Monday, June 02, 2008

How many channels is enough - or is there a limit?

When looking at all the Internet communication services and sites that we are using - the picture is very fragmented. Lately I have been questioning myself why I really use this and this service - and is it really serving the purpose for me?

When you have certain unified peer group (e.g. school class, or group of university mates) the choice is easy - you use the service(s) your friends are using.

That was also my situation in the university, we all did hang around on IRC channels a lot. Most of us did not even have cell phones yet. The IRC channel and emails did most of the things that the SMS:es, microblogs and facebooks do today: Casual chats, keeping friends up-to-date, agreeing on place to eat, drink or whatever. OK, it was very nerdy at the time and even then was not for everybody.

Now as many many years have gone and people and life has gone its own way for everybody. From my perspective there are numerous small peer groups which still randomly overlap. Interaction with the friends is more one-to-one, or with the families. Obviously the need for keeping everybody tightly informed and involved is not there anymore.

To approach the answers of why? and does it work? Lets list the used channels first:

To start with, there's email - the Killer Application of the Internet. My personal emailings are infrequent but they usually weigh a lot. Couple of old friendships have stayed alive the couple of last years just by couple e-mails a year.

For IM at home, we use Skype and MSN Messenger. Skype handles also the occasional needs for the voice and video chats to the grandparents and friends abroad. While using the gmail, the GTalk/XMPP is also there. Occasionally I also log to IRC and drop couple lines on good old channels. The IM use is usually short dialogs and sharing links. It is not uncommon to chat with some even close friends much more often than call or SMS. So, counting these ways together there's four separate channels in addition to email.

We keep a family blog, mostly filled with pictures and stories of our daughter. In addition to that I occasional post non-family-related things here. Adding two more "channels" to the previous.

Come the social networking sites. Only LinkedIn and Facebook have really picked some traction with me. I've used the former networking with professional and latter with non-professional contacts (some of them are in both). I have not invited any of my friends or acquaintances to these services, only added or responded to people who are already there - the result is that only less than half the people I know are listed in these services.. In any case, two additional channels here.

Come the microblogging. My first touch to it was Jaiku, to which my colleague invited me say two years ago. I did not find almost any of my friends there at the time and that kind of sizzled. Now couple months back I picked up twitter, first to follow some tech discussions there, then I started to occasionally post my life notes there coupled with the Facebook status message. I had also the Jaiku account active and noted that on Jaiku there are more people connected which I actually know in person. Couple days back I decided to use Jaiku as my "primary microblog channel" and leave twitter cough about its capacity problems in the background. So, there are two additional channels added to the list here.

Counting these with my fingers and one toe I get 11 (eleven!) different internet communication services which are more or less in use for me. I am sure I have forgotten some obvious services - but even this number seems to be a bit too much..

So which subset of these I really need - what could be ideal for me? Only thing that is sure that there's some room for convergence.

To avoid too long single posts I continue this monolog in an another one later on.

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