One of the most addictive features of Facebook is its “News Feed” that keeps you up to date on every inane action any one of your friends has taken on the social network (and some partner sites via Beacon). But what if you want to keep track of what all your friends are doing on other parts of the Web, whether they just added a photo to Flickr, a bookmark to Digg, a product to their Amazon wish list, or sent out a new Twitter?
There are so many social sites out there that it is hard to keep track of them all. Harrison Tang, the founder of Spokeo, just made it easier with the relaunch of his site today.
Spokeo 2.0 is like a blog reader for all of your friends’ activities across more than 30 social Websites, including Bebo, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Hi5, imeem, Last.fm, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pandora, Slide, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Windows Live Spaces, Yelp, and YouTube. (Delicious is conspicuously absent). Similar to FriendFeed, it presents the latest actions on the Web from your friends as a continually updating stream. It is like a blog reader for what your friends are up to. (It also happens to be regular RSS reader).
What makes Spokeo compelling, at least initially, is that it is dead-simple to set up. In one fell swoop Spokeo can ingest all of your contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail, and then go out to the 30+ sites it monitors and bring back any new content from people in your address book. I tried this with my Gmail account, and it built up a friend reader with more than 500 contacts in less than three minutes. Before, this was a laborious process on Spokeo. You had to add each friend’s blog or feed one by one. (In comparison, FriendFeed lets you suck in your Facebook friends, but only the ones who are also FriendFeed users—plus each member must specify which sites he wants to expose to others.
It is pretty surprising to find out what people (who you think you know) are listening to on Pandora or Twittering about. It feels a lot like spying on your friends. The best part is that they don’t ever have to know you are keeping track of them. Spokeo is not trying to build another social network. It is trying to help you keep track of the zillion social sites you already belong to. In fact, notes Tang with pride:
We’ve ripped out any sharing, commenting, or messaging feature that would make us resemble another social network. Spokeo is strictly positioned as a reader for your friends’ updates.
When you join Spokeo, you see all your friends’ updates from different services right away. There is no network for you to build, even if you want to. There is no friend request to send; in fact, your friends don’t even know you are following them.
If this rings privacy alarms, Tang notes:
We only access publicly available information on the Internet, so we don’t know anything that you don’t have access to. For example, Flickr has a feature that allows users to search for their friends by email. Spokeo simply calls that Flickr API. Blogger does not support that feature, so Spokeo cannot find your friends on Blogger.
The contact ingestion feature alone is going to be enough to get lots of people to try this out. Whether they keep coming back, though, is another issue. At least with my Spokeo home page, the friend stream tends to be dominated by Twitters. Those can get annoying. Also, I don’t want to keep track of every single person who has emailed me on Gmail, which automatically adds everyone as a contact. Spokeo lets you delete names and group people together, but that creates another management problem in and of itself. (I know, I’m lazy).
Spokeo’s appeal depends entirely upon how interesting your friends and contacts are, and whether they are so prolific across the Web that it is not possible to keep track of them on one major site like Facebook or Twitter alone. But then, everyone has different interests and will gravitate towards different Web services. Spokeo extends the feed reader metaphor to your friends activities—something I expect we will be seeing a lot more of in the near future. (Spokeo has only raised a small seed round from friends and family. Guy Kawasaki is an adviser to the startup).
Here is what my Spokeo home page looks like:
If you click on someone’s name, like Michael Arrington, you see just their stream: