scope; FriendFeed, for example, pulls together just a few services, but does it well. Other services are more ambitious; Fuser is a kind of centralized inbox for all your email accounts and social networking tools, and Flock is an entire browser meant to integrate much of the same stuff. In the last few years, I've set up these three and more, dialed them in, and promptly forgotten about them. These kinds of tools usually work alright, but the user experience often ends up being too unwieldy to keep me on board.

Then I started using Chi.mp, which takes aggregation a step further: Not only does it collect all your social media junk on one site, it also provides you with an outward-facing Web site that you can manage with varying levels of privacy. But while Chi.mp may be the best concept of the lot, it lacks some of the technical depth of Fuser, which can aggregate Exchange email as well as Gmail, and the variety of Flock, which lets you integrate Flickr as well as Picasa. Alas, Chi.mp is another account I've left to wither in the wind.


Now there's another contender: Pip.io, seen above. The Web-based service calls itself a "social OS," but that's a little fatuous; it's an aggregator and mass-publishing platform like the rest of them, but with a much more sophisticated API that allows for third-party apps. One example is the Netflix app, which crams the entire Netflix experience (even "Watch Instantly") inside your Pip.io account.

But building a platform does not automatically bring apps—or users, for that matter. Pip.io's interface is one of the best of the lot, and it's more robust than anything I've used, except maybe Fuser, which is so robust it's almost impossible for Firefox to load without crashing. But there are few available apps so far, and the ones that are available are the things I almost never use from my desktop; in my world, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter live mostly on my iPhone or Android phone.

Here's the real problem: I hesitate to invite any of my friends to use Pip.io, or any aggregator, since I can't make a convincing argument that they're inherently better than using each service (Facebook, Twitter, and so on) by itself. At some point, if you want to dive deep in most of those services, you're going to have to go back to the original site; you can't browse friends of friends in Pip.io, for example, so you have to go back to Facebook.com. What's the point of ever leaving? (Below, Pip.io summoning my Twitter feed.)


The evangelism problem is a very real one for mass-social tools. Without "friends" on Pip.io, some of the site's central features (like the "rooms" area, where you can chat privately with groups of friends) go unused. And without that kind of dynamic content, there's no reason that a user should come back.

If you use an aggregator or mass-publishing tool and feel strongly about it, please let us know in the comments.

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  • Mike Whaling

    Here's my question: How many sites do we need to help us aggregate our stuff from other sites?

    Chris, I've also tried sites like Chi.mp and a few others that aren't around any more, and I have all of my accounts feeding into my Google profile and Plaxo ... collectively, they're an easy way to set content distribution on auto-pilot, and I don't need to worry about inviting my friends to a new site. Pip.io looks as good or better than any of the other options, but I'm still not sure how much I'd use it (unless it has a killer mobile interface). In terms of a mass publishing tool, I think sites like Posterous have the edge because they're simple to use, allow custom publishing on a site-by-site basis and cut out the features that go unused like private chat rooms.

    [Blatant sales pitch ahead in response to your last question.] Instead of creating another site, we're trying to look at the problem from the perspective of a typical business. We've created a new tool called TurnSocial (http://turnsocial.com) that doesn't aggregate content on a separate site ... instead, it helps business owners aggregate their social content on their own company website. As businesses continually work to increase their digital footprint across many social networks, we see that those marketers will want an easy way to bring those conversations and other relevant content back to their own site. Now, instead of a viewer just seeing a row of social media icons in the sidebar, that viewer can see what the business is doing and who they're connected to on each of those social networks. When the viewer is signed in to their own social media accounts, it gives that person a more personalized view of how (or if) they might be connected to that business or other interesting info in the area. The Minnesota Timberwolves just released an entire site dedicated to aggregating their social media content ... we think more businesses will want to aggregate their content on their own site, rather than another third-party network.

    I wish Leo and the Pip.io team the best of luck, and I hope you find the aggregator you're seeking.

  • Leo Shimizu

    Hey Chris,

    Honored to have you write stuff about us. What we wanted to do with Pip.io was do more than aggregate. Do more than pulling data in and pushing data out. We wanted to pull the full experience of the third party application into our ecosystem. Currently the in-house applications are more mash-up versions to help conceptualize what is possible in our ecosystem and we are also at the mercy of the 3rd party apps providing enough APIs to be able to facilitate full functionality. We'll continue to polish them and make them better but ideally in the future either a 3rd party developer would create these clients or the original application would do it themselves. Have you checked out Global Updates? It's basically real time visualized search. One thing to mention is that we have a good amount of international traffic as well so feel free to move the map around and see what the world is talking about!

    I wrote a little blurb about Pip.io to help others understand what we try to do. Again thank you for your attention and please feel free to reach out to us. I look forward to all the comments! I hope it fits:

    Better than Facebook. Better than Twitter. What Google Wave should've been. Introducing Pip.io.

    The problem with Facebook and Twitter is that you can’t selectively communicate. Can you imagine what telephony would be like if a phone conversation you were having was also available to everyone else in your phonebook? Introducing Pip.io, the world’s first social OS that helps people communicate the way they want to.

    Pip.io is a social OS that is made up of two distinct domains: the “social” and the “OS” aspects. The “social” aspect refers to our own native real-time communications platform. To define communication, we focused on understanding the real-world privacy spectrum and representing those scopes of privacy digitally. The spectrum ranges from the most private and intimate (for example: 1-on-1 IM chats) to what we refer to as global voyeurism (for example: Facebook & twitter). But what about all the privacy scopes in between? That’s exactly what your brain is wondering if you’ve gone to Facebook or Twitter to find yourself holding back what you wanted to say because you were worried about who would ultimately see that post. Pip.io helps you easily and simply define your audience so you can communicate on the web as you normally do in the real world.

    So does that mean you need to abandon your Facebook or Twitter account? Of course not! As mentioned above, these products are extremely good at facilitating conversations that happen in the global voyeurism scope of a person’s privacy spectrum. This brings us to the “OS” aspect of Pip.io. To be an operating system, we need to be able to bring third party apps into our own ecosystem. The more traditional attempt at doing this has been through aggregation. We’ve seen it with Threadsy, Brizzly, FriendFeed, etc. Pulling in data, pushing out data. We want to do more than that. Pip.io aims for full functionality of the third party application and in most cases we can actually enhance the original application. For example, the Netflix application has full functionality. Login with your Netflix account and you’ll notice that you can utilize the live streaming functionality right within Pip.io. Netflix could enhance their original application by introducing some form of group synchronous viewing. If someone paused a video, it would pause it for everyone. If you moved it to a certain point in time, it would do the same for everyone else watching the clip, in real-time.

    We treat the different scopes of privacy as abstract concepts. It just happens that our native ecosystem uses these privacy scopes to create environments to facilitate conversations. However, a third party can use these privacy scopes to facilitate anything they want. For example, we have an area called “Rooms”. In it’s purest form, it is an environment where you invite people and people accept the invitations to join. For example, Netflix could use the “Rooms” API to facilitate the invitation process for their group synchronous watching feature. The traditional definition of an operating system has been software that connects third party applications with hardware resources. With what we’re seeing with virtualization and cloud computing, the consumer computing experience will revert back to a terminal form. So when hardware resources are gone, what is the next logical resource we could help mediate that would benefit both the consumer and third party developers: social resources. We essentially created APIs for different scopes on a real world privacy spectrum, thus the “OS” aspect of Pip.io. Developers will be able to use our API to create rich applications that take advantage of Pip.io's real-time platform and enable users to communicate exactly how and with whomever they want.

    Our mission is to empower every voice, but we’re not just talking about individual voices. We’re talking about the individual thoughts that never get shared because no platform exists to facilitate and express those thoughts. With Myspace it was all about connecting you with random people. Facebook evolved to connecting you with people that you actually know. Pip.io helps you organize the people you know so you can say what you want to exactly who you want. Pip.io aims to be the new standard in web communication.