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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Social networks + Ziki, an alternative

There is a huge number of "social network" sites - sites where you can create a profile page for yourself explaining who you are and what you like, show pictures, and (sometimes) keep a blog. They're "social" as you can add lists of friends who are also on the site to your page, and be updated when their pages are updated.

A quick and probably incomplete list of all the social sites I can think of right now:
  • MySpace
  • Bebo
  • Orkut
  • Friendster
  • LiveJournal
  • Xanga
  • Yahoo 360
  • Vox
  • Tagworld
  • AIMpages
  • Facebook

    Some sites have been around for longer than others, but the market is enjoying strong growth as under 25s, in particular, embrace technology and specifically the Internet and combine it with their social lives. They are another way to express one's personality, something so important to young people as they begin to find their place in the world and want to define themselves and make their mark.

    They all subscribe to the basic principles I set out above, with some minor differences between them in things like the extent you are able to customize the look of your pages, their use of AJAX, photo-sharing systems, and the "plugins" you can use. Which one you actually use is more often than not down to the "network effect" - you use the site the majority of your friends are already using.

    In my case, that's Facebook, but it could easily have been any of them. My first invite came from a Friendster user while I've had accounts on both Orkut and Yahoo 360. It just so happens that Facebook spread like wildfire through my university, and now almost everyone I know uses it! It's one of the few sites that sadly lacks blogs though, so it's not great for keeping up to date with what everyone is doing.

    (I do wish there was a system where I could have perhaps an "aggregated friends list" - a list of my friends from across all social networks, and updates of when their pages change. Perhaps PeopleAggregator will do this.)

    Which social network would I prefer to use if I have free choice? As it happens - none of them.

    I prefer to use specific tools for specific purposes. So in my case, I have blogs on Blogger, photos on Flickr and store files in box.net. Of course, they're all discrete, seperate services, but they all also publish RSS. This is where Ziki comes in.

    Ziki is like an RSS aggregator that you can set up for your own personal feeds to create a single web page (and feed) for your online presence. You can send the feeds of all your online activities - your latest blog posts, pictures, bookmarks, calendar, uploaded files etc. - to one place, which other people can then monitor via their feed readers or by visiting your Ziki page.

    It also supports tagging of people enabling discovery, the building of a network of friend's Zikis to be listed on your Ziki, and you can complete a social network-like profile to go with your Ziki.

    This is the solution I prefer. At the moment, Ziki only has some 1,600 users and like all the best things, it has a slightly steep learning curve that may prevent it ever becoming as popular as more straightfoward social networking sites. But it's certainly my favourite.

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