All posts tagged ‘Social’

File Under: Social

ThinkUp Wants to Liberate Your Online Social Life

The corporate social web still sucks

Expert Labs, the non-profit organization behind ThinkUp, a web-based data-liberation and analytics application, is rebooting into a commercial entity.

No need to panic if you use ThinkUp to back up your social network life; the application will remain open source and freely available.

But Expert Labs is going away and ThinkUp is refocusing on a larger goal — liberating your online social life from the clutches of corporate web entities.

In its own words the new ThinkUp wants to build “an information network that connects to today’s social networks, but isn’t centralized and dependent on a company or investors.”

That’s not an entirely new idea. Diaspora and some other projects are trying to do the same thing, but ThinkUp is taking a different approach — it wants to build an app first and focus on the user experience rather than the underlying technology.

In fact ThinkUp already is an app that’s pretty close to what it’s aiming to do. ThinkUp is a web-based app that pulls your data out of social silos like Facebook or Twitter and stores it on your own server. You control your own data, and have a record of your conversations potentially long after Facebook, Twitter and the rest have become mere footnotes in the history of the web.

For more on how ThinkUp works and how you can use it be sure to check out our earlier coverage and then grab the code and try it for yourself.

So what of ThinkUp’s new, loftier goals? Is any attempt to replace Facebook doomed to failure? Of course not. Everything is replaceable, just ask MySpace. And ThinkUp believes its approach is different. “Prior attempts have tried to solve this problem based on the assumption that it is a technical challenge,” says ThinkUp’s Knight News Challenge application. “We believe it to be a social one.” ThinkUp’s focus going forward will be on the social and the interface:

We will draw people in through a compelling media site that encourages participation via our decentralized platform… a peer-to-peer network that powers a great media property with broad appeal — imagine if Digg or Reddit were open, decentralized and powered by a network instead of votes.

If you’re curious to know what that might look like, head on over to the ThinkUp proposal for the Knight News Challenge and click the heart icon to “like” it (incidentally if the Knight New Challenge sounds familiar, that might be because it’s also the birthplace of EveryBlock). In the meantime, work on the ThinkUp app continues with a new release that improves the charts and graphs and paves the way for the coming Foursquare support. Check out the ThinkUp GitHub page for more details.

File Under: UI/UX

Design for Serendipity (And Drinking Monkeys)

Part of the beauty of the internet and HTML is its inherent serendipity — links lead you somewhere, and other links lead you somewhere else, beyond, anywhere. Yet, serendipitous as the web may be, few sites encourage this sort of haphazard exploration.

As developer Derek Powazek writes, “Serendipity powers the social web. It’s why every website has a “share this” link. Serendipity is at the core of why Twitter is fun, YouTube is valuable, and everyone you know has a Facebook account.”

In fact, argues Powazek, “we should be designing for serendipity.”

Unfortunately, things like the bottom line, advertising dollars and other external forces mean web designers are tasked with keeping you on a page, not sending you off to discover something else. Even Powazek’s examples, like YouTube’s “related videos” section is inherently designed to keep you on YouTube’s page. But the way it keeps you on YouTube is by creating a potentially serendipitous experience.

Nothing is going to change the need or desire to keep visitors on your page, particularly if eyeballs on those pages are your source of income, but adding the element of the accidental discovery to your site can make it even more valuable for your visitors.

Here’s more advice from Powazak (who is a former Webmonkey, by the way):

If you make a website, take a look at it and ask yourself, “when someone comes here looking for one thing, where do I have the opportunity to tell them about something else?” It could be in a footer, for example. This can be tricky, because you don’t want to interrupt a self-directed experience. Just look for the cracks where you can leave hints about what else is available. Hint: Newspapers have been designed this way for years. Crib, crib heartily.

There are many serendipitous routes that lead people to your stuff. Understand what they are and nurture them. But don’t become over-reliant on them. Design your stuff to create serendipitous connections between things. Look for every opportunity to hint that there’s much more to be discovered. Take the time to design the serendipity in to the experience.

Or, you could watch this video about drinking monkeys and see where that leads you:

Bookshelf photo by Juhan Sonin/Flickr/CC

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File Under: Browsers, Social, Software

New Flock Is Simpler, Now Based on Chrome

The all-new beta of the Flock browser is based on the same code as Google Chrome. The company ditched Firefox in favor of Chromium in this new version.

The social web browser Flock is undergoing a major change in its next release. The upcoming Flock 3.0 will move away from the Firefox backend Flock has used for years in favor of Chromium, the open source implementation of Google Chrome.

If you’d like to test a beta version of the new Flock browser, head over to Flock beta page and grab a copy. For now the new Chromium-based Flock is available for Windows 7, XP and Vista only. A Mac version is reportedly in the works.

Flock is a browser built for social web junkies. It helps you manage your identity across multiple social websites, and it brings status updates and posting widgets directly into the browser via sidebars. Ever since the browser was first introduced in 2006, it’s been based on Firefox’s open source browser code, so this new version is a drastic change of plans. Flock is a niche browser — its user base is minuscule compared to the web at large — but those who do use it are dedicated and passionate about it.

The new Flock has been radically simplified, eliminating support for all but the biggest social networks and media sharing sites, namely Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Sorry MySpace, you’re just not part of the social web anymore (at least according to Flock).

The Flock 3.0 beta is a totally different browser than its predecessors — about the only thing that’s the same is the name. As you would expect, Flock now looks like Google Chrome, with tabs on top and the familiar, all-in-one URL and search bar. Flock has added some of the tools from older versions, rebuilding them on top of the new Chrome foundation, namely the social networking account manager and a sidebar that displays all your friends’ updates and lets you post your own status updates.

The sidebar looks similar to previous versions, though there are some new filters. You can narrow your Twitter updates to show only mentions or direct messages, and curb Facebook noise by eliminating wall posts, pokes, event invites or whatever. Just about every type of notification can be toggled on or off for any of the supported services.

Manage your groups in Flock's sidebar.

Perhaps the most useful addition to Flock 3.0 is the ability to create groups of friends to filter and manage your incoming updates. Out of the box, Flock offers two groups — Best Friends and Co-workers — though you can customize and create your own groups as well. Once you’ve got your groups set up, Flock makes it very simple to switch between seeing what your friends are up to, what’s going on with your work colleagues, your family, and so on. For those with hundreds of contacts and friends spread across multiple sites, and for those who apply different social standards when interacting with people from different parts of their life, this will likely be Flock 3.0′s killer feature.

Another very useful new feature is the integrated search field in the URL bar. Flock has changed the way Chromium’s URL search bar works to include your friend’s Twitter posts, Facebook updates, Flickr images and YouTube video in your searches. It makes easy to find out what your friends have said about whatever you’re searching for.

We’ve been using Flock for several years now and have to admit that we’ve never quite been able to figure our where it fits into our daily browsing tasks. Previous versions were sluggish, and the amount of setup required to interact with a bunch of different websites was overwhelming. Also, it’s an open secret that there was little Flock could do that you couldn’t accomplish by installing a few good add-ons to vanilla Firefox.

By contrast, the new Flock is a svelte, speedy browser. It immediately feels more relevant and fresh. And, in narrowing its support to only the most popular social sites, Flock is less daunting for newcomers. Getting started is in fact incredibly elegant — the browser launches with a screen that asks you to set up a Flock account, but you can skip it and just start surfing. As you log in to social sites like Twitter and Facebook, Flock begins filling out the social sidebar with updates from your friends on those sites mere seconds after you’ve logged in.

That said, you long-time Flock users may be unhappy with the new version — particularly if you rely on any Flock-compatible Firefox add-ons or use any of the many sites Flock no longer supports. While Flock 3.0 should work with any Chrome extensions, Chrome extensions do not have quite the same range of function as those in Firefox.

If you’d like to give the new Flock a try, head over the beta download page and grab a copy. Keep in mind that Flock 3.0 is still a beta and may have some bugs. If you’re on a Mac, there’s a mailing list you can sign up for to be notified when a Mac version is available.

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File Under: Social, Web Services

Google Social Search Adds Your Friends to Your Search Results

Google has added a new social-search tool to its experimental search options.

Google Social Search, which went live Monday afternoon, finds results from your social network, pulls a list of your contacts from sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, Picasa, Blogger, Google Reader and other social networks, as well as your Gmail contacts, to find results for search terms from people you know.

Facebook’s friend data isn’t shared publicly, so results from your Facebook friends won’t show up unless you’re also friends on other networks.

To enable the new experiment, head over to the Google Experimental Search page and add the new Social Search option. As with other experiments, you’ll need to be logged in to Google to see the social results.

Once the experiment is enabled, you’ll be able to search for something like “potato chips” with enhanced results. Along with the regular Google results showing top hits for the entire web, you’ll see a link to a write-up about potato chips from your friend’s food blog, as well. You might also see a friend’s tweet about potato chips, or a link to a Yelp review written by somebody you know where they talked about how good the potato chips are at the Lulu Petite sandwich shop.

While Google’s intro video (embedded below) shows search results from the social tool inline with other results (under the heading “Results from people in your social circle…”) that didn’t happen in our testing. To see the personalized results from our social graph we had to click the “Options” button and then filter the results by “social.”

As for the results, well, Social Search leaves a little to be desired, but the results depend heavily on how large your social circle is and how closely your interests match your friends. For example, a search for “Webmonkey” turned up a number of hits, since the past and present Webmonkey staff members are part of our social graph. However, two of us have been passing around a link to a (NSFW) McSweeney’s article about decorative gourds Tuesday morning, but a social search for “decorative gourds” returned nothing from our social graph. We seem to be alone on that one.

It’s important to note that Google Social Search is not a real-time search engine. The quality of results may suffer a little if you’re searching for things that your friends have only started posting about very recently.

The quality of results will also depend on how many services you’ve added to your Google Profile — the more social sites Google knows you hang out on, the more friends it has to draw on, and thus the more results you’ll see.

The exclusion of Facebook may seem like an egregious oversight, but it comes amidst a very public battle between Google and Facebook to become your hub on the social web. The recent push behind Google Profiles was the search company’s first major attempt to create a central place for you to store information about yourself and link to your profiles on other social networks. But Facebook is still the more popular place to build a profile, and Facebook struck a deal with Microsoft last week to let the Bing search engine index user activity on the site — a deal Google was left out of.

Compared to using the search features on social sites themselves, like Twitter and FriendFeed, Google’s Social Search comes in a distant second. But it does offer the advantage of finding everything in one place. It also acts as a very welcome filter. Try searching for “Where the Wild Things Are” on Twitter, and you’ll see thousands of tweets from people commenting about the movie or the book. Run the same search in Google Social Search, and you’ll just see what your friends — and the people they chat with publicly — are saying.

All the information that appears as part of Google Social Search is already available publicly on the web — with a bit of Google hacking you could find it yourself. But what’s social about that?

To see Social Search in action, check out this video from Google:

To enable Social Search, make sure you’re logged in to your Google account and head over to the Experimental Search page.

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File Under: Visual Design, Web Basics

Get Inspired by These Social Network Avatars

How many times have you joined a new social site and not immediately uploaded a picture to represent you? Probably more than you can count. So you know the feeling of making your way around sites while looking like every new user, with a default avatar.

If you’re planning on creating a site that lets users upload a photo, check our collection of default avatars to give you inspiration… or maybe tell you what not to do.

Who’s that shadowy figure?

Shadow style avatars

A popular choice for default avatars is to include the outline of a person without many details. In some cases, the head is completely round. Not the sort of attribute I would want to have. Maybe they’re encouraging users to change?

Avatars above from: Clipmarks, Diigo, Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon, and YouTube

Did a child draw that?

Simple face avatars

Another common choice, the dotted eyes and lined mouth, really tells users there’s not much use remaining anonymous. But I’m a pretty big fan of the one on the right.

Avatars above from: Flickr, Pownce, Twitter, and Webmonkey.

Give the user a choice

Unthirsty avatars

How cool is this? Happy hour site Unthirsty lets new users choose from among eight inebriated characters, as well as the option to upload your own image. It’s a low barrier to looking a little different than most everyone else. If many users aren’t going to upload a pic anyway, why make them suffer?

Frighten the user into uploading a pic

Mike Tyson avatarOf course, maybe you want them to suffer? Social betting side BetArcade chooses this particularly heinous picture of Mike Tyson as its default avatar. As embarrassing as it is to be seen as a newb, it’s even worse when you’re clicking around looking like Mike Tyson.

What are your favorite avatars?

We probably missed your favorite site’s default avatar. Is it good? Is it terrible? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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