Jaiku – Reviewed by PC Magazine

Jaiku is a Twitter microblogging site that looks good and works well, but the number of phones it works with is too limited, and some of the design choices seem contradictory.

Good-looking Web 2.0 design. Cool “presence” features let followers know your exact location. Easy to stream content to your blog.

Posts get their own pages but can be only 100 characters max. Very limited cell-phone support. IM-posting support very limited. Posting via text requires a European number.

This Twitter-style microblogging, moblogging site is a study in contradictions. It claims to be about letting your friends or coworkers know not only what you’re doing but also where you are (your “presence”) via its mobile component—yet phone support is pretty limited. And though posts have a smaller size limit than Twitter, Jaiku more closely resembles a real blog site in that posts get their own pages, where comments can be added.

Jaiku’s interface looks a bit more polished and more “Web 2.0” than Twitter’s, but in many ways the two are nearly identical. Standout differences in addition to the post page and comments: It lets you add RSS feeds from your blog or photo site and has some nifty location capabilities (if your phone works with it).

Getting going with Jaiku involves three main steps: creating your “mini-blog,” adding contacts, and setting up your mobile phone. If you just want to see all public posts without even signing up, click on Explore from the menu at the top of the Jaiku home page.

When you sign up for an account, the screen name you choose will be used for your Jaiku URL in the form name.jaiku.com. Right from the first sign-up screen, you can choose whether to make your Jaiku mini-blog visible to the public or hide it. If you choose to hide, only your accepted contacts will see your posts. It’s all or nothing: You can’t choose to have some posts public and others private.

Next you add a portrait of yourself—you can either upload your own, which can be any size—Jaiku will resize and crop it—or choose one of the animal heads provided by Jaiku to represent yourself. Oddly, at setup, you’re not asked for your location, only at the top of a right-hand sidebar for your main page. And you can change it at any time.

Then you’re asked for your mobile number. At this stage in the setup, you don’t get a Next choice, but only a “Send your activation message.” I’d have liked an additional choice to skip this and start adding contacts. Mobile setup is further complicated by Jaiku’s being based in Helsinki. U.S. users need a Nokia S60 series phone, a java smartphone (not common for U.S. phones), or a mobile Web browser. If none of these are available to you, there’s a European phone number you can text your Jaikus to after activating your mobile number. I can’t imagine many U.S. users are going to want to pay for international text messaging just for this service. At least Twitter has a U.S. text number.

What Can Jaiku Do?

If you are able to use Jaiku on your phone, you’ll be able to browse and add Jaiku posts, let others know your availability, and show your location, based on cell towers—pretty cool. Those Jaiku-ers who have Bluetooth can show their proximity to each other. For Nokia S60 series users, the Jaiku app integrates with your phone address book. If you have a phone with an actual Web browser, such as the iPhone, you can access the mobile version of the Jaiku Web site at m.Jaiku.com.

Jaiku can import your contacts from Hotmail, Gmail, or Jabber if you enter your log-in for those accounts. Alternatively, you can upload an address file in TXT or CSV format, or just enter a list of e-mail addresses. The service will check if any of the contacts are already signed up, and it will offer to send an invitation to join. A “Who you might know” option suggests contacts, but users in the resulting list seem to be randomly selected. One Jaiku suggested for me was in my location (New York), but the next was from South Africa, and another listed his location as “Space.”

Just like Twitter, Jaiku uses the concept of contacts and “followers.” Contacts are people you add and allow to see all your posts. You can choose to receive notifications whenever someone you’re following adds a post to his Jaiku stream. These can be sent to your cell phone, e-mail, or IM account—frankly, I’m not a fan of cluttering any of these inboxes with more sources. Though you can’t create separate groups of contacts for private group message boards, you can create or subscribe to “Channels,” separate Jaiku streams on a common topic. These are open for anyone on Jaiku to subscribe and post to (though this could change, as the feature is still in beta).

Posts are limited to a mere 100 characters and will display on their own pages, where other users can add comments. Comments? I thought these Twitter-type sites were comments. It seems mighty odd that comments on a post can be longer than the post itself. To be fair, this feature actually was useful to me: I asked a question in a short post, and someone from the Jaiku team responded in a comment, starting a little forum-type discussion. So one use for the service might be as a lightweight version of Yahoo! Answers, Answerbag, or Microsoft’s upcoming Live QnA Beta. Pownce also lets you add replies, but it doesn’t limit the length of the original post, which makes more sense to me.

 

IM, RSS, HTML

You can send posts to Jaiku from an instant-messaging program, but this capability is restricted to Google Talk, LiveJournal, and Jabber—not very useful, as the list omits the biggies—AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger. To post via IM, you add the address jaiku@jaiku.com to your contacts and send it an instant message with your username and password to log in. After this, any IMs you send to it will become Jaiku posts. If you want to post via one of the more popular IM services that Jaiku doesn’t support, a neat Web service called IMified can help. (IMified is basically an IM robot that presents a text menu of options for posting to other sites with the requisite APIs.) Oddly, posting via e-mail is not an option. This seems like an oversight to me, but it’s worth noting that Twitter has the same limitation.

You can also set up a Web feed to create posts from your blog, your photostream on Flickr, or any RSS or Atom source. (Your Jaiku stream can, in turn, be subscribed to by others as its own feed, too.) I successfully added feeds from my Flickr account and my LiveJournal blog, the first using RSS 2.0 and the latter Atom 1.0, and posts from those sources soon appeared on my Jaiku page. With feeds from Flickr, a thumb of the first picture in your stream appears on your Jaiku stream; this links to your Flickr page instead of being hosted on Jaiku. I don’t really see the point of generating posts from a feed in this kind of site: If the point is to broadcast your presence and immediate activities or thoughts, it doesn’t make sense to have the stream filled with external RSS material. But I do prefer the way Jaiku (and Pownce) handle images—linking to the real photo site—over the photo capabilities of yappd, which shrinks your uploaded pictures and stores them on its own servers.

Keeping with its theme of using every connecting technology it can lay its hands on, Jaiku offers HTML code for badges, Jaiku’s term for the gadgets that let you add your Jaiku stream to your blog. Three options are available: Stream, Map, and Simple. Stream shows your latest few posts in a 330-pixel high window, Map shows your last post with your location on a world map, and Simple just shows your last post. In another backward-priority-seeming design choice, you can customize background colors for these with an even friendlier interface than the one used to customize your main Jaiku page: You get a choice of color schemes rather than just a text box asking for a hexadecimal color code.

Jaiku seems to have a bit of an identity crisis: It limits posts to 100 characters yet aspires to be more blog-like than Twitter by giving posts their own pages and allowing comments. It claims to be all about “presence,” while offering feed support, which will fill your posts with external (and often not very timely) content. It touts its cell-phone integration, yet support is limited to a very narrow selection of phone models, and there’s only a European phone number for sending posts from nonsupported phones. Still, if Jaiku can find a real, defined purpose, its admirable design and technology base will serve it well.

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2 Responses to Jaiku – Reviewed by PC Magazine

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