The New Multiply 3.0 vs. Vox

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Privacy-centric multimedia social networking service Multiply is releasing what it calls version 3.0 of its service tonight; Multiply targets users who are interested in sharing content with people they know in real life and exercising strong privacy controls. Privacy in social networking is the big selling point for SixApart’s newest service, Vox, as well. Vox is also strong on media sharing; users of both services can post text, photos and video in one place.

Now that Vox has finally launched after a long beta period and Multiply is coming out with new features and a new version, it’s a good time to ask…which one is better? If you’re looking for beautiful templates to chose between, a young hip crowd to network with and a company most likely to support emerging technology trends requested by early-adopter type users then Vox is the way to go. If you seek logical and robust privacy controls and shelter from an online world of strangers then Multiply is better designed. I prefer Multiply’s handling of media items and news feeds from your network of contacts. Vox is beautiful, Multiply is more functional.

Vox is the newest product of SixApart, owners of LiveJournal, MovableType and Typepad. Our previous Vox coverage is here. Multiply is privately owned and recently received $6 million in funding. Multiply is more than 2 years old and claims more than 3 million registered users.

Privacy Settings and Content Distribution

Privacy settings are the key issue according to both companies. Posts on Vox can be made visible to anyone, to just friends, to just family, to friends and family or just to you yourself.

Multiply allows more granular control: your friends, their friends and their friends, your family, their family and their family, your professional contacts, their professional contacts and their professional contacts, only direct contacts in either friend, family or professional contexts or only particular individuals added from contact lists importable from outside software. That’s quite a list of options and the interface makes it very workable. If you want to share something only with your family and their family, but not one more circle of family – well then I guess you’re out of luck. Sliders instead of check boxes could be useful.

Multiply says that there are many situations in which you’d like to share content with people one or two steps removed from your circle of contacts, but you don’t want to add those people to your contact list in order to do so. That makes sense to me.

In other words, if granular selective exposure is what’s important to you – Multiply is a better option than Vox.

Your Network News Feeds

The front page for Multiply users is now a feed of recent posts by friends and family. The page can be extended to include friends of friends and even further removed connections. The service uses a proprietary algorithm that includes how recently you’ve viewed someone’s posts and other factors to determine how close non-direct contacts are to you.

This My Multiply page is much cleaner and simpler than the cluttered Vox Neighborhood page and the all too similar but simpler VoxWatch page. As Facebook demonstrated, when you make the actions of friends visible on a user page – that’s something you need to do carefully. I prefer how Multiply aggregates that content, especially given that the original poster had such granular control over who it will be sent to.

A related section that displays a user’s friends uses the same algorithm to determine closeness and lets you hover over anyone’s image to see their relationship, send them a message or block them. (Example on the left.)

Media Handling

I prefer the way that Multiply works with multimedia, though there are some things like iStockPhoto integration for illustrating your writings that are nice about Vox. Both services allow users to upload photo and video from their computers or a number of online services. Vox transcodes videos, requires an annoying additional page load to view media files and I saw a big loss of quality when I tested Vox’s video handling. Multiply plays videos in Quicktime with no loss of quality but entirely outside of the original context it was posted in.

Multiply’s photo upload just got a major upgrade in version 3.0. The new Ajax uploader lets you reorder with drag and drop and quickly rotate images. It’s quite satisfying to use. Vox has better integration of photos into blog posts themselves, but the Ajax reordering in Multiply is frustratingly absent in Vox.

Multiply supports two-way cross posting with LiveJournal, Blogger, TypePad, Xanga and Windows Live Spaces. Vox only supports cross posting with LiveJournal and Typepad, both owned by SixApart just like Vox is. Multiply offers a screen saver you can download that will display the newest photos from any user you designate – that sounds like a good feature for family users.

Both services let you post by email via mobile phone, but with Vox you can get several different email addresses with different privacy settings. Mobile posting in Multiply is so bare bones I doubt it’s getting much use.

Rights Questions

Lately I’ve taken to framing questions about data export and identity standards as rights questions. I own rights on my data; I want to be able to easily and quickly take it with me from one social network to another. If I want to have a single login across those different networks and perhaps even have multiple personas (personal, professional) then I ought to be able to do so. No one is doing all of that well, but I expect consumers to demand all of it in time.

Multiply will burn you a CD with all of your data and mail it to you for $50. They say that the proof that data export isn’t something their users want is that only 1 person has taken that option in the two plus years it’s been available. I don’t consider that a very compelling argument.

Multiply also told me they were cautious about supporting Open ID standards, Yahoo! Browser Based Authentication or some other single login system because it could so easily go the way of Passport and fall into disuse. I think users should have a standards based single login as an option in addition to a native login. The company told me they were watching to see if one standard or another gains traction – but that’s what everyone says.

Some degree of persona support is available in Multiply, as I can expose some content to my family and other content to professional contacts. It would be good to be able to expose entirely different personal profiles, though.

Multiply does let me export my contacts as a CSV file. That’s a great start. Vox doesn’t support much in the way of these kinds of rights issues, but it just launched and SixApart’s Anil Dash tells me it’s all in the works. The company’s Live Journal property has been a trail blazer when it comes to ID issues. The Multiply team comes from the world of online sports sites and major media. They come from mainstream backgrounds and are targeting mainstream users. SixApart is a company of grass roots innovators, who seem to me more tied to the Web 2.0 community, and who are also targeting mainstream users with Vox. If you’re going to place bets on one of these two rolling out support for things like OpenID or microformats, Vox is the most likely to do so.

Conclusion

Both of these services, the leading privacy-centric multimedia sharing social networks, are not everything I wish they were. They are, however, both doing many things very well. Both are breaking new ground in a very young space on the web.

Both companies are likely to satisfy different kinds of customers. There are some ways they can’t be compared yet, too. For example, I love Vox’s understated advertisements. Multiply is running on VC backing and hasn’t launched a real ad strategy yet.

After looking at both of these systems in some depth, I feel all the more in agreement with the sentiment expressed in my recent interview with SixApart’s Andrew Anker – this sector is not just about MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, there is plenty of room still for more and better social networking services.

If you are looking to share text, photos and video with some control over who can see your content – these are two services you should check out. With the launch of version 3.0, I think Multiply has taken the lead.

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