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.