Yeah, I have no clue why people feel the need to combine words for the sake of marketing either. Pingilactic sounds like something that happens to your nipples when you don’t change the oil regularly. Or something. Anyway, the masterminds behind this new word for 2008 are Profilactic and Ping.fm. Profilactic I’ve mentioned before, but Ping.fm was a new one.
Trying to create order in the increasing chaotic sphere of the social web is getting considerably harder, not easier, lately. This is surprising in a way, but when you consider the number of competing services coming out, and quickly changing features, it’s hard to marry yourself to one brand. But the past several days my corner of the web has seen a lot of chatter amongst people about Twitter’s trouble with scaling up to meet the service demands. This flagship Ruby on Rails application has been struggling with problems in their architecture that is hindering its ability to meet the increasingly heavy demand. There are a handful of us who have been playing with a new competitor in the microblogging realm called Plurk.com. It’s one of the dumbest names I think they could come up with for a service, but the site itself is pretty neat. It boasts the same 140 character limit, but has some natively supported action verbs, threaded discussions, a neat timeline, friends and followers, cliques, and nice privacy features. The largest complaint is that it lacks the support that Twitter gets from people developing things like Adobe AIR interfaces using Twitter’s API (Application Program Interface). So far, I don’t believe Plurk has opened their API, and that’s a shame. And more to the point, there hasn’t been a way to kill two birds with one stone and post to Plurk and Twitter together so that one doesn’t have to alienate an established group of friends to switch services. The ideal solution would be something like an AIR application that can monitor and post to both, so that you can keep your friends wherever they might be, but not double the effort to keep your thoughts up to date.
Okay, moving on in the same vein. A similar conflict also came up between the options of using FriendFeed and Profilactic. Some of my friends are on one, some the other. Like Twitter and Plurk, those that have chosen their side are pretty married to it. I’ve been using Profilactic in part because it supports a HUGE number of services, and I like the sidebar widget it creates (that integrates nicely with WordPress). But, it seemed like more people I know use FriendFeed. Ahh challenges. I discovered the easiest way to solve this conflict was to push my Profilactic lifestream RSS to FriendFeed. So, one down. Sadly, the Plurk/Twitter deathmatch can’t be solved quite so easily.
Now, let’s bring this all home. I ended up spending some time going around all four of these services, looking for answers to the question: what to pick? The Profilactic/FriendFeed debate was simple, since the idea of a Lifestream is pretty straightforward, and RSS is totally portable. Subscribe to either of my accounts, you’ll get the same information. Part of what convinced me to kick FriendFeed into the #2 spot though was what I mentioned earlier, Ping.fm. Ping.fm has partnered with Profilactic to allow you to update supported services from you Profilactic lifestream page. This is cool, because it helps address the problem of updating several microblogs at once. It’s not exactly what we had been seeking, but it was an answer nonetheless.
Ping.fm supports many different services, and groups them by things like status (Facebook, MySpace), microblog (Twitter, Plurk), or blogs. Selecting the group and posting will send your update to all services in that category. With the partnership, this functionality is now exposed to you right in Profilactic on your lifestream page. Ping.fm is addressing a central problem of how do you easily update everything you’re in. I tried to tackle this a while back with Netvibes, but it is surprisingly hard to do since you can never be sure just how much a company will expose in their API (after all, they still want you to go to their site). Ping.fm is still in beta, and you need to be a member of Profilactic to sign up (or I might let it slip that “profilactic” is the signup key. Oops). As it is, Ping.fm is FAR from the holy grail of social web updating, but it has the right idea. It doesn’t have great handling of services’ custom features (Plurk default verbs for instance), and it doesn’t seem that you have a way to control how it groups services. Mostly, it’s pretty basic and simple, but it does work.
Hopefully, assuming they are paying attention to how people are using Ping.fm, I suspect they will work to make inroads on some of these ideas. At the moment it seems like the best option if you want to try and address several sites all at once though. Then again, it’s a little like using Pidgin or Trillian for instant messaging, where the cost of merging services is losing features. And as a corollary, just because you update several services at once doesn’t mean you escape needing to read several sites to keep up with replies. You still need to go to Plurk for threaded discussions, and Profilactic doesn’t necessarily keep up with Twitter’s @ replies.
Ultimately, I think it’s just a matter of waiting. Ping.fm is a solution, if you really aren’t willing to double up some effort. Given time, I think Plurk will open up, and I think that Plurk and Twitter have enough in common that someone (smarter than me) will be able to make one application that will handle them both simultaneously. And even though Plurk is neat, there are a whole lot of people in love with Twitter’s simplicity, downtime or no downtime. It’s up to the services in the end to provide the APIs necessary so that we can use them the way we want. But, such interaction is a privaledge, not a right, so we just need to suck up to the developers of our favorite services.