While Twitter seems to be ruling the airwaves of Social Messaging Platforms, there are plenty of other services that do just as well (or better) at keeping in touch with or sending messages and status updates to your friends, colleagues and family. These services can be broken out into different segments: services that just provide status updates and ones that are considered micro-blogging. There are nuances and slight distinctions between the two but it seems like they have been blending more and more. For example, on Facebook, Plaxo, MySpace, you can post a status update and also post other messages using other components (more micro-blogging). With LinkedIn, you are limited to simple status updates (that will probably change soon). And with other more social networking tools like:
the communication takes on short (e.g., 140 character) messages where the senders can be followed or be-friended (sort of a combination of status updates and micro-blogging).
The problem is, these social messaging and communication tools are growing quickly, with new ones popping up weekly. The latest two hot ones seem to be Plurk and Identi.ca and there will most likely be a newer, “better” one soon or an enhancement to a service like FriendFeed. It is impossible to keep up with all of them, so you need to decide which one suits you better for your needs. For many, Facebook is the only option, for others Twitter via SMS/text is the fastest and most effective method. Personally, I use Twitter for most quick communications (I’m @hightechdad for those who want to follow), but I do post to other services depending on my needs (look for “hightechdad” on those as well). I use Twitter mainly as as way to communicate business messages, ask questions about technology, provide tips and tech trick, send quick personal messages to acquaintances and just generally vent about one thing or another.
However, sometimes I use two services to “bulk send” some updates and communications: Ping.fm and HelloTxt.com but I use these sparingly. You have to realize that if you send out to multiple services, you may have to go back and check each of these services individually for replies, otherwise, you might lose some replies or even your credibility. The two mentioned above have been around for a while. I tried Hello.txt last year and at that time it wasn’t moving very quickly and I moved to Ping.fm because of its integrations that it already had under its belt. Now I’m back to Hello.txt.
Anyway, let’s get right down to it. Which one should you use? Look at the features. As of this writing, the two services continue to leapfrog each other. There are a few features that make one better than the other, but that seems to change week to week and it is really more subject to personal preference. So, in order to make this review a bit more timeless, I will touch on some things you should look for when evaluating these services (or new ones) for your mass messaging needs (and evaluate these two in the process).
Understand the Offerings
Read the site descriptions and see what they claim to offer:
Ping.fm – “Ping.fm is a simple service that makes updating your social networks a snap.” Drilling down:
Use AIM, GTalk, iGoogle, WAP, iPhone/iPod Touch, SMS or E-mail and let Ping.fm relay your message to a multitude of social networking sites.
Hello.txt – “HelloTxt::We are Status.” More details:
HelloTxt is an aggregate of microblogging services through which the user can insert their messages on all main microblogging services in a simply and simultaneous way.
Pretty similar, no? Let’s continue!
Review the services that each of these can communicate with as they seem to change regularly. Here is what is supported as of this writing:
- Ping.fm – 12 Services (most major ones)
- Hello.txt – 21 Services (most major ones and many non-US ones)
Check the screenshots below for a current snapshot of what is available as of this writing.
Hello.txt seems to have more networks available however, if you aren’t on them or familiar with them, it might be a bit useless trying to subscribe to (and manage) all of them. Both services can post to: Brightkite, Facebook, Jaiku, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Plurk, Pownce, Tumblr and of course Twitter. Identi.ca was just recently added.
Both services shorten lengthy URLs automatically as well (using their own domain tools for this and not tinyurl.com or snurl.com) so you don’t have to worry about your posts consisting of just a long URL.
Look Beyond Just Posting
Another critical thing to look for is if the service is trying to do more than simply hook into these other Social platforms for posting your statuses or messages. Both Ping.fm and HelloTxt.com will continue to try to “one-up” each other. One difference right off the bat is the ability to customize which set of Social Networks receive your messages. With Ping.fm, you can create custom groups for various types of services. With Hello.txt, one is able to select and de-select individual services per post.
Another big difference between these two is the fact that HelloTxt.com seems to be making a play at having two-way communications. They have a section of their site called “Status Snap” which actually pulls in updates from two of the popular social sites (Twitter & Facebook) with others promised to be added soon. This is the first step towards making this a full two-way aggregator.
On the other hand, Ping.fm opens its API for integrations as well as offering an ability to post updates to a custom URL. A smart developer could then create a script that parses the Ping.fm messages for further use elsewhere.
Mobile (iPhone) Interface
Another test in my book was that of a mobile application or interface. Many times you have to update statuses or communicate out while you are on the go so it is important that whichever service you choose has a good, solid and robust mobile offering. In this category, the current version of Hello.txt wins for me namely because you can do a lot more with what you have. Ping.fm takes a different approach by sticking to what it claims to do best, simply post a message.
Hello.txt provides more of a mini site that mirrors the functionality of the main site fairly closely.
- You can access Ping.fm’s iphone interface here and the mobile/WAP interface here
- You can access HelloTxt.com’s mobile interface here.
Other Methods for Posting Updates
Both services provide a personal email address that will accept status updates so there is nothing unique there. HelloTxt.com lets you send an email with an image attachment for inclusion in your posts. Ping.fm promises to have both video and images soon.
However, Ping.fm does offer the ability to post messages via a variety of other methods including: AOL IM, Google Talk (GTalk), Yahoo! Messenger, iGoogle Gadget, and a Facebook application (note: HelloTxt.com has a Facebook application as well).
Which One is Best?
This really depends on what you need to do. I’m currently tending to lean towards Hello.txt because of the two-way nature of it, however it doesn’t support Instant Messaging posts (yet). Ping.fm is currently in Beta but you can get in on the action by using “dreamofping” for a beta code. Hello.txt seems to be open to public registration but still listed as in Beta as well.
The bottom line is, it seems to be a personal choice. There are advantages to both but just remember that you need to use them wisely and not wildly (unless you only want to spam out to these networks). HelloTxt. com is based in Italy and Ping.fm is based in the US. Both seem to be reliable and under active development.
If anyone has any newcomers that they would like to add to the list, feel free to add a comment to this post. Obviously this is not an in-depth comparison but it should give you enough information and analysis to make you potentially dangerous within the Social Networking and Messaging areas.
HTD says: Look to Social Messaging and Status aggregators and communicators to get your updates out to an even larger audience easily.