Thanks to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and a host of other social media services, people are more connected than ever. But keeping up with all the tweets, posts, and status updates isn't easy, because they often come from a variety of social media sites. So how do you connect the different services that keep you connected? How do you steer all of that stuff to one spot on the Web where it's a snap to manage?
New tools called social media aggregators have risen to address that challenge. Their goal: to provide you with one simple point of entry where you can keep track of the streams from any and all of the most popular social networking sites. A bunch of social media aggregators (or "life-streaming" tools, as they're sometimes called) have shown up in recent years, but some social media services don't always do the job you need them to do. Here's a look at the three that, in our estimation, fulfill the promise of social media aggregation most completely: Streamy, Flock, and FriendFeed.
Streamy is a Web site designed to collect not just all of your favorite social media sites but also blogs and instant messaging tools, putting them into one self-contained dashboard.
The first time you log in to Streamy, you won't see much of consequence--that's because you need to link your services with Streamy first. Click on the Setup link on the top left, and you'll see nine different services to choose from, ranging from Facebook and Twitter to Digg, Flickr, and even FriendFeed.
Unlike Flock and FriendFeed, Streamy doesn't pull all of your separate social sites into a single, aggregated river of social updates. Instead it keeps each service in a separate "tab," which you can access by clicking on the icon for each service. The nice thing about this arrangement is that Streamy allows you to customize each service with advanced layouts and widgets to keep up with custom searches (in Flickr or Twitter, for example) or tagged photos or events (in Facebook).
As such, Streamy doesn't merely act as a dashboard for all of your social media sites; it also allows you to create a custom dashboard for every site, offering a heads-up view of what's going on at each individual site based on what's important to you.
Finally, Streamy makes it easy to post a status update to all of your sites in one fell swoop: You simply click the 'What are you doing?' status box that's always visible on the right side of the page and tick the check box of each service where you want your update to post.
Unlike the other two tools discussed here, both of which are Web services, Flock is a desktop application. In fact, Flock is a full-fledged Web browser, built from the same open-source code that powers the popular Firefox browser.
The difference between Firefox and Flock? Flock is a "social Web browser," meaning that it's designed specifically to integrate seamlessly with over 20 social media sites, including Delicious, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, and even your Gmail account (see Flock's services tour for more details.)
Getting Flock up and running with your favorite services is simple. The first time you open Flock, it will prompt you to log in to supported social sites. Once you log in to a service, Flock can automatically add that service to your People sidebar (click on the Remember Account drop-down). This People sidebar is where Flock shines. Each time you log in to a new supported account, that account appears in the People sidebar. From there, you can click on any of the account icons to see each service individually, or you can click on the All button to see every status update from all of your services aggregated into one chronological feed.
You can even post updates to supported sites directly from the People sidebar. If you have a particular affinity for Facebook, Flock's FlockCast feature can even post any action you undertake on one of your other social sites--such as uploading new pictures to Flickr--directly to your Facebook account.