Though your mobile phone keeps you more connected, it can also make things more complicated. Using a cell phone to track e-mail, text messages, instant messages, voicemail, Facebook, and Twitter can be a burden--after all, these social networking applications attempt to shoehorn Web 2.0 resources onto small devices that weren't designed with Web 2.0 in mind.
Mobile-device manufacturers Motorola and Palm have taken things a step further by designing phones that merge different communications and social networks into a single tool, allowing you to interact with all of them from one spot. For a look at the future of mobile social networking, check out our reviews of the Palm Pre and the Motorola Cliq, as well as their respective social networking features, Synergy and MotoBlur.
You don't have to rush out and get a Palm Pre or Motorola Cliq to experience merged tools, though. You have a few other options to consolidate your social networks and messaging sources.
TweetDeck: Not Just for Twitter
One of the most popular tools for managing Twitter is TweetDeck. Released long before Twitter added Lists to its features, TweetDeck is a desktop application that enables users to create filtered groups to help cut down the noise and highlight the tweets that are most important.
The TweetDeck for iPhone app behaves in much the same way. And like the desktop program, it also allows you to add Facebook accounts to create a unified console for all of your messages and status updates. Once connected, you can add columns to TweetDeck to view status updates from your Facebook account.
To use the app, you must first get TweetDeck for iPhone from Apple's App Store. After the TweetDeck for iPhone app syncs to your iPhone, go into the app and then enter the settings by touching the gear icon at the bottom.
Under 'Facebook', touch to sign in and add your Facebook status updates to TweetDeck. The setup screen explains that you can 'Connect TweetDeck for iPhone with Facebook to interact with your friends in this app and to share stories on Facebook.'
Next you have to provide the e-mail address and password you use for your Facebook credentials. After you log in, you see two additional permission screens. The first allows TweetDeck for iPhone to read content from your Facebook account and display it in the app; the second permits TweetDeck for iPhone to post status updates to your Facebook profile.
Once your Facebook account is connected with TweetDeck for iPhone, you can add a column to your TweetDeck console for your default Facebook News Feed. If you have hundreds of Facebook contacts, though, the volume of status updates creates a great deal of noise and makes catching the ones you're interested in more difficult.
To bring order to your updates, first click the Add Column icon at the bottom of the TweetDeck for iPhone screen, and then select Facebook from the Choose Column Type screen that appears. You can pick from two types of Facebook Columns: All Friends, or Group.
The All Friends column displays the full News Feed, including status updates, photos, and other posts from your entire catalog of Facebook contacts. If you opt for Group, you can select a subset of your Facebook contacts, like family or high-school friends, and display only the updates from the Facebook contacts you choose.
Right now, the mobile TweetDeck app manages only Twitter and Facebook, and is available exclusively for iPhone. TweetDeck's developers have stated that they "are determined to eventually see TweetDeck available for other mobile platforms, such as Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry and Android, but there are no timelines for these as yet."
Swimming With Lifestream
AOL Instant Messenger, a pioneer of instant messaging, remains one of the most widely used instant messaging services, and AIM-compatible clients are available for every mobile platform.
AIM recently expanded the functionality of the AIM app for iPhone to include the converged functionality from its Lifestream Website. Though only the iPhone AIM app has the Lifestream feature at this point, any Web-enabled mobile device can take advantage of Lifestream through a Web browser.
Lifestream allows you to link a wider array of services than the desktop and iPhone TweetDeck apps do. With Lifestream, you can connect with Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Digg, Flickr, YouTube, and, of course, AIM.
Once you add your various accounts to your Lifestream, the feeds and updates display as one long list of messages. The AIM iPhone app does not offer much in the way of filtering: It has a search field at the top that you can use to narrow down which updates display, but the search is slow and it's a cumbersome way to sift through Lifestream--negating, in a way, the simplicity of merging the feeds together.
If you access Lifestream through a Web browser rather than through the AIM iPhone app, you gain some other options. You can choose to view everything or to narrow the stream down to your chosen list of Top Buddies. You can also choose to view only status updates, photos, or videos, and you can restrict the updates displayed to a particular service--for example, just AIM, Twitter, or Facebook.
Next to each of the entries in the Lifestream is a link labeled 'Comment'. Clicking on that link allows you to reply to Twitter tweets, comment on Facebook status updates, and so on. It isn't the most elegant or intuitive approach, but it does provide a single console view that you can use to simplify management of the assorted social networks and Web-based services you use.
Android and BlackBerry: Fashionably Late?
Aside from the Motorola Cliq and Palm Pre, among smartphones the iPhone holds a distinct advantage right now when it comes to apps that let you view updates from a variety of sources, in real time. In the near future, however, the situation may change.
SocialScope, which we have not yet had a chance to see firsthand, claims to deliver an integrated social media experience, including Twitter and Facebook functionality. The app will be available soon on many BlackBerry models, as well as on the iPhone and the Android-based T-Mobile G1. From initial reports, SocialScope sounds promising. You can sign up to participate in the beta at the SocialScope Website.
Considering the exploding popularity of Android--and the fact that Android is an open-source platform--Android users will probably have some social aggregator apps soon. In the meantime, users of other devices and mobile operating systems can at least update multiple networks by linking them on the back end.
You can add the Twitter app in Facebook and connect it with your Twitter profile. Once the two are linked, you can view tweets from your Twitter network within the Facebook app. In addition, by clicking a button at the top of the page labeled 'Allow Twitter to update your Facebook status', you can have your Twitter tweets duplicated as Facebook status updates, so you can post to both networks simultaneously while you're on the go.
The pace of social media adoption is forcing most of the tech industry to play catch-up. Many users and developers are still getting used to Web 2.0 and social networking concepts, and plenty of work remains to be done in delivering a simplified cross-network tool for managing all communications. Even so, the apps discussed here should give you a great start in making your online life more manageable.