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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Microblogging And Lifestreaming: A Beginner's Guide

Microblogging and lifestreaming have been two of the more popular tech industry buzzwords of 2007. But what are they, why would you use them, and how can you go about doing so?

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In this beginner's guide I take a look at the new breed of online applications, which focus on sharing very brief updates with your friends or the world with more regularity than you might write a blog post.

Microblogging is all about spontaneously sharing of-the-moment thoughts, links to websites, or even what you're doing at the moment. You can think of them as a cross between ultra-short blog posts, SMS text messages, and the status notifications you can leave for friends on services like Skype, Facebook or your favorite instant messaging tool.

Lifestreaming might perhaps be described as a variation of microblogging, and has the same focus on brevity of content. The key difference is that while with microblogging you write messages directly within the application itself - as you might send a text message - with lifestreaming applications you aggregate your other content from around the web and compile it into a single stream of short bites of information.

This might include your photographs on Flickr, your videos on YouTube, links to your latest blog posts, and even your latest microblogging updates.

So how can you use microblogging and lifestreaming applications, which are the most popular, what makes them different, and why would you want to bother?

In this beginner's guide to microblogging and lifestreaming, I try to answer these questions and more.

 

Microblogging - The Basics

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As I've said microblogging is a lot like sending a text message on your mobile phone. Only instead of sending your message to a single recipient, you can send it to a whole group of people simultaneously, and even share it with the general web-browsing public. Depending on the service you're using, your contacts can then check your message in their web browser, on their mobile phone, on their desktop, or even via an instant messaging application.

Microblogging places a huge emphasis on brevity - hence the micro, and the usual maximum length of a message you can send out at any one time is 140 characters, just as is the case with SMS text messaging.

There's no space in 140 characters for in-depth analysis, or lengthy cogitations on the nature of existence. 140 characters is just enough to let people know what you're doing, link to a website, photo or video that you've just published, share a concise observation, or reply to something said by a friend or contact.

Microblogging is very much based in the "now", and the majority of posts that you'll see on the various services - Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce being the most popular - refer to something someone is currently doing, something someone has recently published, or something someone is currently thinking about, reading or watching.

This makes for a very lean form of information delivery - padding, flowery verbiage and unnecessary grammar are thrown out of the window in favor of getting right to the point, and this is perhaps the most refreshing thing about microblogging.



Lifestreaming - The Basics

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Lifestreaming is closely related to microblogging in so far as it also places an emphasis on up-to-the-minute, concise, regular bursts of information rather than timeless, lengthy, or in-depth analysis.

The fundamental difference is that while microblogging focuses on the creation of quick messages to share, lifestreaming gathers the messages and media you have already produced elsewhere online and brings them all together into a single stream.

So if you have multiple social media accounts - on services such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Blogger - your lifestream application will let you import RSS feeds from these various sites and services, and will then compile them all together in an ongoing stream of information.

Just as with a blog, the latest information appears at the top of the page, and the oldest at the bottom.

So when you add a new photo to Flickr, or a new blog post, Facebook status update or YouTube video, your lifestream will be updated accordingly.

This makes it easy for your contacts to either view your media right from your lifestreaming profile, or alternatively - depending on the service - follow a link in your lifestream to the online destination where your media is hosted.

As such your contacts have access to all of the latest updates in your social media life from a single place, making it much easier to follow your latest news and online publishing habits.

While it might sound at first as if these two things - microblogging and lifestreaming - are rather different, many of the services I'll now take a look at offer functionality that falls into both categories.



Microblogging Applications

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Twitter

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The most popular microblogging platform on the web is, without a doubt, Twitter. If you aren't sure where to get started, Twitter is both the easiest to use microblogging application, and the most popular in terms of the size of its community.

I wrote a complete review of Twitter earlier this year, and followed up with a guide as to how you can use Twitter to promote and research your blogging, which you might want to check out for a more in-depth view of what it's all about.

To summarize the core features of Twitter, it allows you to:

  • Send messages of up to 140 characters at a time to and from your mobile phone, web browser, or instant messaging application
  • Add friends from the Twitter community to follow their latest updates. If they add you in return they will be able to follow your updates
  • Search for people or keywords in the public Twitter stream
  • Embed a badge in your blog or website, alerting visitors to your latest shared messages
  • Automatically reduce the size of long URLs you wish to share using the TinyURL service
  • Allow users to use your RSS feed for both your individual posts, or your posts in the context of your friends' contributions
  • Create a simple profile, customize your color-scheme and avatar, and link to your website

Twitter is the living embodiment of simplicity, and once you have added some friends (by clicking the "follow" button on someone's profile page) it can quickly become a great way to keep updated on their latest goings on.



Pownce

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Pownce came into the microblogging game a little later than Twitter, and offers similar functionality, albeit with a better looking interface and the ability to easily share files with your online contacts.

This alone has been enough to convince some users to give Pownce a try, even though its community and uptake is significantly lower than that of Twitter.

Pownce allows you to share music files, documents and other file types instantly, and also has what might best be described as templates for sharing messages, links, event notifications or files. In each case, you can make use of a slightly different entry form, rather than the standard, less specific Twitter input box.

You can easily choose to send a message to the public, your friends, or a specific friend using a drop down menu.

In short Pownce does offer a cleaner and perhaps more useful interface than Twitter, but thanks to its smaller community, and perhaps the sheer simplicity of Twitter, Pownce is not so much a competitor as it is an additional microblogging service you might like to use.



Yurbo

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Yurbo is very similar to Twitter, minus the sizable community, third-party backing and desktop client. The one key difference I could find is that there doesn't appear to be a word limit on the messages you send, which are described as blogs.

As such, Yurbo seems to be attempting to make blogging as simple and easy to do as microblogging, which is a noble sentiment, but doesn't make for a remarkable service in any way, shape or form unfortunately.



Other Services

There are, of course, a great many more "me too" services jumping on the microblogging bandwagon. Read/WriteWeb gathered ten of those available in their Aidan Henry's post 10 Micro Blogging Tools Compared.

However, in my humble opinion, none of these services add anything particularly groundbreaking to the game, and are ultimately too late to the game to make any kind of serious impact.



Lifestreaming And Microblogging Applications

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Tumblr

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Tumblr is a popular microblogging and lifestreaming application that combines great looks with the ability to both aggregate your existing RSS-enabled social media accounts, and post short microblog messages, links, photos, videos and other content right from the application itself.

Furthermore, Tumblr lets you make use of a bookmarklet so that whenever you see something of interest as you browse the web, you can click this button and automatically post the link or content to your Tumbler lifestream.

Tumblr makes the sign-up process very simple, and allows you to easily customize the look of your "Tumblelog" either with preset templates, or even - if you are up to the challenge - CSS coding.

Tumblr has presets that make it really easy to import del.icio.us bookmarks, Flickr photos and a lot more besides by merely providing your username. Furthermore, you can bring in any RSS feed of your choosing and have your Tumblelog automatically updated.

Mobile posting and browsing is also supported, making Tumblr a great way of gathering your lifestream together with truly great looking presentation.

You can read more about the great features in the latest version of Tumblr at the official Tumblr blog.



Jaiku

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Jaiku is considered by many to by the main competitor to Twitter, but in fact has a slightly different approach.

Just like Twitter the core feature of Jaiku is posting messages of 140 characters or less to your group of contacts, or the public. To this Jaiku adds two extra features:

  1. Icons - you can add a nice designer icon from a huge selection to highlight the point of your message
  2. Commenting - Jaiku allows other users to leave threaded comments on your Jaiku posts, which isn't possible with Twitter

However, going beyond microblogging - which can also be read and posted to from mobile or desktop with Jaiku - one of the key differences is the addition of lifestream-like feeds to Jaiku.

When you set up your Jaiku account you can add various inbound RSS streams to your Jaiku profile, such as Flickr photos and blog posts. Then, when other users click on the thumbnail or link, they are taken to the appropriate piece of media in its original destination.

Jaiku is a lighter app than Tumblr, both it terms of its functionality and simplicity, and works especially well for users that want to create a mobile-phone based lifestream, especially if you use a Nokia phone, which Jaiku offers close integration with.



Lifestrea.ms

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Lifestrea.ms is currently in private beta, but in my recent review of the service, I found it to be an incredibly comprehensive means of both aggregating and authoring social media across an enormous range of services.

In many ways Lifestrea.ms bears a resemblance to the microblogging and lifestreaming solution offered by Tumblr, but combines this with an excellent way to automatically track what's being said about you online, and makes creating and cross-posting content both within your lifestream and at your favorite social network destinations an absolute breeze.



Other Services

There are an increasing number of services that make use of lifestreaming elements within a social networking setting.

Facebook has what might be considered both microblogging (via status updates) capabilities and limited lifestream functionality in the form of the mini-feed that lets you know what your other Facebook contacts are doing and saying. Unfortunately, Facebook is somewhat of a walled garden, and doesn't make for the most effective way of aggregating or exporting content to and from other services.

Plaxo Pulse attempts to gather LinkedIn business networking with address book management and a form of lifestreaming, keeping you updated on your contacts various social media publishing efforts. Unfortunately a vile interface and less than impressive usability make this an also-ran rather than a must-use service.



Microblogging Desktop Clients and Browser Plugins

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Using a desktop client application, you can send messages to one or more of your microblogging or lifestreaming applications without having to visit their respective websites, and can even follow your friends' updates from the same micro-application. This makes it easy to post and catch up throughout the day, just it simpler to write and check mail in your desktop email application.



Twitter

Perhaps another reason that Twitter has enjoyed such success is it's excellent third-party support. There are far more clients available than can be listed here, so I have focused on four of the best solutions.

For a more comprehensive list, you should check out the huge, comprehensive list at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

Here are my personal favorites:

  • Snitter is a free cross platform application built using the Adobe AIR platform. It is by far the most comprehensive desktop client I've seen, with the ability to check users profiles, send direct messages, search and of course post "tweets". If you use Twitter, you need to check out Snitter
  • Twitterfic is a great looking Mac-based Twitter client. It has less features than Snitter, but is arguably more stable and better looking. On the downside, it is no longer free unless you wish to accept advertising being place alongside your messages
  • TwitBox is a popular Windows Twitter client with some advanced features.
  • TwitBin is an add-on for the Firefox browser, and lets you post and follow Twitter "tweets" from a sidebar in your browser. The social browser Flock has similar functionality built in



Pownce

Pownce offers its own cross-platfomr Adobe AIR based desktop client, and while it is a little buggy at times when it comes to refreshing the latest updates, it does a good job of offering all of the features you have from the browser-based Pownce application.



Yurbo

Yurbo doesn't offer a desktop client, and nobody has made one for it. Which perhaps says a lot about the popularity and focus of the service.



Lifestreaming Desktop Clients and Browser Plugins

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Tumblr

At the time of writing there is no desktop client for Tumblr.

However, Tumblr does offer a bookmarklet, which at least allows you to add content from your browser as you surf the web.

Mac users can also post to their Tumblelog using a Dashboard widget.



Jaiku

Jaiku doesn't have the same kind of third-party support enjoyed by Twitter, but there are a couple of good options available.

Windows users might want to check out Jaikuroo, which offers posting and reading of both public and friends Jaiku streams, in-line thumbnails and extensive customization options.

Mac and now iPhone and iPod Touch users should check out Juhu which is a great looking application with a similar feature-set to Jaikuroo.



Lifestrea.ms

Lifestrea.ms doesn't currently have a desktop client, but it would be great to see one!



Why Use Microblogging?

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Microblogging is first and foremost a truly simple way to share your thoughts, day-to-day experiences and links to interesting content on the web with your friends or a wider audience.

If you use microblogging as nothing more than a cost-effective replacement for group text messaging, you'll already have found one key use for this fledgling medium.

But microblogging offers a lot more, especially if you are a blogger, online publisher or web-based business owner.

For one thing, if you gather a significant number of contacts on a service like Twitter you'll have set up an instant way to spread the word about your latest blog post, photos, product launch or episode of your podcast. Sending out a single link will not only publish to this list of contacts, but will also make it to the "public timeline" of your chosen microblogging platform, for casual browsers to find, and even to Google searches for the keywords you used.

I wrote extensively about how bloggers can effectively leverage Twitter as a promotional and research tool previously here at Master New Media, and much of what I have to say there is equally applicable to other services like Pownce or Jaiku.

I'm not the only one to have recognized the value of Twitter as a highly useful tool for bloggers and businesses.

Marshall Kirkpatrick writes in his post "How Twitter Is Paying My Rent" about a number of ways that Twitter has proved to be an indispensable aid to his professional blogging. Marshall writes, among his numerous great tips and examples:

"I first learned about the Google acquisition of Jaiku on Twitter. Scores of people blogged about it, but my post was the one that hit Digg. It included quotes from people on Twitter about the deal, because all day long - that's where the best discussion of the deal was found."

In this sense Twitter really can prove to be a great place to find information about news way before it breaks publicly, and I've found Twitter to be invaluable in my own blogging to follow the latest trends before they break through and go mainstream.

James Governor also shares some interesting thoughts in his post "If Markets Are Conversations Then Twitter Is Money". He notes that:

"In my heart I know I can only truly engage with 200 bloggers and yet... I am subscribed to upwards of 500 feeds. I literally can't keep up with all of them. Even with triage its hard to read all the must reads. There is just too much quality out there.

With Twitter I can get up to date with my network in less than half an hour - the beauty of the 140 character limit for messages."

As James notes here, the brevity of messages in the microblogging format allow for a much faster processing of information than is possible trawling through blogs via your RSS reader.

As information reaches saturation point, that makes tools like Twitter a very valuable way to spot trends, follow the latest news and keep up to date of what's happening in your industry and group of contacts in a fraction of the time it would take through other means.

In short microblogging gives you a very quick way to share information about your own life, business or online publishing schedule, and also provides you with an excellent means of monitoring the latest buzz in a fast, hyper-efficient way.



Why Use Lifestreaming?

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There are a number of reasons that you might want to consider using a lifestreaming application, and chief among them is the ability to gather the range of disparate content you publish over the web into a single stream of information.

If you have a blog, a YouTube account for your videos, a Flickr account for your photos, a Facebook account for friends, and so on, there comes a point where it becomes a huge drain on your contacts time to keep up with what you've published to the web.

Creating a lifestream provides a one-stop place for your contacts to access everything you publish, or at least links to your different networks, so that they'll know instantly when you upload your latest photos, add a new video or publish a new blog post to the web.

From a business and social media marketing point of view, this is also a great way to maximize inbound links and possible inroads to your content.

If, for instance, you publish a new blog post, you can use Flickr to host the images you use, linking them to your blog post from your Flickr account, YouTube to publish video, again linking back, and then your automated lifestream will gather these links together from a different location - i.e. that of your lifestreaming service.

The result is a range of different locations and means for people to find your content, increasing exponentially your chances of being seen through the masses of information swamping the web.

From a personal perspective being able to give your clients, friends or family a single link by which they can discover all of your latest updates, you no longer need to create a huge list of URLs that people might want to visit.

In short, lifestreams are both convenient and a great way of further promoting your online media or business.



Emerging Trends in Microblogging and Lifestreaming

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Microblogging and lifestreaming continue to expand in their popularity, and as they do so, new contenders step up to the challenge of providing new experiences and feature-sets.

One of the more interesting new services is Seesmic, which to all intents and purposes might be considered a "Twitter for video". Seesmic lets you quickly record your computer's webcam and publish it to an ongoing stream of videos created by other users. You can then browse through the other videos at your leisure.

Robin Good wrote a review of his initial impressions of this new service, which is currently invite-only, and was pleased with the results.

Seesmic offers more than just a video version of Twitter, however, in that it is also possible to post existing videos either from your desktop or your YouTube account, and in this respect it looks as though lifestreaming content aggregation will be part of the bigger picture. In this respect, then, it bears some resemblance to a video-enabled version of Jaiku, with its richer feature-set and media import functionality.

On the mobile phone front Utterz seems to be making some headway at the moment, providing a simple way to post video, photo, text and voice messages directly to the web. This could well be worth keeping an eye on.

For a more extensive lifestreaming experience Profiliactic and recently reviewed for Master New Media offer great ways to gather your various social media presences into a single stream of information. Lifestrea.ms also offers the ability to post directly to these multiple accounts directly from its interface, which could save a lot of time for heavy social network users.

Another similar service emerging at the moment is FriendFeed, which (when it emerges from private beta) will also offer a service focused on aggregating social media content into a single place.

On the one hand simplicity is certainly the key to the success of Twitter, and third-party developers have stepped up to the challenge of filling in the gaps, but on the other it seems that the trend we are likely to be seeing more of in the near future is the ability to better aggregate and author content across a range of social media destinations . Lifestrea.ms seems best equipped for this task at the time of my writing this.



Summary

Microblogging and Lifestreaming are two relatively new ways to quickly share your thoughts, links, current status and even social media in quick-fire, regular bursts of brief, straight-to-the-point information.

Microblogging is essentially based around the simple concept of posting regular, short updates about your current activities, websites you've found or anything else you might be able to fit into the space of a sentence or two (140 characters having become the standard). It's something like writing an SMS text message on your mobile phone in terms of brevity, with the difference being that your message is beamed out the world, or - if you prefer - a whole bunch of friends simultaneously.

Lifestreaming places the same focus on brevity, but rather than having you create your message directly in the application

Both trends make for a compelling mixture of text messaging, blogging, RSS aggregation and sharing your favorite websites via social bookmarking services.

There are a number of reasons you might like to give microblogging and / or lifestreaming a whirl, including:

  • Keeping in touch with friends in a quick and easy way regardless of location
  • Promoting your online business or off-line event
  • Aggregating your various social media accounts in a single place
  • Sharing links to your own and others' web content with a large group of people with the minimum of hassle

There are a good range of tools and services for your try, with Twitter currently the most popular microblogging tool, and Tumblr and Jaiku the most popular lifestreaming applications.

Nevertheless there are an emerging breed of newcomers that bring with them new and expanded feature-sets. Seesmic looks set to become to combine Twitter and Jaiku-like features with video blogging, while the recently reviewed web app Lifestrea.ms does an excellent job of bringing together almost every social network and media sharing destination into a single stream of data.

Whichever service or services you choose, microblogging and lifestreaming serve as an excellent way to publish and promote your online content on-the-run and with the maximum of ease, and are a great way of keeping abreast of the latest news, meeting new people, and sharing information at lightning fast speeds.



Additional Resources

If you'd like to read more about microblogging and lifestreaming, you might want to take a look at the following links:




Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and titled "Microblogging And Lifestreaming: A Beginner's Guide"

 
 
 
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posted by Michael Pick on Tuesday, February 5 2008, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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