Full disclosure: AOL is indeed our benevolent overlord. However, Download Squad bloggers are under no obligation to speak kindly of their products or applications.
AOL Lifestream is an excellent app -- and it's certainly a far cry from the clunky, over-designed browser and dial-up software you used to see given away on floppy disks. Ahh, the good old days -- which are gone, and really weren't that great if you're comparing dial-up to DSL, cable, or fiber. Moving on!
Lifestream is a solid social networking aggregator. With support for key social sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Delicious, and now Foursquare, Lifestream presents a clean, simple way to keep tabs on all your friends' activity in one centralized location. While Lifestream might be a bit underpowered for social superstars, It's an excellent choice for average users -- as well as savvy users who don't need a more complex app.
Already available via the web and in the App Store, AOL has now added an extension for Google Chrome. While it's not going to transform Chrome into the super-social browsing experience that Flock 3 presents, the Lifestream extension is still a very handy way to keep your entire stream within easy reach without being distracted by it.
Let's start with my one gripe about the extension: it's slow to load. Pretty much every other Google Chrome extension I've tried out appears instantly after I click its icon. Lifestream, on the other hand, takes between three to five seconds to appear. That needs to be addressed -- users don't like to wait, and they don't like it when UI elements don't respond the way they want them to.
Beyond that, the Lifestream extension is pretty slick. Your stream is presented in a scrollable window with filtering and sharing options. You can post multi-network updates and share URLs, view trending topics, and view your account settings. Currently there's no support for files, so you can't share pictures or videos via the extension -- hopefully that will come later. Lifestream does allow you to comment on/reply to updates that appear in your stream, and retweeting is supported as well.
For users who are looking for a way to keep the conversation going on multiple networks and don't require some of the heavyweight features you find on apps like Seesmic Web, Lifestream is a good option -- I just hope they do something about the sluggish startup.
There's also added support for desktop notifications in Google Chrome, which you can see in my screenshot. They're an incredibly useful way to know when your Seesmic tabs needs attention. Yfrog has been added to your image posting options, and a number of other interface refinements (like color-coded direct mentions) have been made as well.
The update also brings a significant speed boost to Seesmic. The momentary lag I used to notice (especially in Firefox 4) is now totally gone, and Seesmic is zippier than ever.
If you've got a Facebook page, I've got more good news for you. Now that Seesmic has bolted on initial support for Facebook, Loic Le Meur informed me that page support is he's been wanting as well -- and that it's coming "very soon."
For more info about the refresh, check out Seesmic's blog post. Not seeing the changes in your browser? Hit the refresh button, or close and restart -- that should do the trick!
Why? Because the new version is really good. I was more than a little put off by Flock 2. Apart from a Mozilla-based core which felt sluggish in comparison to other browsers, the user interface was a bit too cluttered for me. In the new v3 beta, Flock has switched powerplants -- moving to Google's Chromium -- and concentrated on a clean, minimal interface.
Using the same code base as Google Chrome obviously brings a big increase in speed, but Flock has built in a number of enhancements that offer some serious advantages over Chrome if you're a serious social networker. Like what, you ask?
For starters, there's the awesome sidebar I've outlined in the header image. Sure, there are plenty of Chrome extensions which add a little drop-down display of your Twitter or Facebook streams, but Chrome doesn't have sidebar support out-of-the-box. Flock coded it from scratch, and it's a fantastic addition.
Flock's sidebar can display activity from the people you follow on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as well as RSS feeds. It's worth pointing out that Flock also decided to include RSS feed detection out-of-the-box -- something I'm still shocked Google hasn't built in to Chrome yet. You have complete control over what's displayed in the activity bar. Don't want to see Facebook tagging or pokes? Not concerned with comments on your YouTube vids? Uncheck 'em and they're gone.
There's also a search box that displays matches from your activity as you type, and you can click the drop down menu to switch between specific sites or groups (which we'll take a look at next).
The drag-and-drop goodness doesn't stop with grouping people, however. Your friends probably have multiple accounts, and Flock lets you stack those on a single card if you want. Below, I've got Jay's twitter feed on its own. Vic's, on the other hand, I've combined with his Facebook feed -- making it easy to find all his updates
One more excellent addition to Flock is this:
And, yes, Flock does support Chrome extensions and Incognito (which they've renamed Stealth) mode is available.
With a solid, speedy browser core and some innovative (and seriously cool) features bolted on, the Flock team has really put together an excellent third version. If you enjoy Google Chrome and you're a heavy Twitter or Facebook user, you really should take the new version for a spin.
View Thru is a neat extension for Google Chrome that lets you instantly see what's hiding behind a shortened link. You simply hover over the link (say, http://is.gd/bJoc7) and get an instant tooltip showing you where it's leading. When I tested it, the tooltip really was instant -- I did not have to wait at all. I tested it both with TinyURL and is.gd, and it worked equally well on both.
The shortened URL must be an active link, though -- it doesn't work when it's just text on the page. View Thru has earned a five-star rating in the Chrome extension gallery, and I can see why.
Chrome: If you've ever wanted to see what people are saying about a web page you're visiting beyond the site's own comments, Chrome extension Twitter Reactions will show you the most recent tweets that are talking about the page.
The idea isn't unlike other universal commenting systems, like Google Sidewiki—but instead of just seeing the comments of Google Toolbar users, you can see what the entire Twitterverse is saying about the page that you're on. It takes a bit of filtering with all the retweets or simple linking going on on Twitter, but it's definitely interesting to see what people are saying beyond the site's integrated comments and who's linking to it—especially if it's your own site or blog (you might be surprised how many people have linked to you on Twitter!).
Don't you just love it when you find a way to make something good even better? Remember the Milk is a fantastic online task management application, and here are a couple of browser extensions that make it even better if you're using Firefox or Chrome.
Both of these extensions have existed in some form in Firefox for a while, but they have both recently been released for Chrome, and they're worth investigating for either platform if you haven't already.
A Bit Better RTM
Geez, Google really wants you to install its toolbar, right? They usually introduce new web features, like their goo.gl URL shortener, into it first, leaving developers to figure out non-toolbar executions. Luckily, a webapp and Chrome extension are on it.
Digital Inspiration points us toward both a webapp that spits out a goo.gl URL in one click, after pasting in a full URL first (don't forget the http:// bit, or you'll get an empty result). If that's a bit too much work for tossed-off links, and you're a Chrome user, you can install the goo.gl shortener extension and do your link shortening with a toolbar button.
The appeal of goo.gl-shortened links is their theoretical longevity, but, at the moment, they lack the statistics and tracking that makes the de facto standard, bit.ly, widely appealing. We'll see what improvements come along, but for now, you can grab Google's server re-direction benefits without having to keep their toolbar installed.
Here is an extended tutorial about updating Twitter status (posting to Twitter) from Google Chrome Omnibar (URL bar). The result feature is somewhat similar posting to Twitter from Firefox's address bar using TwitterBar extension/add-on for Firefox.
1. Make sure that you have the latest Google Chrome version. We used the latest Google Chrome 22.214.171.124 BETA for this tutorial.
2. Open "Options" from the settings button on the top right corner: