Home Interview: Socialthing! Founder Matt Galligan

Interview: Socialthing! Founder Matt Galligan

Recently people have been comparing lifestreaming services FriendFeed and Socialthing!, trying to determine which one will win or whether they even compete. For example, see ReadWriteWeb’s post FriendFeed vs SocialThing!. I signed up for FriendFeed when it first came out and more recently I was lucky enough to get a private beta invite for Socialthing! as well. I sat down with Socialthing! founder and CEO Matt Galligan, to get a little insight into the differences and similarities between the two products.

This is a guest post by Muhammad Saleem, a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.

How would you describe Socialthing! in simple terms?

Socialthing!’s goal is to be what we call a “digital life manager”. It’s a place that you will see the things that you and your friends are doing, interact with them (while those interactions publish to the originator of the content) and also be able to create content from the interface while it publishes to all the networks you might be a part of)

Many people see FriendFeed and Socialthing! as serving a very similar purpose. Do you think Socialthing! is in competition with FriendFeed or do you feel that they are two separate audiences and the services can coexist? If so, how do you see each being used simultaneously? If not why or how do you think Socialthing! is better than FriendFeed or Ping.fm?

I think that Socialthing! and FriendFeed are two very different things. Socialthing! is a digital life manager, a single place that you will go to manage the networks that you’re a part of elsewhere. FriendFeed is a place that you go to create meaningful conversation around content. The aggregation of the content means that everything that’s in there can be conversed around. The conversation stays inside of FriendFeed for good reason, because elsewhere, it may be out of context.

Socialthing! isn’t necessarily better or worse than FriendFeed, just different. They’re two very different value propositions, and it just depends on how you want to interact with your networks, and whether or not you think adding another network into the confusion is a good/bad thing. As for distinctions with Ping.fm, they are just simply a publisher of status, much like Profilactic‘s 155+ isn’t only because of our lack of the time that we’ve been on the market, and us being in private beta. It’s because the services do very different things with those services. One is that we don’t just aggregate a feed, but rather, aggregate your feed, all of your friends, and all of the things that they’ve been doing on those services. This is an incredible amount of more work. This means that there has to be a solid UI to support it, especially considering information overload. It also means that there has to be a scalable way to be able to fetch so many friends at once. One thing that’s also very different about our infrastructure is that we do live calls to the sites when the user comes to our site, so that for certain services that make more sense to have it, the information is fresh, rather than 20+ minutes old. For sites like Twitter, this is of utmost importance.

Now, going forward we do intend on adding services at a very rapid pace, but we are also letting our community vote on these services. Since helping manage peoples’ digital lives is our game, we need to make sure we have all of the most important services implemented, so we’re including a Digg-like voting mechanism soon that will take care of this and let us know which services are most important to our users.

We’re also planning on going far beyond just doing basic social services that have explicit content being generated, but we’ll be elaborating more on this later.

As for the profile page, we’ll be implementing this soon, and we’ll have more details on it also when it’s released.

When I wrote my review of the two services, the reason that I chose Socialthing! over FriendFeed was because Socialthing! sends all user activity out to the external sites whereas FriendFeed keeps everything internal as FriendFeed comments. This essentially makes FriendFeed a social network of social networks while Socialthing! is (currently) an aggregator for social networks. In fact, I feel that FriendFeed is adding to my information overload whereas Socialthing! currently helps me receive a lot of information and deal with it efficiently. Do you see that changing and Socialthing! becoming a network of sorts or was that an intentional decision?

I don’t see us changing in that manner. We don’t want to be a social network on our own. One distinction between us and all of our “competitors” is that there is actually no concept of “friend” on our site. If you’re friends with somewhere on the social web, then you’re friends on our site. The idea behind this was that there’s just simply too much “friending” that exists on the web right now, and going and searching for your friends with every single new service that pops up is annoying and repetitive, so not requiring the user to do that was of utmost importance.

As for the commenting and things like that, it’s likely that in the future, FriendFeed will do whatever they can to push those comments outside of the FriendFeed architecture, but it’s also going to be difficult. Currently they don’t work with any APIs, and even when they do, pushing back comments is not exactly the easiest thing to do, especially with the context that they’re providing. But they’re smart, and they’ll get it done. The question for the consumer at that point is whether they want to have another place to have a conversation or something to simply sift through all of the unmanageable streams of activities.

Is there a plan to release a public API, embeddable widgets, or other ways to export the aggregated data out of Socialthing!?

We have a very solid API roadmap currently in the plans. The API will allow most all of the functionality of the existing website to be put elsewhere. Our thought is that people will build desktop apps, mobile apps and other mashups so that the information that we’re aggregating/displaying can be consumed in interesting ways.

We will provide a few of our own things, however, things like Javascript widgets and the like. But at the same time, we’ve seen an incredible success by companies building things like desktop applications built on Twitter that Twitter didn’t have to spend any time on at all. We like this and will likely be hoping for a similar result.

How do you think you are improving or plan to improve or innovate the concept of lifestreaming? And finally, what do you think is Socialthing!’s killer app? What is the one feature that will set it apart from the competition and hopefully help it gain greater market share?

The concept of Lifestreaming is very new, and I guarantee you that if you were to ask the average Facebook user what a Lifestream is they would have absolutely no idea. But they know what their NewsFeed is for sure. So that’s what we want to innovate on. Bringing Lifestreaming to the masses with a very simple, easy to use interface where there is hardly any onboarding process required.

As for our killer app? I think it’s simply just being able to see what all of your friends on all of your networks are doing without ever having to add them, and then being able to communicate with them, all without ever leaving the same site. Imagine Meebo, or Trillian for social networks.

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