Product Type: dotSyntax in Communication
Newest Review: ... and Social Networks and to keep you posted "instantly" about all of the updates to each. Your starting point is the Digsby web... more
UPDATED: All together now...
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 03/10/09, updated on 01/12/09 (125 review reads)
Advantages: Centralisation of advice about updates to your favourite online services
Disadvantages: Some interfaces are a bit clunky ; not portable at this time
I was suddenly taken aback the other day when I realised just how many different online communications services I used. I have five email accounts though I actually only use four of them. I have four IM accounts though I only use two of them, and one of those is Facebook Chat. I am registered with five social networks though only use two of them regularly. And then there's Dooyoo as well, which doesn't fall into any of those categories.
So, how do you keep up with all the updates to all of these services? I'm sure I'm not alone in this dilemma. As with many faced with the same problem, I am looking for the perfect solution. My perfect solution is something which is easy to use, not too intrusive, covers as broad a spectrum of services as possible and is portable, in other words, something I can run from a thumb drive.
This last is a habit born of my long-term use of the Thunderbird email client. Yes, all of the email services I use also provide webmail access and, true, you can simply leave all your email "out there". I, however, prefer to remove my email from potentially prying eyes, to Portable Thunderbird, where I can, if required, browse it offline. This, of course, doesn't apply to Hotmail as MS insists on keeping you Hotmail email on its servers, even if you use Windows Live Mail.
My first dalliance with agglomerated services involved just IM and was very much restricted to portable solutions. There are centralised IM services such as eBuddy, which are purely web-based and I'm sure they work very well; my son uses that one at work. I wanted something I could load onto my thumb drive.
I looked at Trillian and it was a reasonable tool, until they upgraded to the latest release, which now uses their central services to consolidate your IM conversations rather than just a local client. I then tried Pidgin (formerly Gaim), which has the advantage of being purely client based but has usability issues I don't like. So, whilst the new Trillian seemed to offer a reasonable compromise (local client accessing Trillian's servers), if that has to be the way to go then why stop there? Why not look for something that consolidates all services, not just IM?
Now, first, before you say, "Ah, but..." yes, I know, Digsby isn't portable... yet. There are several threads on the Digsby Forum about this and the Digsby Developers have said it's something on which they are working. Several interim solutions have been proposed but as yet I have not chosen to try any of them.
Digsby is not the only player in this game. I have come across a web-based service which seeks to achieve the same objective, called Power.com. It seems to be based in Brazil and had Google's Orkut as its first focus. I have tried it but it seems somewhat flaky and immature. Also, Power.com does not offer the option of a local client.
Digsby seeks to bring together into one place your eMail, IM and Social Networks and to keep you posted "instantly" about all of the updates to each. Your starting point is the Digsby website, where you download the client software to your computer. The Home page has a big Download button and clicking this offers you the choice of platform of Apple, Windows and Linux (the link takes you to CNET for your download). Below this you can also click a button to watch a video intro to Digsby.
Part of the install process is that you have to sign up to Digsby for an account with which to manage all the other accounts. So, yet another userid and password to remember! When you fire up the Digsby client you enter this userid and password after it has first done a check to see if there any updates to the client software to download and install. These updates seem to happen on a fairly regular basis, though more about the changes and interaction with the user community later.
The Digsby client puts its icon in your System Tray in the bottom right-hand of your screen (assuming you don't have Autohide on your Task Bar). From here you can either double-click the icon to launch the Buddy List window or else right-click to select such as Preferences. Preferences is probably where you will want to go first, in order to set up the accounts you want to manage.
Account setup requires that you accept that your userid and password for each service will be stored on Digsby's servers so that it can automatically log you on to each. Digsby makes great play about the security surrounding this information. I have been mostly against this in principle but I have to accept that if services like Digsby are to offer the advantages we end users are seeking then its the price we have to pay.
For each service you define to Digsby a new icon for that service is opened in the System Tray. Clicking the icon pops up from immediately above it a window displaying all of the latest updates on that service. The icon itself has a little number in its bottom right-hand corner indicating the number of items in the list. So, for an email service it's the number of unread emails in the Intray; for Twitter it's the number of messages you would see if you logged in native to Twitter itself. The pop-up remains open only so long as you keep the cursor hovering over it; move the cursor away and it vanishes.
Right-clicking the icon offers you an number of other options, some of which will require direct access to the website and will result in it being launched for you by Digsby in you Web Browser of choice. However, some actions such as Delete for an email or Reply for a Twitter Direct Message, for instance, can be done directly from the message entry in the pop-up list.
The one exception to the rule (isn't it always!) is Facebook. When I first started using Digsby it opened a dedicated window to interface to Facebook which was clearly a cut-down Web Browser. I don't know what rendering engine it used; it was very simple and for things like Refresh and Back you had to use the right-click button. The window contents didn't respond to the scroll wheel on the mouse but did to clicking the mouse wheel and moving the cursor relative to the on-screen scroll icon. It would only minimise to the Task Bar, not the System Tray and clicking the "X" closed your Facebook session down.
None of this was very satisfactory and I had raised a couple of issues about it on the Forum on the Digsby website, only to find that with the next client update the Facebook browser had disappeared completely! Now, clicking the Facebook icon in the System Tray pops up a list just as with all the other icons, containing what you would find in the middle section of the page you see when you click Home on the Facebook Menu. Anything else, other than "Set Status", results in the Facebook website being launched for you in your normal browser of choice.
The Facebook Chat facility, though, is different yet again. Your Facebook online chat friends appear along with your other IM contacts in the Buddy List you get by double-clicking the Digsby icon in the System Tray. However, even if you have grouped your Facebook friends, all of the online ones (it only shows online friends) appear under the general heading of "Contacts". Against each is their Facebook profile picture with the little Facebook "f" in the bottom corner, to show that they're on Facebook Chat.
Hovering the cursor over any entry in the Buddy List pops a window out alongside it to give more information about the buddy and access to options such as "Send a Message". Similar options are also available by right-clicking the entry.
Engaging in an IM conversation works pretty much the same way most IM clients work: a separate window opens for the chat, laid out in the conventional way. Opening two conversations at the same time tabs them in the same window with the currently active chat named on the Title Bar at the top of the window. The buddy name there gets changed to add (Typing) alongside it when they are adding chat, which might get missed more easily than where it appears with most other chat clients; small issue! Once again, the chat window minimises to the Task Bar, not the System Tray.
When the chat is on Facebook then if you switch to your Facebook session in your browser you will see the chat repeated in the pop-up chat box in the bottom right-hand corner of the Facebook window.
One thing where Digsby seems to score over other "universal" IM clients is that it appears it supports video chat. I haven't tried this yet but if it works, and I have no reason to suppose it doesn't then this is definitely a one-up to Digsby.
Digsby supports many other services than the ones I have mentioned here. I haven't commented on them because I don't use them. Digsby is pretty flexible in trying to incorporate all of the popular services out-of-the-bag. For instance, I use an email service that is not one of those listed by default. However, there are also POP and IMAP email options, which you can use in order to define your own chosen email service to Digsby.
You can customise Digsby for things like Notifications, so as to just play a tone when something happens or, more usefully, to pop up a small notification window briefly in the bottom left-hand corner of your desktop. Where the notification pop-up is for an IM update, a reply can even be entered in a reply box in it there, so long as you're quick enough to catch it, without even opening the actual chat window itself. You can customise other things as well, such as skinning the interfaces and the layout and design of the Buddy List.
So far I have only been using Digsby a relatively short time but I have to confess it's growing on me. It's not perfect; what is? However, it does do a good job of keeping me up-to-speed with most of what's going on in all of the online services I use, and that is, after all, the object of the exercise.
Most of all, I really would prefer the local Digsby client to be portable so that I can take it with me wherever I go. Hopefully that won't be too long coming. It would also be nice if Digsby really got its Facebook act together. At the moment it's good enough to let me know when most updates occur but I still have to use the proper Facebook interface via my browser in order to do anything really useful.
For email, it will not persuade me to abandon Thunderbird. When clicking on an email identified directly from the service icon in the System Tray, it would be nice if Digsby launched Thunderbird instead of taking me to the service's webmail site, but I can live without that.
For IM, though, it is good enough. It does what it has to do in a fairly efficient manner and that's what I need.
So, I can reservedly recommend Digsby if you are looking for a service of this type. It does appear to be undergoing continual development and so I can only hope that the issues that I find in need of improvement get addressed. You may wish to see other things. Join, as I have, the Digsby Forum and contribute to the discussion. I can't promise that your ideas will be acted upon but, if you don't put your hand up you can't expect to be heard, can you?
UPDATE - Nov 2009
I have discovered through the Digsby Forum that a French guy (madcow41 - http://www.mcsoft.online.fr/madcow/?Ninja-Digsby.h tml#forum49) has written an application to make Digsby portable. I've installed it on my USB thumb drive and it works a treat. It is batch driven but none the worse for that. At least you know what's going on. Recommended until an official version is produced, assuming I don't die first!
Summary: A great service for keeping track of what's going on with your eMail, IM and Social Networks
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