This morning I checked out Ping.fm, a fairly new service in the social network aggregation space that lets you update your status on several sites at once. So I can submit “Mark is brushing his teeth” to it and both my Facebook friends and Twitter followers will see the message.
The site, which is currently in private beta, launches a new iPhone version and WAP site today (1,000 of our readers can sign up here by entering code “techcrunch”). It works with Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, Pownce, LiveJournal and Tumblr, with MySpace, Bebo and Friendster support coming soon. Update: Ping.fm is giving away a 32gb iPod touch to someone who follows them on Twitter.
Ping.fm works pretty much as you would expect. After signing into your various accounts, you can syndicate (or “spam”, as one other person in the office called it) your status to these services. My only beef is that there's a 60 second lag between the time you submit your status and the time it shows up on these networks. Oh, and there's no way to check your current status. But you can update your status in alternative ways, such as via email or IM message to a Gtalk or AIM bot.
As I was thinking about Ping.fm, however, I felt as though I had seen this done before. So I scrounged around a bit and found HelloTxt, which does essentially the same thing. And then I remembered that Socialthing, an activity aggregator we reviewed a few weeks ago, also lets you propagate your status from a centralized site – in addition to doing a lot more.
So Ping.fm is essentially a feature of Socialthing, although admittedly it does provide some extra goodies. The funny thing is, despite my preference for Socialthing over Friendfeed, these activity aggregators will also become features of social networks (we know Facebook has plans to make this happen). Where does that leave Ping.fm a year from now? Basically a feature of a feature.
To be fair, Ping.fm is a project being run by two guys in their part time. One of them, Sean McCullough, is also a loyal TechCrunch reader who created an RSS reader that displays our headlines within Facebook.
But I do think Ping.fm can be used as an example of a problem many Web 2.0 services face. They can fulfill a substantial need, work properly, and even possess a real business model – but if they can be easily replicated by a larger, more established player then they probably won't survive in the long run. That's my view at least, and it's corroborated by the advice I heard once from another entrepreneur: “don't build your business around a feature”.
Then again, people once thought Google was just a feature – nothing more than a search box. And it turned out they were so good at that feature that it became a sustainable product.