The looming crisis: Personal syndication overload

Four publishing tools, three blogs, six microblogs, and two aggregators. It's enough to drive a guy insane.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

Today, for kicks, I tried to draw a map of all the places I write content, all the places it is displayed, and all the intermediate services that re-post my content in places other than where I originally write it. It's a spaghetti of interlinked services, and it's becoming unmanageable. I think it's just dumb luck that I haven't created an infinite loop of republishing so far. Adding one more service could push things over the edge.

Although my profession is creating content and publishing it, my problem is hardly unique. I post a few times a day on Webware and Twitter, and I contribute to some other blogs and podcasts, and once in awhile I update Delicious and Flickr. But compared with some people in non-publishing jobs my output is modest. There are people active on multiple personal content services like Facebook, Digg, Vox, Blogger, and Youtube that produce more content than I do, and they're also using republishing services to make sure that all their friends, on all their networks, see all their content.

It shouldn't be this complicated (click for full-size). Rafe Needleman / CNET

The challenge is keeping track of all the connections between services. It's a tangle, as I said: I have Friendfeed republishing my Twitter posts. Ping.fm, which I often use to post to Twitter (and thus, to Friendfeed), could just as easily publish to Friendfeed directly. I just happened to set up the Friendfeed-Twitter link before I started using Ping.fm. I have Ping.fm updating several other nanoblog feeds, like Jaiku, Pownce, and Plurk. Meanwhile, my Webware article feed (just my stories) is read into Friendfeed and directly by Jaiku. I do not feed Webware into Twitter directly; I use a republisher called Twitterfeed. I am also using Twitterfeed to republish my ProPRTips blog into Twitter, which is strategic, since I get more readers for that blog's content on Twitter than the blog gets itself.

Twhirl, a desktop client for Twitter and Friendfeed that I dearly love, updates only one site at a time, so I can use it to send Twitter posts to either my main Twitter account or other specialized accounts I occasionally write to. Friendfeed reads in only what I write in my main Twitter account, though. And since Twhirl does not update other services I use, like Jaiku and Plurk, when I use Twhirl I need to be mindful that some of my followers on these other networks aren't going to see the posts.

It gets worse. Each of the sites my content ends up on (partial list: Webware, News.com, ProPRTips, Swagalicio.us, Twitter, Friendfeed, Jaiku, Identi.ca, Pownce, Kwippy, Flickr, Delicious, Digg) has its own communities. And I never know where a conversation will take hold. Since I'm most active on Webware, Twitter, and Friendfeed, I check those services more frequently. Sometimes something I write will spark a conversation on one, sometimes another. There's no telling. (By the way, Plurk gets a decent share of community action; every time I go there I think I should check in more frequently.) Disqus can do a lot of discussion bridging between blogs, but one thing it doesn't do is bridge communities between the microblog sites.

I am, so far, managing to keep most of these connections in my head, but I fear that if I sleep for more than nine hours I could forget how my network is put together. I could look at my sketch. But we really shouldn't need network maps to keep track of what we're doing where, should we?

So this is my challenge to the Web 2.0 community: Solve the personal content and community problem. Take the multi-publishing chops of Ping.fm, the aggregation features of Friendfeed, the republishing capability of Twitterfeed (with more functions, please), and the discussion aggregation of Disqus, and put it all together into one simple, easy-to-maintain product that acts as a hub for publishing, reading, and community in all these services. And while you're at it, make sure you don't steal traffic or community from the services you're front-ending; they all have personalities we want to keep alive.

Or should I drop it all and just write e-mail newsletters instead?