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Digging Digsby

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I’ve been a very long-time user of Pidgin (previously called Gaim). I’ve also been a very happy user with no particular impetus to look into other IM clients.

In addition to IM, I have accounts with a number of social networking sites. I am not particularly active on any of them (with the exception of Twitter), but I do log on when I get email alerts from any of them. Recently, I’ve been logging on at least daily to Facebook (I used to go weeks between logins).

I was recently friended by someone I went to High School with. Shortly after accepting the invitation, I received a chat invitation from her on the Facebook page. We chatted for a while, through the browser interface. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either, and more importantly, it meant that I had to have the Facebook page in focus in order to chat.

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article that mentioned IM clients that could connect to the Facebook chat system. I searched for “Pidgin Facebook Chat”, and indeed, there was a plugin available that supported this. Cool! However, in the Google search results page, I noticed an article on LifeHacker was in the list. I don’t visit that site often enough, but whenever I do, I find their recommendations spot on.

I clicked through and saw that they (and their readers, via the comments) were in love with an IM client called Digsby. What distinguished Digsby from other IM clients was that in addition to being a multi-protocol IM client (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber, etc.), it also connected directly to Social Networking sites (currently four, more planned) and email accounts (web-based, like Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, as well as POP and IMAP servers).

It sounded very cool, but from reading the comments, it was clear the Digsby users really loved the program. It started out as Windows only, but has since expanded to have Mac and Linux versions as well. I run Windows, so that’s the version I installed.

I’ve been using it for just under one day now, but I am definitely not going back. That’s not a knock on Pidgin, which is excellent as a multi-protocol IM client. It’s just that Digsby is that too, and a whole lot more!

I have Digsby connected to all four social networks that it supports: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. I have it connected to my Gmail account, and to my main Jabber account (and through that, to my AIM and ICQ accounts). In addition to connecting to Facebook for the feed, I separately have it connected to the Facebook chat system as another IM protocol.

It all works flawlessly, is extremely attractive in the default skin (though there are more to choose from, that I haven’t bothered looking at). I tested the Facebook chat with a friend of mine who has complained about the Facebook chat system. I told him that from my side (the Digsby side), it was no different that any other chat. I believe he will be installing Digsby today. 😉

It means that I am now available to any of my Facebook friends for a chat, whenever I am logged on to my computer, even if I haven’t opened the Facebook web page. It also means that as my friends update their status on any of the four social networks, I see a popup letting me know that instantly.

In addition to that, I can hover my mouse over any of the social network icons, and get a wonderful time-line summary of the news feeds from each site. It’s an instantaneous way to see what you missed and what people are up to. Clicking on any link takes you directly to the correct page (a person’s profile, for example) from that summary, so even logging on to each network is now a click away.

Even the IM client has some nice touches (I want to say innovations, but for all I know, this exists in other multi-protocol clients). One of my favorites is collapsing multiple instances of the same contact from different networks into one icon. Here’s a specific example.

I have three separate contacts for Rob Page, the CEO of Zope Corporation. My primary connection with him is through my own Jabber server. We use an encrypted channel, on a private server, so that all of our jokes are top secret. 😉

We are also connected via AIM and ICQ. Now that Rob has a shiny new iPhone, his AIM account is also linked via SMS to his iPhone, so that he appears available at all times.

In Pidgin, all three took separate rows in the client. I never expected it to be different, so it didn’t bother me, but it made for long contact lists, since whenever Rob was logged on, all three were available. It also meant that I could accidentally IM him on ICQ when I meant to use Jabber.

In Digsby, I drag the AIM and ICQ contacts and drop them on the Jabber one (my default). Now I only see one Rob contact (I can call it whatever I want). If he’s logged on to any of the three services, I see a green icon, indicating that Rob is available. If I double-click to send him an IM, it will go to the first available service. So, if he’s logged in to Jabber (my first choice), the IM will always go there. If he’s not, it will go to the next one that is available. Since he’s always available via SMS (through AIM) to his iPhone, I always see a green icon for Rob.

Still, it only takes one row in my contact list, and I can’t ever send an IM to a secondary service (by accident) if he’s logged in to Jabber. By hovering on his icon, I can select any of the specific services that he’s logged in to, so I haven’t lost the ability to target a specific service, I’ve just gained space, and an automated priority hierarchy. Simple awesome!

Anyway, if you are interested in other features of Digsby, there are many places to learn more about it than I have articulated above. The point of this article is just to declare myself to be their newest fan, and very vocal one at that! 🙂

Friend Requests

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Social Networks have been around for a relatively long time (in Internet years). They continue to mushroom. One of the reasons is the constant Friend Requests (invitations) one receives when anyone they know discovers a new network/site.

I see the utility of some of these sites, but in the end, unless they are used sparingly, and with a specific goal in mind (LinkedIn for example), they can very quickly become time sucks, geometrically if you end up feeling the need to keep up on multiple sites.

After hearing the buzz about Facebook for years, I succumbed and joined in August 2007. I had two purposes:

  1. See if the experience was interesting and/or useful
  2. See how long it would take to get invites

To test #2, I decided to not invite anyone to be a friend of mine, even those people who introduced me to Facebook. I’ve been a member now for six months, and I have still not invited anyone. I only have 26 friends, so I haven’t been overwhelmed with Friend requests either.

The requests can be divided into four categories:

  1. Bulk uploads
  2. Word of mouth
  3. Friends of friends
  4. Strangers

After I joined Facebook, I started getting a few invitations from people I hadn’t heard from in years. In a few cases, the last contact might have even been a bit strained. It took me a bit to realize that in likely all of those cases, those people joined Facebook after I did, and they uploaded their contact data (from Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) to Facebook, and permitted the site to match any members it had the same email address for.

While I applaud the ease with which these sites make these connections possible, ultimately, I find it extremely lazy (and intrusive) on the part of the uploader, who is building a (phony) network quickly, rather than a quality network, more slowly or painfully. That’s one of the reasons that I have never taken advantage of this (not just on Facebook, but on the dozen or so other sites that I could have), even though my Outlook contact database is reasonably large.

Word of mouth has made for high quality connections (for me). This will usually come in the form of some casual conversation where someone will mention something about Facebook (or another network), and ask if I’m a member. After admitting that I am, I will often get a friend request the next day. Those have typically amounted to more real interaction/sharing after the initial connection than the bulk upload ones.

Friends of friends has also been reasonably satisfying (to me, personally). One of the nice touches in Facebook is the concept of a social graph, understanding how you are connected to others. When one word of mouth friend connects with me, often other people in our circle are already connected to my friend, and they instantly discover (in their feed) that I too am on Facebook, and they friend me. Once that happens, we all see our overlapping friends on each other’s profile.

Finally, strangers. Here is one extreme example. I am a member of Last.fm (which I’ve written about in the past). I have three friends there. A month or so ago, I received a friend request from a name I didn’t recognize. I looked at their profile, and it was (supposedly) from a 17-year-old female. Uh huh, I am exactly who she is looking to friend to share musical tastes.

After declining, I mentioned it jokingly to one of my three real friends on Last.fm, and he too got an invitation from the same person. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t really all that special after all… 😉

But, it’s not always spam, just because it comes from a stranger!

This past Sunday, I received my first friend request on Facebook, from someone I never heard of. His name is Scott Dale. Before declining (which was my first instinct), I decided to Google him. I found this link, and was pretty sure that it was the same person who had invited me. OK, so he’s a musician, and maybe I somehow know him, and have just lost my mind.

So, instead of accepting or declining, I send him a message through Facebook. I ask him (apologetically) whether I know him. Even this form of contact made me hesitate and think before I acted. When you send a message to someone who isn’t your friend on Facebook, you are explicitly granting them access to view your profile for 30 days! Yes, Facebook makes it reasonably clear before you hit send (good!) and it makes sense, or they too would likely ignore your unsolicited message.

I decided to do it. I also hoped that he would only have limited access to my profile (which would exclude things like my IM, etc.), but I really wasn’t sure.

I ended up having a nice email-like conversation with Scott (eight messages between us). He wasn’t sure how he originally got my contact information, but he had just joined Facebook, so I got the invitation as part of the bulk upload. I mentioned that I blog about music quite a bit, and perhaps he picked it up there, but neither of us was sure.

I then asked him whether he was using Facebook just to network with friends (in which case I would graciously decline his invitation), or whether he was using it to promote his music, in which case I would willingly accept his invitation, because I had listened to his music on Fuzz.com (at the link above), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was the latter, and we’re now officially friends.

I had also never heard of Fuzz.com before, so my new friend taught me a new trick as well. 🙂

Anyway, I am not all that active on Facebook, though I do find that I log on more frequently than I thought I would. Ironically, a while ago I added a blog application called My Blogs, which is an RSS feed which injects links to my blogs into my Facebook feed. I have been surprised by the number of clicks I get through Facebook on this blog, so my friends are definitely logged on to Facebook enough to notice new posts from me in my feed, and they then click on them to see what I’m up to. Cool!

Finally, these bulk uploads work to identify up-and-coming new networks. Lately, I have gotten quite a number of invitations for the new Pulse service by Plaxo. Plaxo has been around for years, as an online contact manager. Pulse feels like a hybrid between LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s actually remarkably similar looking to Facebook, with a touch more business orientation. There too I haven’t invited anyone, but my network is growing nonetheless…