June 04, 2008

FriendBinder Throws Hat In LifeStreaming Ring

Back in March, I bumped into rumors of FriendBinder, which, like other lifestreaming offerings including MyBlogLog, Plaxo Pulse, Profilactic, LetsProve and FriendFeed, claimed to offer a single destination to keep track of what your friends are doing on many different social networks. At the time, the author, Richard Cunningham, let me know the service was more than a year into development and would be coming soon. The service debuted in beta in the last week, and while it works, it reminds me more of Spokeo than the aforementioned apps, pulling contacts I have at different networks and displaying them in one unified stream.

Getting started with FriendBinder is relatively easy. The first step is to register which social networks you currently use, by entering your ID. Options supported at beta launch include YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Del.icio.us, Flickr, Last.FM and the more generic News/Blog subscriptions, which asks for an RSS feed.

The second step is to add your friends into FriendBinder, by clicking the "Add All Friends" option next to each network. FriendBinder will then login to your external accounts, find your friends, and troll for updates.

When complete, you have what's called your "FriendStream", which, as anticipated, shows the latest updates in chronological order, the top item being the most recent.

As once was said about FriendFeed, if you don't make any changes to your preferences, FriendBinder is dominated by Twitter. The sheer volume of updates by friends in Twitter had me looking around to see just what other updates were contributing to the stream. I did find the occasional Digg or Del.icio.us update, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

Interestingly, one wrinkle offered by FriendBinder is the ability to rate the importance of one network's updates above another, from 1 star to 5, with 3 being the default. This is called the "interest level". I can also, by network, tag one friend's updates as more important than those from somebody else, by manually clicking the number of stars. (Frederic of The Last Podcast noted this in his review as well)

This lets you sort your best friends from lesser contacts by filtering your stream by 5 stars, 4 stars, and so on.

You can also parse the FriendBinder stream by service, showing only Del.icio.us updates, only Digg updates, etc. Given the overwhelming noise coming via Twitter, first clicking Networks and then picking a single service just might be the best way to cut through the noise.

FriendBinder does exactly what it promised to do - give one place to find all updates from friends. But that opens up more questions. Then what? The Web already has quite a few sites that serve to aggregate all friends' activities, and the ones that are gaining traction are those (read: FriendFeed) which enable a follow-on action. FriendBinder data streams are siloed, such that I won't ever interact with another FriendBinder user. I can't respond via Twitter from within the site. I can't add comments to Facebook or Flickr photos within the site. I can't post directly to the site, and wouldn't need to, considering nobody else will see it.

By registering with FriendBinder, and entering my network details, I know what I've done is set off yet another farm of servers to continue slaving away, and requesting my contacts' information, even if I never login again, just like when I registered for Iminta, Profilactic, Spokeo, Mergelab, Assetbar, Shyftr, Plaxo and any other site aiming to do the hard work for me when I'm away. As discussed last week, this strain on the infrastructure can eventually force sites to reduce features or even close, so I'm already feeling a bit guilty for making FriendBinder work on my behalf. Hopefully, FriendBinder can step up to demand, should it grow, and add new interactive features that would help it bridge the gap from being yet another lifestreaming site to one who can innovate and differentiate to make it a destination site.