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Where's my single social stream?

Mike Elgan | July 12, 2016
Years ago, everybody wanted their social activity unified into a single stream. Is the dream still alive?

Social media moguls like Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talk about uniting mankind through the power of social networking. Back in 2012, Zuckerberg wrote in a letter that accompanied Facebook's IPO paperwork that "Facebook... was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected."

That's a worthy mission, and it's hard to find any who who opposes it. We all want a more open and connected world, don't we?

On a practical level, there are two ways to make the world more open and connected. One way is for a single company, like Facebook, to get all the users. And Facebook is trying to do that -- through organic growth, and through the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. Despite lofty rhetoric, it's clear that Facebook sees monopoly as the best way to achieve a more open and connected world. If everybody's on Facebook, then everybody's connected.

But if everybody is not on Facebook, the alternative way to make the world maximally open and connected is for everyone to use all or many different social networks. In fact, there's no way Facebook will ever become the only social network or provider of social services. There will always be social startups, new apps, innovative messaging platforms and other alternatives to Facebook's social apps and services.

The better and more likely way to achieve Facebook's vision of a more open and connected world is the second option -- for everyone to use multiple social networks.

The trouble is, using several social services is really hard -- all that switching from one mobile app to the next, and from one website to the next. Each has its own design, menu structure, settings and configuration options, and processes for handling photos, likes and mentions. It's also impossible for someone with a lot of friends to remember which people are on what network. Most people who try to use several social networks end up forgetting about some and spending most of their time on one, or maybe two.

So much for an open and connected world.

The reality is that we've all gone off to our separate closed and disconnected worlds, and choice of network is actually one of the strongest determinants of whom you maintain personal relationships with.

But what if there was a way to see all the items posted by all our friends, relatives and colleagues all together in one stream? And what if we could interact on that stream and post from a single location, sending out those posts to the various social networks?

In fact, there used to be such a service. It was called Friendfeed. Facebook, the company with the social mission to "make the world more open and connected" acquired it, starved it of oxygen and, just last year, killed it. (Ironically, one of Friendfeed's founders, Bret Taylor, was appointed to the Twitter board last week.)


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