Hands-on with Threadsy: A nifty social aggregator

Got lots of browser tabs open trying to keep up with messages from Twitter, Facebook, and others? New tool puts all that noise in one place.

Readers might remember hearing about Threadsy last September, which is when the catch-all social aggregator first debuted. Its promise, which was made in a short demo at last year's TechCrunch50 conference, was that it would pull together correspondence from places like Twitter and Facebook alongside your Web mail from multiple providers. Eight months of beta testing later, it's finally open to the public. But has it been worth the wait?

Before answering that question, let's first take a look at the problem Threadsy is trying to solve. If you're the type of person who has a Twitter and Facebook account, as well as multiple e-mail accounts, you've probably got several tabs running throughout the day that keep these sites open. Threadsy's solution is to put all the messages from those places into one interface, which has been done with some elegance.

Social updates from Twitter and Facebook sit on the right of the page, where you can see the latest items from both networks mixed together. If a user has linked to a photo, Threadsy will give you a nice large preview. The same goes for linked audio files and updates from various Facebook applications.

Web mail has been handled with a similar level of simplicity. When first setting up the service, you give it access to your various e-mail accounts, which at least for Gmail, can be done without giving Threadsy any of your account credentials. Instead, you just authorize it to get access to those messages--just like enabling connections to your Facebook and Twitter profiles. Threadsy then blends together all the messages from your Web mail accounts along with direct messages in Twitter and Facebook into one big in-box.

Unfortunately, for all its simplicity, the universal mailbox breaks down in terms of how easy it is to create new messages compared to using each service's proper messaging client. Gmail, as well as Facebook's messaging service, offer really excellent auto-complete for contacts, but on Threadsy it's just not as good. In my testing it was able to pull up people I was Facebook friends with, but not frequently e-mailed family members. It was also unable to do its magic on last names, which may not seem like all that much of a hindrance, but it is.

Threadsy puts Web mail and all your social activity into one tool. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn / CNET

The auto-complete issue was not nearly as big of a deal as trying to figure out which services messages originated from, which over time, became one of my main gripes. Threadsy puts the message source identifier all the way to the right of mail tool, which at first blush seems quite natural. In practice, however, it can be bothersome. Maybe it was just me using it on a wide screen, desktop monitor. But even switching to a smaller resolution didn't help all that much. Putting the little Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter logos on the very left of the page would make it a lot simpler to eyeball when cruising through a crowded in-box.

Those problems aside, Threadsy does succeed in its efforts to replace the basic functionality of each service's message center. Hardcore Gmail users will likely balk at the idea of losing their conversation threading and keyboard shortcuts, but Threadsy makes up for it in offering a similarly simplistic multi-attachment uploader and putting Google Buzz items right next to in-box activity.

So coming back to the question at hand--was it worth the wait? And more importantly, is it something worth ditching a multiple open browser-tab lifestyle for? Not in my opinion. I don't think I'm going to continue using Threadsy for the same reason that I don't use competitor Fuser. Each of these Web mail and social media services offer a unique experience with various UI and workflow benefits. Putting them all into one tool without retaining the same feel for each one means that users have to get acclimated to Threadsy's feel instead. Will some people latch onto this new system? Certainly. But I'm not so sure it makes for a better experience overall.

Things to like 

  • All your accounts in one place 
  • Social updates and e-mail side by side (even Google Buzz) 
  • Built-in Twitter and Facebook posting tool.
  •  A very cool signature that goes on the bottom of your messages that includes links to all your various social profiles 
  • Features multi-file attachment uploading 
  • Gives you a bird's eye view of somebody's public profile, including tweets, uploaded photos, and various social-networking profiles. 
  • Built-in chat (powered by Meebo) 
  • Audio notifications when you get a new message

Things not to like

  • Lackluster auto-complete for the addresses in the e-mail app. 
  • Does a poor job showing you the addresses of the e-mail account you're sending from
  •  A lot of self promotion nags early on.
  • "Inbound" catch-all in-box can make it hard to tell which services messages are from.
  • Missing the feel of each service's native messaging tools (except for Twitter of course)

 

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