May 4, 2009 Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are designed to make keeping in touch with friends and family easy, but as the list of such sites continues to grow, the task of keeping up to date with all that data can quickly lead to information overload. "Lifestreaming" applications designed to simplify the process by aggregating data from multiple sources are now emerging. Socialthing is the latest lifestreaming app to join the ranks of FriendFeed, and the recently announced Vine from Microsoft. AOL is rolling out the service across its network of more than 75 sites that reach around 181 million users worldwide.

The four main elements of Socialthing are:

  • Unified Sign-on, which means users can log into participating sites using a single sign in. Currently that means your AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) or AOL username and password, but Bebo, Gmail, Yahoo and OpenID using OAuth will be added soon.
  • Social Syndication lets users broadcast their activities to all their Bebo, AIM, ICQ, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, and Twitter friends thanks to a distributed architecture that lets updates from one Socialthing-enabled site to be distributed on other Socialthing sites, on mobile devices such as the iPhone and through the AIM and ICQ desktop clients. This is a little different to Socialthing’s main competitor Friendfeed, which isn’t simply an aggregator, but a network of its own. Unlike Friendfeed, any interaction appears on the external site from which the data was aggregated. For example when interacting with an element using Socialthing, such as Twitter for example, the interaction will appear on Twitter instead of just the aggregator, as is the case with Friendfeed.
  • On-site Chat and Instant Messaging turns any participating site into a social networking site by enabling users to participate in both group and private AIM chat using pop-up boxes and a toolbar. When visiting Socialthing-enabled websites, users will be able to join public conversations in the site’s chat rooms and communicate directly with any other user who is also logged into Socialthing on that site.
  • An Open Platform, which means third-party developers will be able to build their applications on top of the Socialthing platform.

AOL’s centralized publishing unit, MediaGlow, is in the process of deploying Socialthing across its network starting with country music site ‘TheBoot’, where visitors will see the Socialthing toolbar appear across the bottom of their browser window prompting them to sign in and start chatting with other Socialthing users. Movie blog Cinematical will be the next to get the Socialthing treatment and, after it has been rolled out across the remaining AOL sites, Socialthing will be made available at no cost to partner sites as well.

AOL is investing a lot of time and money into Socialthing so expect it to be a big part of the forthcoming AIM revamp later this year.

Darren Quick