About.me: an antidote for a surplus of social networks

In my early teens I avidly consumed science-fiction short stories (particularly anthologies edited by Groff Conklin). One that sticks in my mind is A Subway Named Moebius, written in 1950 by US astronomer AJ Deutsch.

About.me: an antidote for a surplus of social networks

It concerned the New York subway system, which in some imagined future had been extended until its connectivity exceeded a critical threshold, so that when a new line was opened a train full of passengers disappeared into the fourth dimension, where it could be heard circulating but never arrived. The title is an allusion to the Moebius Strip, an object which is twisted in such a way that it has only a single side.

I half expect that one day I’ll click a link and be flipped into the fourth dimension

I’ve been reminded of this story often in the past few years, as I’ve joined more and more social networks and attempted to optimise the links between them all. My first, and still my favourite, is Flickr, to which I’ve been posting photos for five years. When I created my own website I put a link to my Flickr pictures on it, but that didn’t feel enough. I soon discovered that Google Sites supported photo galleries, and so I placed a feed from my Flickr photostream on a page of my site. Click on one of these pictures and you’re whisked across to Flickr.

Then I joined Facebook, and had to put links to Flickr and to my own site in my profile there. I started my own blog and of course wanted to attract visitors, so I started putting its address, along with that of my website, in my email signature. Again, this didn’t feel sufficient, so I scoured the lists of widgets on Blogger and discovered one that enabled me to put a miniature feed from my blog onto the home page of my website. Visitors could click on a post and be whisked over to the blog, while blog readers could click a link to my website.

Next came LibraryThing, a bibliographic site that permits you to list your book collection, share and compare it with other users. You might think this would take months of data entry, but the site is cleverly designed and connected to the librarians’ ISBN database, so merely entering “Conrad darkness” will find all the various editions of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and a single click on the right one enters all its details. I put more than 800 books up in a couple of free afternoons. It’s an interesting site for bookworms, particularly to find out who else owns some little-read tome. I suppose it was inevitable that LibraryThing would do a deal with Facebook, so I could import part of my library list onto my Facebook page, too.

I’ve often written about my addiction to Spotify, where I appear to have accumulated 76 public playlists containing more than 1,000 tracks: several friends are also users and we swap playlists occasionally. But then, you’ve guessed it, Spotify did a deal with Facebook, which made it so easy (just pressing a button) that I couldn’t resist. Now on the right-hand edge of my Spotify window appears a list of all my Facebook friends who are also on Spotify – including esteemed editor Barry Collins – and I can just click one to hear their playlists.

There are now so many different routes to get from each area of online presence to the others that I’ve lost count, and the chains of links often leave me wondering quite where I’ve ended up. I haven’t even mentioned LinkedIn, because it has so far refrained from integrating with Facebook (although, of course, my LinkedIn profile has links to my Flickr, blog and websites). And this is only the connectivity between my own sites: there’s an extra level of complexity concerning content, because almost every web page I visit offers buttons to share it with friends or to Facebook or wherever.

It’s all starting to feel like A Social Network Named Moebius, and I half expect that one day I’ll click a link and be flipped into the fourth dimension, where everything becomes dimly visible and no-one can hear me shouting. That’s why my interest was piqued a service called About.me. This site offers you a single splash page (free of charge) onto which you place buttons and links to all your various forms of web content, so a visitor to this page can click onto any of them.

Now I need only add about.me/dick.pountain to each email instead of a long list of blogs and sites. Easy-to-use tools let you design a reasonably attractive page and offer help submitting it to search engines – ideally it should become the first hit for your name in Google.

Built-in analytical tools keep track of visits, although whether it’s increased my traffic I couldn’t say – I’ve used the page so many times myself, instead of a dozen Firefox shortcuts.

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