Monday, January 04, 2010

Keeping your "friends" list up-to-date

If you're reading this, chances are that you use at least three of four different social networking sites (or social bookmarking tools, microblogging services or other community sites) that let you “friend” or “follow” other people. I, for example, use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and XING.

LinkedIn and XING I’ve been using for years and I find both sites to be invaluable tools for finding, connecting and staying in touch with people, as well as for checking references. Over the years both LinkedIn and XING have allowed me to get in touch with numerous people who otherwise would have been hard to contact. I think both sites are particularly valuable for younger people who do not yet have a large professional network, e.g. first-time entrepreneurs looking for angel investors, employees or business partners. It took me a little longer to adopt Twitter but meanwhile it has become one of my primary sources for news (and I became a reasonably active Twitterer). Facebook I don’t use very actively but it allows me to “follow” (almost) everyone who doesn’t use Twitter.

The challenge that comes with using multiple social networking sites is, of course, that you want to stay on top of all sites without wasting too much time. Meanwhile there are plenty of solutions to aggregate the news feeds of various social networks at one location. You can even do that with Pageflakes, despite the fact that the site is somewhat outdated by now (just look for the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and XING Flakes in the Flake Gallery and add them to your page). However, to date I haven’t seen a single tool that automatically and easily keeps your friends list in synch across all sites.

What I’d like to be able to do is this: Whenever I make a new contact I’d like to check if the person is on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/XING and connect with him or her. The tool could be integrated into Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail and other desktop or web email applications. Right-clicking on any email address could bring up an “Add to my networks” option in addition to "Add to my address book".

Until someone develops a tool like this, here’s a workaround:
  1. Add all people who you’ve sent an email to to your address book.
    (Apple Mail lets you do that automatically if you choose “Previous recipients” in “Windows”. I don’t know if there’s a feature like this in Outlook, but there are some third-party tools that will do that for you. Gmail, as far as I know, automatically builds your address book based on the emails that you send and receive, right?).
  2. Export your address book to a file (e.g. .vcf).
  3. Upload your contact file to Facebook/LinkedIn/XING and choose the contacts that you want to connect with (make sure that you use the “See who’s already there” option as opposed to the “Invite” option to avoid spamming your whole address book with invitations!). Twitter unfortunately doesn’t let you upload contact files but you can upload your contact file to Gmail and have Twitter import your Gmail contacts (did I say it’s a workaround?).
  4. Repeat 1-3 every couple of weeks or months.

It’s not elegant, but it works, and at least it’s less effort than maintaining your contact lists manually. If you know a better solution, please leave a comment!
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