In this post, I’ll discuss what I currently use on my N96 for social network interaction. Most of the apps mentioned should work fine on any other recent Symbian device and in the case of Java apps, on most non-Symbian devices as well. The three social networks I use most frequently are Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, so I’ll focus on these.
Twitter is the current darling of the social network world. Far simpler than the more populous Facebook or MySpace, Twitter simply asks users “what are you doing right now” in 140 characters or less (see my previous post on Microblogging). Twitter’s greatest strengths are it’s simplicity and the huge ecosystem of clients and services that have erupted around it’s open API. When I first joined Twitter, the service included free SMS updates to users around the world. Unfortunately, a couple of months ago this was scaled back to only include US users. As such, the mobile version of the site (m.twitter.com) and third party equivalents and applications have become essential to non-US Twitter users.
Up until very recently, there have been no native Symbian applications, but within a few days of each other two such applications were released. Gravity and Twittix are both high quality native Twitter clients, with support for multiple Twitter accounts, and all common Twitter activities such as replies, direct messages and favourites. The problem is, at around R50 for Twittix and R100 for Gravity, I just don’t believe their features set them apart enough from free Java based alternatives to warrant pulling out my credit card. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
Which brings me to my (free) preferred choices. If I happen to be browsing the web already (with the native browser, or the excellent Opera Mini), I’ll just use the standard mobile Twitter page, otherwise I start up Twibble. In all the months I have been using it (I first discussed it here), I’ve yet to find another mobile Twitter client that justifies switching. Twibble includes support for all the basics as well as submission of images via TwitPic (present in Gravity, but missing from Twittix). It also includes GPS support, allowing tweets to be prefixed with your geographic location, but this is somewhat obscure functionality that I’m yet find a real use for -and no, as cool as the Twitter/Google Maps mashup TwitterVision is, I don’t consider it a real use. The focus of this application is undoubtedly keeping things small and efficient -as is evidenced by avatars being disabled by default- and it weighs in at a measly 100k.
Another application I use occasionally for Twitter is Shozu. Since I last covered it’s use for Twitter, the clumsy per-contact view has been replaced with a more sensible timeline view. It also has support for TwitPic, which benefits from Shozu’s ‘upload once, send anywhere’ approach to media uploads.
I have little doubt that Facebook is the uncontested king of social networking in South Africa. It allows users to connect with past schoolmates, colleagues and just about anyone that will accept a friend request. Activities on the site are hugely varied (thanks again to third party extensibility), but I stick to the basics: status updates, wall posts, messages, photos and occasionally instant messaging. Most of this functionality is more than adequately covered by the mobile version of the site (m.facebook.com), with the two exceptions being instant messaging and photo uploads.
Shozu once again comes to the party for image uploading, allowing easy uploads of photos direct from the phone over any connection. I actually find this preferable to copying photos from the phone to a PC and then uploading them, especially when in the vicinity of a WiFi network. Shozu also has feeds of friends updates, though these are organized in a somewhat inconvenient manner.
Facebook Instant messaging functionality (along with just about every other kind of instant messaging AND voip) is handled perfectly by Nimbuzz. This great universal messaging software allows you to add your facebook ID and chat with other online facebook users in a clean, easy to use interface. Fring is another popular application that does the same job, but I find Nimbuzz to be more reliable and prefer it’s interface.
As popular as facebook is with the masses for sharing photos, I still prefer Flickr. Probably the best of the Yahoo! owned websites, Flickr places great emphasis on photos as the building blocks of a community. It includes fantastic ways to organize photographs, including massive amounts of additional information for each image, both added directly by users as tags and extracted from metadata within the image files themselves. It’s easy to lose oneself on Flickr, meandering through it’s many “explore” views which showcase some of the great photos users of the site have taken. Viewing content on Flickr is again best performed using their own mobile site (m.flickr.com), but uploading is better handled by third party apps.
Two good options exist on recent Nokia Symbian devices to upload content directly to Flickr. The first is Nokia’s Share Online, which is preinstalled on the phone. This is an incredibly easy way to upload photos and short videos to Flickr, with a shortcut on the standby screen (which displays new content notifications) and sharing options available in the gallery as well. Share online also downloads comments left on your photos, and can be used to view recent uploads by contacts on Flickr. This is an excellent addition by Nokia, and it’s only real shortfall is that it currently only supports sharing to Flickr, Vox and Nokia’s own Ovi.
If it supported facebook, and used the same bandwidth preserving approach as Shozu, I might be tempted to use Share online in Shozu’s place. As things stand, for Flickr my choice is once again Shozu. Flickr is one of the standard available destinations, and feeds are available for comments and recent uploads as well.
That’s all folks
These are just a handful of the methods that exist on modern phones for interacting with social networks, and I am by no means claiming they are the best, but they are the best suited to my needs right now. Ultimately, I would still like to see a native Symbian application that leverages it’s native advantages to integrate Twitter and Facebook messaging into the default messaging system, display friend updates on the status screen and facilitate efficient uploading of media to all sites from the standard gallery.
This weekend we’ll be heading out to the lowveld for a bit of R & R. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to put Nokia Maps to use and do a bit of geocaching. If so, I’ll have a post on it next week. Otherwise, expect a full review on Shozu, which is long overdue if I look at how heavily I use it.