Your Mobile-Social Inbox

On the move and moving on, mobile usage is on a steep rise. What a coincidence, so is social networking. With email, messaging, chat, Facebook, Twitter and other conduits of communication, you need to be ready 24-7 to read and respond.

I admit it. I do a lot of my virtual social interaction when I am in line at the grocery checkout, waiting for my kids, between meetings or hanging out in waiting rooms. On my phone. Why not? My phone is pretty smart.

Well, for social addicts with iPhones, the phone is getting even smarter. Two new apps have brought the social inbox to your phone, organizing your friends messages and status updates in ways that improve efficiencies and interactions.

One such app, Twezr (link here), I have been using for more than a month now. The second, Friends, I just learned about a few days ago, but have yet to try.

What exactly is a social inbox? Think about your email inbox, add layers of social connections and provide the means to reach out to your contacts via any of those social conduits from one place.

Twezr combines your social media and your email in a single interface. It supports a lot of different email addresses, including Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail. You can also access Twitter and Facebook, including multiple accounts. The value-add to Twezr is its automatic prioritization – your contacts and their messages and status updates (which are organized in separate tabs) are ranked based on the frequency of your interactions. Twezr applies this ranking to the messages as well as the Facebook and Twitter updates. Twezr also matches your iPhone contacts with your social lists to create unified contacts – when I click on a friend’s Facebook or Twitter status update, I am given buttons to communicate with her by phone call, SMS or email.  Talk about a communications mash-up! If I happen on a particular friend’s status update on Facebook in Twezr, but I know she is an SMS kind of gal, I can respond to her update via SMS within the app, rather than send a Facebook message from within the Facebook app. Very, very cool indeed. THe built in Twitter and Facebook clients are not bad either, you won’t find yourself insanely frustrated by a poor feature set – the necessary functions are all there.

Twezr also allows you to run full-text searches across e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook. So if you remember your friend pinging you about a particular event, but you can’t remember which email account or social network you saw the info on, just search in Twezr and you hit all the major hiding places in one fell swoop. Best of all, Twezr is free.  It has become a regular go-to app on my phone to get the latest info and messages from my growing list of contacts. Note, though, that it takes Twezr a while to get up and running, particularly if you have a lot of contacts. It needs to pull your data, analyze it and spit it back out, Twezr style and that can take a while. I initially thought the app was defective. Lo and behold, three days later, I had the full-on Twezr experience.

Next up, Friends (link here). Like Twezr, Friends offers contact management across your phone’s address book, Twitter and Facebook, but adds LinkedIn, and MySpace. Like Twezr, Friends allows you to also see your social streams and update your social status within the Friends app.  Although I do not have the app yet, screenshots show a very pretty user interface, might snazzier than the free Twezr. Oh, I should mention that Friends costs a whopping $1.99, which they clearly put into the visuals. It is a super way to browse shared content, with comments and commenting within the app as well. Of course, you can place calls within the app too, which then leverages the iPhone’s own phone functions.

Essentially, these apps bring an experience to the mobile phone that Threadsy (link here) brings to your browser and Xobni (link here) brings to your Outlook inbox and what Facebook is hoping to do with its new social inbox product that it intends to roll out soon – one stop shopping for your social and communications needs. And with the quickening pace of life, you really can’t have too many shortcuts.

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Wanna Chat? Check out Pip.io

There are so many places to hang out on the Web. There are the big two: Facebook  and Twitter . There are other larger planets in the solar system, like LinkedIn  and MySpace , as well as countless other satellites that revolve around these two, such as Google Buzz ,  Plaxo , Friendfeed , Plurk , etcetera.

So, you probably aren’t thinking right now: “Gee, where can I spend even more of my on-line time publishing, communication and connecting?”  But maybe you should.

Check out Pip.io (link here). It is a relatively recent social tool that just came out of beta last month. More than a social network, Pip.io  calls itself a “social operating system.” I call it Google Wave  for the masses. Pip.io’s format is very chat-like – you create your profile and then set your “availability” for your connections to see. When you communicate via Pip.io, you can set your parameters narrowly (e.g. a private chat with a single individual) or broadly (a public broadcast to all friends of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube). You can also “target” someone’s stream with a post: not quite private but focused communication intended for a specific user or group. Pip.io gives you tools to be both efficient and private in your web communications at the same time. Sort of like your own dashboard for your social web communication.

Just this weekend, a Twitter friend was telling me that he communicates differently on different platforms, that he holds back more on Facebook because the audience dictates more discretion. With Pip.io, you can set who sees what across platforms by creating groups for certain types of communications, thereby eliminating concern with your degree of sharing.

But that is not all. You can form rooms and invite others to join you to discuss or share on topics. There is also a video chat feature. Pip.io has its own version of a retweet – you can reshare within Pip.io or send the content forth to your own social outposts. “Friending” on Pip.io is like Twitter and Friendfeed, where you can follow anyone without their express agreement or any obligation to follow you back.

I still struggle with Twitter as a communication platform. I agree as well with my Twitter friend that my Facebook population does not promote the same “free” communication I might employ elsewhere. If your desire is to streamline your communication on-line, to implement better channeling and discussion, and break down boundaries to that discussion, Pip.io may well be the best option. At the least, it affords a simple “one stop” locale for managing chat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity. At the most, it appears to provide a true communication forum for social interaction.

Check it out. I would love to hear what you think.

Google Wave – Initiated Version

For the last week or so, I have been playing on Google Wave. I can now provide at least an introduction to a hands-on account of it for Studio readers. (Thanks Carlos!) My initial impression is that it is an engaging mash-up of email, chat, wiki and collaborative tool. While it has aspects of each, Google Wave is most definitely its own animal.

The main screen approximates an email inbox, but that is pretty much where the similarity ends. If all boxes are open, you can see an inbox-like organization at the top left, called Navigation, with familiar categories, such as inbox and trash. You can see all of your inbox or only waves started by you. Bottom left shows contacts. Middle window shows the waves in which you are participating and far right shows the individual wave you select to view. If you commence a wave, it also shows in the far right column.

Wave Screen

As you can see from the screenshot, the inbox can look a bit overwhelming. But there are many ways to manipulate it and focus on the content you are interested in. Green-backed numbers show waves with unread information. Clicking on that wave brings you into the portion where the new information is located. Waves are not time/linear in aspect, but instead appear like conversational branches – responses to individual comments attach at the comment. There can be more recent entries showing at any point in a wave.

You can minimize any of these boxes, and bring them back up when you so desire.

For me, the single coolest feature of Wave is the ability to “extensify” your wave experience. Much like adding gadgets to the Firefox browser to customize your browsing experience, you can add gadgets, robots and extensions to the waves to modify the wave experience. The list of gadgets is growing. I have used the map gadget and I recently signed up with 6rounds so that I can use their video chat gadget (will report back on that one as well – the 6rounds site is a pleasure to play around with).

The downside is that gadget implementation is not as seamlessly easy as found in other venues or on other sites. You must add gadget URLs and/or include the robot as a wave participant from your inbox in each wave you create or edit.

I know many have complained about Wave’s complexity. It is, in fact, complex compared to other on-line applications. However, I am convinced the complexity can be overcome with experience (if I can figure it out, anyone can). I also see loads of potential here: it is a great means of targeting a group of contacts and collaborating on a plan, document, or strategy. I also think it could change the way we communicate on-line, if enough people are willing to invest the time and energy to learn the ins and outs of it.

It helps to bear in mind that it is in closed beta right now for a reason. There are bugs and glitches to be expected and it is fair to anticipate Google will improve it during this process. I found that downloading a developers version of Chrome and adding Google Gears helped with some of the bugginess.

I also imagine that Google and third party developers will look for ways to address the many concerns raised by users over the last few weeks and, maybe, even simplify the Wave experience for the masses before public launch.

Overall, I am impressed with what I have seen and I have not yet been put off by the bugginess. I recommend that anyone able to secure entry into the Wave beta give it a try. At the very least, you could get involved in  the process of helping Google craft a promising communications platform that might actually make our jobs that much easier to perform in the long run.

BlackBerry Owners Are Social Too!

Image representing Research In Motion as depic...
Image via CrunchBase

Today marks the opening of MyBlackBerry, a new community site for BlackBerry owners offering a portal to online communication and collaboration among the pinstriped set. While it is not the first such site devoted to BlackBerry devotees, it is the first official site sanctioned by the BlackBerry bush, RIM. The “social” features of the site include individual profiles, community forums and application ratings and reviews.

Nice to see BlackBerry officially  getting hip to the online tip. If you need help deciding between that Blackberry Storm and Blackberry Bold, seems MyBlackBerry is the place to go.

Hat tip to ReadWriteWeb.

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