Social Networks

I recently read Scott Hanselman's great post about owning your content and blogging more often. It struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons. First of all because I don't blog very often. I always seem to have things I'd like to get off my chest and put in writing. But I never seem to have the time or the motivation to actually get it done. The second reason is that social networks do my head in. I love them and I hate them in equal measures. So I thought I'd kill two birds and write a post about a few things that really annoy me about social networking. More specifically some things that annoy me about Twitter and Google Plus as they're the only networks I currently use. It's been a while since I've attempted to put my thoughts down into words so this could well turn into an unstructured rant. I have a lot I need to say.

99% of the time I access social networks from my Android phone so let's start with the Android clients. Now I'm a big fan of Android and the feature I love the most is the built in sharing menu which lets you easily send and receive data between different applications. It means I can send a tweet to a new email, text message or post it to Google Plus. But more often than not I simply send it to Instapaper which will save any URLs in the tweet to my read later folder. Great! Long press the tweet, press share, press Instapaper. Job done, I can carry on scrolling and never leave my timeline.

Now as you're no doubt aware Android is a Google product. So you'd be forgiven for thinking that integration between the Android OS and the Android Google Plus application would be good. Wrong! To compare with the previous twitter example let's say someone posts a link on Google Plus to an article that I want to read later. The only way I can get that link to Instapaper is to click the link. Wait for the page to open and load in my default browser and then make use of the share function in the browser to send the link to Instapaper. If I'm out and about on a 3G connection that's a no go straight away. It's the main reason I no longer pay much attention to Google Plus. When it first started I thought it was a great service and looked forward to the day when more of my friends started using it. Not anymore. It's basically unusable on mobile. I can understand that Google want me to read that article straight away so I can comment back on the original thread or +1 it etc. But it needs to be more flexible. Stop trying to lock me in! It's a nice experience in a desktop browser but I just don't access it that way.

Twitter clients are just as frustrating. I think I must have tried just about every single one on Google Play. All mobile Twitter clients I try are compared against Tweetlist Pro an iOS app I used when I had an iPhone. It met my needs perfectly. Elegant, fast, reliable, full of features, I could go on all day. To be fair most of the Android clients are fast and reliable. The main problem is that the other two requirements, elegant and full of features seem to be either or. Take Mustard for example, last time I looked it had a bag load of features including support for status.net networks and it is free software which is a big plus point. But elegant it is not. I just couldn't use it for more than a few minutes. Even the official Twitter client has a few annoyances like the fact that I can't seem to view a user's mentions anymore. It also seems to drain the battery a little more than some of the other clients and can lose the timeline position periodically which is very annoying. The main problem with the official Twitter client though is that it is the official Twitter client so I can't easily do things like an old style RT. As you've probably all read Twitter is becoming more restrictive in this way and making it more difficult for third party developers. I don't like it one bit.

I know Twitter has to make money but I think they're going about it the wrong way. By alienating third party developers and power users they're going to force people to look elsewhere. People will move to other services, perhaps App.Net for instance and eventually that will be the end of Twitter as a force. I don't know why they don't just offer users a simple choice:

1.Enjoy a free account through the website or official clients subject to the whims of Twitter.

2.Pay an annual subscription of perhaps $15 and gain full API access from the client or clients of your choice.

I'm happy to give them some money. It is (was?) a great service. But seeing the way things are going I'm already preparing for the day when I leave Twitter. I've started creating a list of rss feeds for some of the bloggers I follow on Twitter and I'm adding to that list daily. I'm also on the hunt for something to fill the gap Twitter will leave. That's not so easy to do. Google Plus doesn't fit the bill for the reasons I've already outlined. Facebook? No thanks I closed my account there over a year ago and haven't looked back since. I used to like Identi.ca but again the lack of good mobile clients made it unusable and there just wasn't enough variety on there. Too many free software geeks like me. Which is great but ultimately a bit boring.

The current favourite to replace Twitter is App.Net. But whilst it only has a small number of (geek) users $50 seems a bit steep. I expect that will at least half by the time it goes mainstream but it's a case of watch this space at the moment.

Starting to use another social network for the first time brings me on to another annoying feature. Cross posting. Whenever I try a new service there is always the temptation to start following the same people on the new service. Twitter and Google Plus is a good example. A lot of the people I have in my G+ circles I also follow on Twitter. This is a nightmare because it means you end up reading the same things over and over again across different services as people use various hacks or third party services to cross post their tweets to G+ or vice versa. I'm guilty of this myself. But now and again interesting discussions start up on the different services and I feel like I'm missing out on something if I don't keep up. Unfortunately I can't just use one service or the other because not all of the people I want to keep in touch with use the same service.

Social networking can be very frustrating at times but that's life and I can stop any time I want. I can honest.

Phew! I feel better now I've let off some steam. Now what's this MySpace thing I'm hearing so much about...