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Cliqset Relaunches, Joins the Real-Time Streaming Club

The web service Cliqset launched a beta version of its new website Wednesday.

The service has undergone a significant makeover with this release, having transformed from a developer-centric platform to a user-centric app for following, posting to and interacting with real-time activity streams around the web.

The redesign puts Cliqset in the same camp as other real-time services like FriendFeed, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse. It also opens up a new set of tools to developers that should prove to be a huge help for anyone building real-time web apps.

The launch is still a private beta, but Cliqset has offered to let in 200 Webmonkey and readers — just go to this URL. The first 200 people to register will be automatically approved. Everyone else will have to wait a couple of weeks.

If you have a Cliqset account from the last version of the site, that should also get you into the beta.

When we last wrote about Cliqset earlier this year, the company was putting the finishing touches on its application platform. It was busy recruiting developers to code up some apps for engaging all the photos, links, status updates and videos being posted on the social web. But without too many apps to show off, things were pretty quiet on Cliqset — it basically served as a glorified address book.

The site has changed direction since then, and for the better. The Cliqset team has built in an impressive top layer of user-facing features that show off the robust, real-time streaming platform underneath.

The timing is right, as the real-time social web is undergoing a period of explosive growth. Dozens of services are competing to be your social hub —- a place to aggregate and interact with the streams of data coming out of Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr and all the various nodes on your own social map.

Facebook in particular has taken a specific interest, beefing up its own real-time mojo by purchasing FriendFeed in August, and shortly thereafter releasing its code for serving real-time data.

It makes sense then that Cliqset has much in common with other social aggregation sites like FriendFeed. After you sign up, you tell Cliqset what your username is at all of the other social web services you’re into — Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr and so on. Cliqset offers to pull content from around 70 social sites right now. It pulls all of your activities from those sites and posts them in a stream that refreshes as new stuff flows in. You can import your contacts to find other people you know on Cliqset. Once you do, you can see their updates appear in your stream, comment on each others posts and cross-post anything they share (to your own Twitter account, for example).

The new user interface is downright beautiful. You can tell Cliqset has really focused on making the stream as clean and uncluttered as possible. Extra functions and sharing buttons only appear when you hover over a shared item or click on one with your mouse.

A huge bonus is that Cliqset is using the emerging Activity Streams data specification to make all this happen. Activity Streams is an open-source XML-based format that uses a common actor-verb-asset model to report an activity on a social website. For example, “Amy shared a video” or “Mike rated this photo.” It’s a simple organizing principle that allows social web services to more easily talk to each other about what their users are doing.

But if not everyone is reporting their users’ activity data using a common model, it becomes harder to get two services to talk to each other. And only a handful of sites are supporting Activity Streams right now.

As Cliqset co-founder Darren Bounds tells Webmonkey, Cliqset is actually re-writing all the aggregated data streams into the Activity Streams format, physically cleaning up the social web’s mess as it goes.

By presenting such clean data, Cliqset is able to do some very cool things with its new user interface.

You can filter your stream by content type or activity using a set of icons at the top. So if you just want to see photos, status updates, or videos, you can click on the camera, the speech bubble or the movie camera. Likewise for bookmarks, likes, ratings. You can also build Boolean filters by including or excluding multiple content types.

Along with Wednesday’s new user-facing site, Cliqset is also releasing a set of APIs that expose these nicely-formed streams. So, if you’re a developer who wants to write a real-time updating web app, you can build it on Cliqset’s platform and avoid the headache of coding around various non-conforming stream formats.

And all that business about “finding your friends” — Cliqset is also supporting the open-source Portable Contacts format for importing and exporting address book data safely. When you check your Gmail contacts to see who else you know is on Cliqset, you’re not handing over your Google login or password. There’s still an annoying step where you’re asked to spam everyone you know and tell them about Cliqset — a truly poor practice everyone should just stop right now — but Cliqset leaves everyone unchecked by default and makes it easy enough to skip that part altogether.

Bounds says it was extremely important to him and his team that Cliqset implements and promotes open data stream and identity standards across the whole platform.

As such, the company is implementing OpenID and OAuth to handle logins and authentications, but something you won’t find as an option is Facebook Connect, which uses proprietary code.

It’s also notable that Cliqset is dumping its old iPhone app for a mobile client that better reflects the new real-time streaming experience. Bounds doesn’t have any details to share about those plans, but we’ll certainly be watching for something along those lines in the future.

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