How to downsize your social network portfolio

Using a slew of social networking services is great, but as Don Reisinger explains, that practice doesn't deliver the most rewarding Web experience. To fix that, Don has compiled a list of services you should use exclusively.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

I'm as guilty as the next person for having a social network portfolio that's too big. Aside from my Twitter account, I belong to Plurk and Identi.ca, and although I use Facebook most often, I still have MySpace and Hi5 accounts.

But now that 2008 has passed and it's time for us to evaluate what we did last year and try to improve upon that for 2009, why don't we start by cleaning out our social network portfolio and start using only those services that we like best in each category? After all, spending more time on multiple services isn't nearly as rewarding as getting more quality time with the best services, right?

Social bookmarking keeper: Delicious

Social bookmarking services are extremely handy when you want to remember a site at a later time, but that doesn't mean they're all created equal. In fact, Delicious, the leader in the space, easily sets itself apart from competitors like Ma.gnolia, Diigo, and ZigTag by boasting a better interface, more users, and better tagging, which makes it easier to find and share bookmarks.

Although Diigo's highlighting options are useful, ZigTag's semantic technology tries to improve bookmarking, and Ma.gnolia aims at providing a more thorough solution, none compare to Delicious. Yahoo's social-bookmarking service now features a streamlined search function, which makes finding bookmarks simple, and its new design makes it the most intuitive social-bookmarking service on the Web. But Delicious' most useful offering--its Firefox add-on--has nothing to do with the site at all. By installing the Delicious add-on, users can tag pages on-the-fly without being forced to visit the Delicious homepage. Granted, its competitors have Firefox add-ons as well, but after using each, it quickly becomes clear that they simply don't work as well as the Delicious tool.

Taking all that into account, I simply don't know why it's worth using another service besides Delicious. It's a superior tool with more convenient options, offering the same basic functionality as its competitors. It's the cream of the social-bookmarking crop.

Micro-blogging keeper: Twitter

I'll be the first to admit that I complain about Twitter as much as the next person, but after using competing services like Identi.ca, Jaiku, and Plurk, it's not hard to figure out that it's the only worthwhile micro-blogging tool.

Granted, Twitter still doesn't offer groups and I wish it had an element of open source like Identi.ca, but the sheer number of users who comment each day on Twitter makes it the best choice for your social-networking portfolio. If you want to be a part of a community that's both lively and engaging, you won't find it anywhere else but on Twitter. And now that it's more reliable and the Fail Whale is an occasional annoyance instead of a daily occurrence, Twitter has become an even more compelling service.

As the best place to find friends, colleagues, and thought-leaders in any industry, Twitter is the obvious choice as the only micro-blogging service that should be found in your social network portfolio.

News Aggregation keeper: Reddit

Trying to find the ideal news aggregator on the Web can be difficult. Depending on your definition, there's conceivably hundreds of services that package the best stories into one page. But it's the "social" news aggregation services, like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon that lead the pack. And although Digg is the most popular service in that grouping, I'm a firm believer that Reddit deserves to stay in your portfolio as your chosen news aggregation service.

Normally, I would pick the social site that offers the largest and most engaged community. But when it comes to news aggregation sites, Digg simply doesn't cut it. Sure, it's the biggest and arguably the most important to content sites, but that alone doesn't make it the best. Instead, I find Reddit's site design, while simple and ugly to some, incredibly useful and designed to help users find the best stories as quickly as possible without gaudy extras. But the most important differentiating factor working to Reddit's advantage is its community. It might be smaller than Digg's, but generally, the comments on each story are more edifying and lack the invective that has become a staple for Kevin Rose's brainchild.

Reddit may not be the biggest, its site design may be odd, and its community not as rabid, but in terms of providing interesting stories on a slew of topics without as much "gaming," it leads the pack and deserves to be in your social network portfolio.

Social Network keeper: Facebook

Choosing the single social network to use while ditching the rest isn't easy, since most of us have friends scattered across Friendster, Hi5, and MySpace. But it's because of those few friends still clinging to the past that we hold on to all those social networks. Enough is enough. It's time to rebuff the rest and stick to Facebook.

Why choose Facebook when MySpace is still the world's most popular social network? It's simple: Facebook doesn't have the awful design found on MySpace profile pages, offers a huge, engaged community, and most importantly, it's growing at a rapid rate, which means all those friends who still hang out at Friendster, LiveJournal, or even MySpace are starting to make their way to Facebook.

MySpace still provides value and Hi5 could be a significant competitor in just a few short years, but for now, Facebook, with its addicting features, applications, and growing community, should find its way to your portfolio as you leave the others out.

Video site keeper: YouTube

Maybe YouTube is the safe choice for the only social video site you should keep in your network portfolio, but I simply don't see how anyone can choose anything else. Vimeo is nice, but much of its content is barely watchable and while Metacafe is still an interesting site worth visiting, it doesn't provide the professional content that YouTube does.

And it's that professional content that I find most valuable when it comes to YouTube. Sometimes, I want to find a music video that isn't available elsewhere and YouTube will have it. And when I'm feeling nostalgic and I want to watch an old clip from The Wonder Years, it's sitting on YouTube waiting for me. As a bonus, some of the user-generated content is pretty good too, though most of it is strange.

I know that anyone can make a case for why practically any user-generated video site on the Web should be the exclusive service in your portfolio, but when it comes to finding the obscure, professional, or just plain weird, YouTube is the only place to go. All the others are practically useless.