Simplify Your Social Networking

Facebook. Google+. Twitter. LinkedIn. Social networks like these aim to keep you connected with friends, family members, business colleagues, and even interesting celebrities (Hello, @aplusk).

But keeping track of them all can be a hassle. The more networks you engage with, the tougher it gets to keep tabs on your networks’ activities. So many feeds, so little time. It even gets tricky to share your own activities, what with tweeting here, updating your status there, and so on.

Fortunately, there are ways to rein in your social networks, to access multiple feeds under one convenient browser- or software-based roof. The tool that makes this possible is called an aggregator; it signs in to your various accounts and presents all the content in one window (often spread out across several panes).

For example, Sobees is a free, Web-based service that links to your Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter accounts. The first time you use it, you’ll need to sign into those accounts, effectively giving Sobees access to your data. With that step done, you’ll see your feeds side-by-side, where you can interact with them just as if you were viewing Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter directly.

You can read your friends’ comments, send out your own updates, review your profiles, reply to posts, “like” a Facebook update, send a direct message to a Twitter contact, and so on. Best of all, you can update your status across multiple services, thus saving you from having to type the same blurb two or three times.

Then there’s Digsby, which started out as a cross-platform instant-messaging program, but has evolved to include social network management. With Digsby you can view feeds from Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and/or Twitter. You can receive alerts about new friend requests, messages, and the like. And, of course, you can update your status across multiple services. The program is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

What about Google+? It’s conspicuously absent from most aggregators, but if you use the service, you’re not without options. With Crossrider’s Google+Facebook browser extension you can access your Facebook feed within Google Plus. And the similar Google+Tweet works the same magic with Twitter.

Finally, let’s talk mobile. Instead of bouncing back and forth between your Facebook, Twitter, and other social network apps, try an aggregator like Taptu. Available for Android, iOS, and RIM Playbook, this free app pulls in your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds. (It can also mix in feeds from news sources like NPR and PC World.) It’s a great way to keep tabs on your friends’ activities — and share your own — while you’re on the go.

By now you’re probably wondering if there are any security risks associated with using a social network aggregator. After all, you’re allowing third-party apps and services to access your accounts — and all (or at least some) of the personal data therein.

As a general rule, the aggregators themselves pose no risk — but there are potential pitfalls associated with social networks themselves. For example, it’s risky to share any personal information (like an address, phone number, or vacation plans) in a tweet or status update. And you should never click suspicious links, even those seemingly recommended by friends. Hackers routinely target Facebook and Twitter accounts, then share malicious links under the guise of lines like, “Hey, this is so cool, check it out!”

It’s also a good idea to use a different password for each social network. That way, if one account gets compromised, others won’t be. And more than anything else, make sure to have robust security software, which can protect you (and your socially active kids) from phishing links, identity theft, malware-infested websites, and objectionable content.

Keeping up with all of your social networks doesn’t have to be a hassle. With reliable protection and a good aggregator, you can enjoy a safe, simple online experience with your circles of friends.

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