Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spokeo: Pulse, without Plaxo

As you may have noticed, I've been become more and more fascinated with the evolution of Web 2.0 to harness the "cloud" of the Web to make the online world more relevant. In other words, using the web to enhance the social nature of interactions. This hearkens back to my early days as a BBS sysop, and actually has the potential to make the web ubiquitous. I've been quite congratulatory towards Plaxo for recognizing one of the key tenets of this, the ability to automatically discover interactions, and display and classify them, in the form of Plaxo's Pulse, which gives you a "news feed" of what your connections are doing, all over the web. I've also mentioned that Plaxo sometimes, rightly or wrongly, gets a bad rap as being a Facebook imitator or worse, but I have to tell you, the Pulse is addictive: like all good "push" applications, it keeps you up to date on everything. But what if you could have Pulse, without Plaxo?

Enter Spokeo, which does exactly that. Enter your GMail, Yahoo, or other major mail service credentials, and it will scan your online address book, pull it down, and create a news feed of all of your contacts actions on the popular networks. Your college roommate posts some images to Flickr? Bam, there they are. Your old girlfriend Twitters on her canceled flight? Now you share her pain. That guy you went to high school with creates a new mix to listen to on Pandora? Tune in, and hear how Travis Tritt has invaded his taste. And so on.

Before you go all George Orwell, hang on: Spokeo only finds publicly accessible info on your friends. If your friend doesn't publicly publish their Twitter feed, for instance (ahem...Carlos???), you will have to authenticate before it can appear in your feed. If your Flickr account is inactive, for instance, it will denote as such. It uses a slick interface that neatly arranges your list of friends on the left, divided into those that have active and inactive accounts, and on the right is the latest activity from them all. You can drill down to the individual or service you want to see. The image to the right here is from my feed, today.

I've played around with it for a couple of days, and here's some observations:
- It's free.
- It's slow. They got slammed with a Techcrunch story that is pegging their servers, but hey, it's free.
- They seem to have a 1001 limit of friends, and it goes alphabetically by first name. For folks with over 8000+ contacts like me, that's a drag, since I get as far as friends with first names starting with "C," and that's it (sorry, Vasska; guess I'll just pick you up on Pulse). Pulse has that completely beat, with up to 10K.
- Their "spidering" of your Yahoo contacts seems flawed: it loses the first name of the contact, giving your contacts a fabulouso Hollywood "Madonna" one word name. ;-)
- Did I mention it's slow? Took almost 15 minutes to handle 1001 contacts, and pegged my CPU while it did it.
- It has one killer feature Pulse is missing: the ability to manually add any RSS feed to any contact. For instance, I could add the RSS feed for my corporate blog to my contact, and see new posts in that blog associated with me.

Overall, Spokeo, like Pulse, offers a glimpse into an entirely new way of perceiving the web: a personal feed. In many ways, this is a rudimentary first step to what my fellow high school alumnus, Nova Spivack, calls the "semantic web:" the ability to perceive not just data, but meaningful data. Overall, I still very much prefer Pulse, but if you are turned off by Plaxo for some strange reason, I encourage you to try Spokeo, and get hooked on what your friends are up to.

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