Services & Software

I don't need 8hands to reach my friends

Maybe I'm a friendless curmudgeon, but I removed 8hands from my computer.

If more than one-fifth of Web startups are social networking sites, as the Webware 100 indicates, then a service pooling together your various online identities should be pretty handy, just like Trillian is for instant messaging. 8hands is one of the latest services designed to coordinate social networking contacts (see YoName too). It grabs your buddies from Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, TypePad, YouTube, MySpace, WordPress, and LiveJournal and displays them in a floating, IM-sized window. This free, 8.5MB alpha app took about five minutes to download on Windows XP.

8hands is supposed to rank your pals according to how often they interact with you, but none of my contacts appeared in the Top 8 or Favorites panels, so I couldn't figure out how to chat with them. 8hands duplicated some contacts, too. It was kind of neat to be able to mouse over the faces of Twitter friends for their latest notes to pop up. But clicking on their messages took me to Twitter in a browser window, where I didn't feel like traveling. 8hands displays photos, videos, and RSS feeds from the accounts you've added, which was nice for glancing at thumbnails of my YouTube videos, but my Flickr photos didn't appear.

Unfortunately, I doubt that I'll need or want to return to 8hands. I'm admittedly not the ideal potential user. Since I refuse to use that crime against interface design known as MySpace, 8hands' lack of connectivity with Friendster, where I reluctantly keep an account, made me look so lonely in 8hands. It only asked off the bat for my Flickr and YouTube usernames. Oops, I entered the wrong YouTube alias, but then I couldn't edit it without deleting and re-entering anew. And alas, the only individual who tried to be my YouTube friend had a suspended account, probably for pestering strangers like me.

8hands will probably work with more services down the road; support for Bebo and Xanga is in the works, as is a Mac OS X edition. For now, to put contacts on the same page, Tabber was more practical than 8hands was, as it imports from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Outlook (and MySpace) without requiring a download. Because my individual e-mail accounts can do most of what Tabber does, however, I don't need it either.

What turned me off to 8hands the most is that it adds desktop shortcuts and starts up automatically unless you reject those settings during setup (sadly, so do Yahoo, Windows Live IM, and so many others). Even after I did that, the Settings menu of 8hands showed that it would run and sign me on the next time I turned on my PC. I wasn't reassured by the privacy policy either: "We share your information with third parties only in limited circumstances where we believe such sharing is (a) permitted by you, (b) reasonably necessary to offer the service, or (c) legally required."

To me, that means that in a worst case scenario, if marketers or government investigators start shaking 8hands, you shouldn't expect those sweet nothings in your IM messages to remain private. Nevertheless, the privacy policies of the individual social networking services that 8hands aggregates may be no better or worse. I hope that the makers of 8hands will offer better default privacy choices in the final product. There's plenty of room for change since it's not even in beta testing yet. And although I don't need 8hands to organize my virtual community, I bet that some promiscuous social networkers may find it fun and useful.