Friday, February 12, 2010

Comparing StatusUpdater and WildFire

I am sure there are many people like me who try to stay involved on several different micro-blogging sites. This can be difficult and so it is good to find tools which can help. Both WildFire and Status Updater are Notes/Sametime sideshelf plugins which allow users to read and write to several micro-blogging platforms at the same time. This blog post compares the two tools.

Just in case you think I have a conflict of interest, I should declare that I was involved with an IBM internal project to develop MicroBlogCentral (MBC) that was later released to OpenNTF under the name Status Updater. It seems that there was a totally independent effort carried out by a business partner in Australia to develop a similar tool which they called WildFire which seems at first glance to be very similar. Both tools offer you an option to configure several micro-blogging accounts on different services and then you can enter a status update into a text box and have that status update automatically posted to whichever micro-blogging services you choose.

However, there are a number of aspects where they differ:
  • Widlfire supports significantly more services than Status Updater. Status Updater can only support Twitter, Sametime and Lotus Connections services, while Wildfire also supports Bebo, Facebook, GTalk, PingFM. Plurk, Tumblr and WordPress. Even I don't have accounts on all the services that Wildfire supports, so I wasn't able to test them all. It seemed to work fine for me on Lotus Connnections, Facebook, Sametime and Twitter, but I couldn't get it working on PingFM (this is probably a configuration error on my behalf).
  • To be fair the IBM internal version of Status Updater does also support BlueTwit, Fringe and Beehive/SocialBlue, but this is hardly of interest to people outside of IBM.
  • A really significant advantage of Wildfire is that it supports multiple instances of a service. This means that you can use it to post to two different Twitter accounts (e.g. if you have a personal Twitter account and you also post to your company's official Twitter Feed). It also means that you can participate on more than one implementation of Lotus Connections (e.g. you might interact with different communities on the Bleed Yellow and Lotus Live sites).
  • A big limitation of Wildfire is that although you can use it to send updates to several sites, it only presents to you your friends updates from Twitter. In contrast Status Updater shows you updates from all of the services you have configured. There is a drop down menu which users can choose what exactly is presented in the windows (although I suspect many people don't realize that this menu exists so I show a picture of it below)

  • In general the Status Updater UI is more smooth than that of Widlfire - this is probably due to the fact that the originator of the project works for IBM's UX team. For example
    • It provides a system tray icon for rapid access when Notes/Sametime is minimized.
    • When you click on a username, you will be navigated to a list of that person's status updates presented within the plugin UI rather than launching a separate browser window.
    • Status updates from each of the services appear with a different background colour so you can see at a glance which service a message was posted upon.
    • For the Lotus connections updates you see an indication of how many people have commented on the status update and with a click you can read these comments and add your own (again without leaving the plugin's UI).
  • The following screenshots give you a quick idea of what the Status Updater UI looks like. The updates with a light blue background are from the IBM internal BlueTwit system, the updates with a Yellow background are from BeeHive/SocialBlue (another IBM internal system) and the updates with a dark blue background are from Twitter. I obscured some of the text to protect confidentiality, but I left in some text to give you a flavour of how the platform is used:

  • The Wildfire UI uses icons which are not intuitive and hence I find very hard to remember what they do without hovering over them and getting the tool-tip to appear. Another problem I have with the Windfire UI is the way it presents whether or not an update has successfully been posted. After you click the submit bin you see a nifty icon beside each service you selected indicating that Wildfire is trying to post your update to the service. When the update is completed the icon changes to a tick if it was successful or a big red X when it fails for any reason - the trouble is that the X or tick goes away after about 2 seconds so if you are not keeping your eyes on the screen you can easily miss the status notification and hence might not realize that a status update failed to register. The sequence of screenshots below illustrate how it looks (which is great except for the fact that the status disappears so quickly).

  • Wildfire was developed with windows support only in mind (a big minus for a Linux fan like me). However, it is actually just the configuration process which is Windows specific. It would not be hard to make the application work across all platforms (I posted a note to their forum telling them how to do this so hopefully they will pick up on this).
  • Another difference at the code level is that Status Updater has a clean division between the code application and the plugins providing support for each of the services. This means that support for additional servcies can be developed independently of the core application. On the other hand, having the code split into several plugins does make it slightly more complex - not only for the developers, but also for the users who will need to install several plugins to get the same functionality.
Either of these tools could definitely be useful for someone who wants to be active on more than one micro-blogging platform. As you can see both tools have significant areas where they are stronger than the other. Therefore I can't reach a definitive conclusion about which tool to recommend and each user would need to decide based upon which requirements are more important to them. I would guess that many IBM internal people would prefer Status Updater because of its slightly smoother UI and its support for the IBM internal platforms. Most others would probably choose Wifdfire because its platform coverage is so much more extensive.

Personally I would love to see the two projects merging to produce a tool which combines the best of both. I have spoken with Jessica who is the main developer behind Status Updater and she is in favor of this idea. I will renew my efforts to contact the people involved in the WildFire project to see if I can insterest them in such a merger.

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