It is always amazing to watch the tides of change flow through the world of technology. It seems like just yesterday, e-mail was the big new mode of communication. (Imagine! You can write a letter and send it anywhere in the world…no stamp required.) Then instant messaging came along, but now it doesn’t seem quite instant enough for many users. Social networking is the hot new technology, giving users the ability to communicate instantly with large groups of people.
Today, it isn’t enough to be able to communicate instantly from our computers. We are increasingly dependent on mobile technology and the ability to connect and communicate from wherever we are. E-mail is built into the iPhone and a wide variety of third-party communications apps are available for the device.
When I started exploring the App Store’s Social Networking category, I was struck by the variety of sub-categories it contains. There are dating apps, voice over Internet (VoIP) apps, instant messaging clients, utilities, and more. Instead of attempting a comprehensive review of all of these, this article focuses on the more traditional social networking apps. (Note that I don’t mention any Twitter-related apps—there’s a separate article covering these on page 28.)
The next, great social networking app
I was extremely impressed with the iPhone’s ability to handle social networking. Most of these apps are free and come with the important features you need. And as social networking continues to change, new apps (or new versions of these apps) will be developed to bring you those changes.
Facebook, my selection for the Editor’s Choice Award, is the current King of the Hill. But how long it remains there is anyone’s guess. Only time will tell what the next, big social networking trend will be. But when it comes, the iPhone and iPod touch will be ready to handle it—with the help of the next, great social networking app.
MySpace was the original social network, and although it has recently seen a significant decline in users and popularity, it’s still relevant. I’m impressed with how much you can do with their iPhone app. If fact, it incorporates almost all of the Web app’s main features into a simple and easy-to-use interface. You can even upload pictures or video that you take on your iPhone straight to your MySpace page. MySpace Mobile is a great mobile alternative for the desktop experience.
In recent years MySpace’s dominance has been replaced by other social networking sites. The one finding the biggest place in people’s hearts and computers is Facebook. In fact, when I bought a 1st generation iPod touch, Facebook was one of the first apps I downloaded. It remains on my first screen to this day.
Like MySpace Mobile, Facebook’s app is simply fantastic, offering almost all of the functionality of Facebook’s Web interface right on your iPhone or iPod touch. Just about the only thing you cannot do with this app is take those silly Facebook quizzes. Yes, you will have to wait until you can find a computer to learn how well you really know Aunt Ida or which Beatle you are most like.
Facebook offers the most feature-rich social networking app for the iPhone.
Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon to arise from constant connectivity is the “feed.” The feed refers to the ability to instantly share links, thoughts, articles, and pretty much anything else with your friends and connections. LinkedIn was originally designed as a business networking site, but today its home page barely mentions business connections. Instead, it focuses on the various feeds those connections have posted; allowing the user to know what his or her circle of friends and acquaintances is reading, writing or posting. Unlike the MySpace and Facebook iPhone apps, the iPhone version of LinkedIn eschews much of the functionality of the Web-based application, leaving you with only your feeds and list of contacts.
While I was somewhat disappointed with LinkedIn’s lack of features, I was very sad to see that Plaxo (plaxo.com), one of the best online contact managers available, has no presence at all on the iPhone.
Perhaps the top site for sharing feeds is the aptly named FriendFeed (friendfeed.com). There are quite a few apps that offer access to one’s FriendFeed account, but after looking at a number of them, I settled on FreshFeed. The app’s home screen provides a chronological list of your friends’ feeds and posts. Other screens offer access to more specific groups or discussions. I found the iPhone app to be even more versatile and usable than the Web-based version.
With so many sites and services available, unless you can get all of your friends and associates to agree on one, you’ll need half a dozen apps to stay in touch. Fortunately, there is one app that lets you stay in touch with all of the social network services you subscribe to—A Personal Assistant.
A Personal Assistant lets you check all your accounts from a single, easy-to-use interface. In addition, you can connect to your e-mail, check financial transactions, make travel arrangements, and access a myriad of other online resources. This app is incredibly useful for anyone that subscribes to multiple social networking sites. The basic app is available for free, but a premium version with some additional features is also available for $6.99.
A Personal Assistant
- Free (Premium version available for $6.99)