In Search of Status Synchronicity

Like a lot of bloggers, I’ve taken the status/miniblog plunge in the last few months.

  • I used to use Jaiku before China blocked it.
  • I’m using Twitter because it’s still unblocked and a bit more communication-friendly than Jaiku.
  • I also have a Facebook account and update my status there.

This kind of blogging is on my mind because WordPress just introduced Prologue, which as far as I can tell, is a bit of clever theme coding that emulates Twitter in group form. In fact, Prologue doesn’t represent a terribly new concept, since short-post form sideblogs have been around in WordPress for years, but it looks nice and is bound to give people some new group blogging ideas.

But the addition of Prologue to the WordPress theme set also reminds me of a problem arising from the glut of status/miniblog services, namely, how can we effectively manage updating so many different services with our information, and how can our friends access our statuses or miniblogs in a convenient manner? This echoes the old “how many blogs do you need?” question, but with statuses the possibility for redundancy is far greater.

For example, Facebook offers both a current status feature and posted items feature, which, in turn, provide the same capabilities as Twitter or Jaiku. In my case, I usually make my Facebook status the most “personal,” since it’s for my Facebook friends only, whereas my Twitter is public and therefore has less “man, I drank too much last night”-type statuses, but there’s still overlap. If I joined a Prologue blog, would my posts there be significantly different from either Facebook or Twitter? It’s doubtful. On another front, I’ve considered making a Chinese language miniblog on Taotao, since most of my friends on Twitter can’t read Chinese and would probably get a screen filled with boxes when they see my status updates. Yet fragmenting my writing once again doesn’t seem like a very good idea.

Overall, if there was a way to easily synchronize status updates between the different web services, it’d be a boon and cut through the clutter of managing and reading so many different services. (The alternative, of course, is to only use a single status service — or no services at all.) There are some messy web applications along these lines, such as the Twitter application for Facebook, which turns your Facebook status into an ugly “X is twittering:” line. But what’d really be helpful is a software solution, possibly designed along the lines of Thwirl, that’d let me manage all of my statuses or miniblogs from one place. This would require either sticking a lot of different API-handling features into the software or having the web companies standardize their posting APIs.

Similarly, if the program included an interactive “status reader” that pulled all of a person’s statuses which are visible to you* together for you to read, it’d make following someone’s activities more interesting and enjoyable than by loading each service individually. This may actually be the easiest part of the program to create, since most statuses are output as XML and are thus easy to present to the end user. But it’s important to make it more than just a glorified RSS reader.** It needs to be interactive by ensuring that the status reader is compatible with the web service that the status is being pulled from. For example, if I see that my friend Ed on Facebook has a big job interview tomorrow, I should be able to click on his name and send him a Facebook message of support. At the same time, if I see that a friend from Twitter has posted an interesting link, I should be able to click on her name and send her an @user message. The heart of the reader side of the program would be a “status address book” that contained each friend’s various status feeds, which could either be manually input or discovered via email address input.

Over time, I expect that the status update services will go the way of the IM services and social networking sites, which started out numerous but have slowly faded away into duopolies like Facebook-Myspace and MSN-Google Talk. Consequently, over time, my software bleg might be rendered moot by user preferences, much as multi-platform chat has become less innovative with so many new users sticking to MSN or Google Talk. But for now it’d be a damn cool tool to have.

* The key here is “visible to you.” If the status would not be normally visible to you, you shouldn’t be able to read it. Privacy matters.

** RSS readers make blog reading much easier, especially here in China where loading individual pages is slow, but the lack of interaction through the reader — I need to load the website directly to comment — has always struck me as a weakness.