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Zensify, another not-so-hot social aggregator for the iPhone

It's an increasingly crowded category on the App Store: Social Networking. Like several other apps in this category, Zensify (iTunes link) doesn't just tap into one social networking service. The app is an aggregator, taking multiple sites and rolling them up into one app that will, in theory, make your social networking somehow easier. That's the promise of all these aggregator apps. So how does Zensify do?

First, Zensify supports Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Digg, Delicious, YouTube, 12seconds and Photobucket. Unfortunately, I had only moderate success with signing in to some of these. Flickr takes you to the requisite Flickr-based verification pages, but after going through the process I received a warning dialog that an error had occurred, with only OK as my option to continue -- right before the app froze up completely. Then I tried Digg, but there was only a username field, not a password field. I was able to get Delicious to work, and YouTube (after quitting the app, as there was a bug preventing me from typing in the text area). I didn't try Photobucket or 12seconds, as I'm not big on those.

I should note that I wound up deleting Zensify, then re-installing it, and something interesting happened -- once I had re-logged into Facebook Connect, my previous logins "stuck." I only needed to type in my username on digg and it said everything was logged in. That was a pretty neat trick, and a re-install appears to take care of some of the initial bugs. I'm assured by the folks at Zensify that several other bugs are being crushed for the next release.

While Zensify is pretty in parts, there are functionality issues. These are because, in an effort to do everything, the app winds up a confusing mess at times. Many apps suffer from this, especially social networking apps. Keep reading for my full review.


Honestly, Zensify is a great idea, like all social aggregators are a great idea. It sounds awesome to have your "dashboard" for your "life" in your hand... but in reality, it's mostly like having a pocket of earthworms. Yeah, there they are, wriggling and making heat, but so what? You reach in, you get a mess of worms. Same with these apps -- the data is so completely unstructured you wind up with hiliarious "clouds" of tags like the one here in the gallery. For instance, based on my Twitter, Facebook, Delicious and YouTube peeps, the big topic one morning was: MORNING. Golly, it's a good thing it took millions of dollars in server infrastructure and thousands of man-hours in coding so that I could wake up and discover it is morning, eh?

Maybe I'm just not hip to the stream of id that pulses through the social fabric online (I had similar issues with Ziibii, which seemed to just be a flow of nonsense at times and had issues with timelines). Or maybe seeing repeats of tweets (via Facebook) just annoys me. Yep, Zensify put a duplicate message on my screen because one friend posts to Twitter and Facebook at the same time. Sadly, like most of these apps, Zensify isn't smart enough to really aggregate this, so I see two copies of the same message. Yeah, Zensify will let you update Facebook and Twitter at the same time -- but so will any number of services via Twitter, Facebook or on the iPhone itself. You're still gonna see duplicate messages in Zensify, so what's the point?

Adding to the mess of data is Zensify's at times inspired and at other times curious implementation. When I tried to add a "Track" to keep me alerted to certain keywords (like TUAW) it warned me that "These search tags are already being tracked." Um, no, not by me they aren't. Trying to track "sdiuhibkj" was also a fail, and I'm doubtful that one is "already being tracked." Upon a re-install these errors went away, but the search feature is clunky at best. Tracks are just saved searches but they should work better.

Tracks are how you view pretty much everything except Twitter and Facebook updates, at least in my testing. Tapping on the button for Twitter replies -- In Zensify language that'd be ?reply -- brings up your replies (obviously). Tapping or "tracking" ?photo yields photos from Flickr and Facebook. Seeing aggregated photos was pretty cool, I have to admit. I was unable to get YouTube to work show anything, despite the app saying I was logged in to YouTube. Digg and Delicious yielded no results as well despite similar claims. Some of the tag searches, er, tracks, didn't yield results for me, like ?video or ?favorite. But I don't favorite much, and maybe none of my online chums posted videos. The problem is that you can't refresh this view, so you're left wondering if anything is happening, or when the timeline was updated. This seems a little unpolished, but I'm guessing it'll work better in version 2. There's potential, with some rough edges.

One bright spot in Zensify, if you're into this sort of thing, is messaging to Facebook and Twitter at the same time, complete with pictures. Yep, there's a message button in your Home view, and you can choose either/or both networks when you decide to tell the world your brilliant 140-character non sequitur. As I mentioned, however, services exist to update both networks at once, straight from any Twitter client.

You can reply and retweet people on Twitter messages (the buttons are accessible when you tap on a message), but pretty much any other communications will require a trip to the mini-browser in the app. You can still jump to mobile Safari if you wish. Zensify says version 2 will support Facebook and Flickr commenting. For now, this is OK, and I did like the arrows that allow you to go up/down the timeline right within the single-message view.

Zensify is free, so I guess you've got nothing but time to lose by trying it out. My big problem is that, while it tries to be good at allowing you to view a stream of content, you can't do much with the information. The tag cloud in Topics is nice, but it isn't very dynamic or deep. Social networks aren't for driving by and viewing. They are meant to facilitate interaction. Zensify, as far as I could see, provided only the most rudimentary tools for this.

Maybe with some substantial bug fixes and usability updates it'll become a powerful tool, but for now it's just another social networking app on the flaky pile that comprises the Social Networking category in iTunes.

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