First Look: SocialScope for BlackBerry
Currently in closed beta, SocialScope is an application that looks to fuse your social networks into one application. It gives you access to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Foursquare and is described as a "mobile inbox for your social networks". We fired it up on the BlackBerry to take a look.
In some respects, it brings together some of the richness that recent mobile phones have been offering, such as HTC Sense's approach to social networks, letting you sign-in and then feeding you information, and integrating to a certain extent with other core BlackBerry applications.
Visually it offers a bar across the top which will let you switch between different streams of information. First-up is a combined feed which plonks everything into the same list. This can become a little frantic, especially if you follow a lot of people on Twitter. Moving across you get your Twitter @ mentions and direct messages broken down into their own tabs, making it easy to keep track of them.
Next up you get your Twitter timeline, then Facebook, Flickr and finally Foursquare. On the end is an additional space where you can add another tab, search and so on. Navigation of these tabs is easy, moving from left to right as you wish.
All the information falls into the main display below, listing the updates from that particular network. Select an update and it opens up to fill the screen, giving you the opportunity to (for Twitter) reply, DM, share or mark as a favourite. Sharing offers you retweet, quote or email, with the email option opening a message in your usual BlackBerry email service, so you have full access to your contacts as normal.
Another thing that the full view of a message does is expand shortened URLs, so you can see where it is going to take you if you click on a link. Clicking a link gives you the option to open or copy it, so you can forward links easily. Links open in the default browser.
Twitter isn't just about reading what others post - it's also about putting your own thoughts out there. Pressing the menu button from any of the SocialScope main pages brings up the same menu, offering "Update Status". The status update box presents a line of networks across the top for you to select, so you can post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. We also found it pulled in Facebook Pages, so you can post to a specific Page if you want to.
The bottom of the update box gives you the option to insert picture, link and location. You are then left to plug in the information you want. The URL insertion only offers you the chance to plug in the URL details manually in full, although if you copy a link from elsewhere, you can simply drop it into the message and it will shrink it. SocialScope doesn't integrate quite as deeply as native applications - like Twitter for BlackBerry - so if you select "Send Address" from the browser menu, you don't get SocialScope as an option, instead it pushes a new entry in the menu for sending to the app, which is just as good.
Direct messages in Twitter take the conversation approach, like text messages do on the BlackBerry (or on the iPhone even). They didn't appear to integrate with our normal BlackBerry inbox like BlackBerry for Twitter does, which is convenient and something we'd like to see.
You do, however, get a SocialScope option when it comes to sending pictures. After you snap one off, you'll get the choice under the normal Share options to send it to SocialScope. You can also directly access the camera to snap off a picture to send directly, although we found it wouldn't upload to Facebook, but could post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time, posting a link to the twitpic image onto our Facebook wall.
Opening up a Facebook update gives you a similar view to Twitter, offering the chance to comment, post on the person's wall, poke and like. It uses all the usual symbols, so everything looks as it should. Again, links are opened in the browser.
Images in updates are previewed in both the main list of messages and when you open them up, with the option of viewing fullscreen by selecting them again. This then triggers the download of the larger image to view. Once you are in this image view window, you can scroll left and right to view other images from that person, which is essentially what you get from the Flickr tab, displaying photo updates from your contacts. We did find that images were rather slow to load, however, so you don't quite get that slick impression that you get when doing similar things in the iPhone or Android Facebook apps.
From the main menu you also get the option to Checkin. This will send SocialScope off to determine your location and pull up a list of venues for Foursquare. Venue pages are pretty good, offering a small thumbnail map, a picture of the mayor and so on. These are all live elements, so clicking on the map opens Google Maps and the mayor opened their Foursquare profile, including links to Facebook and Twitter profiles, where supplied.
Profile pages are handled rather nicely, pulling up information on that person, although it can get a little overwhelming. Twitter profiles pull up that person, lets you view their picture and follow, unfollow, view followers and so on. The Facebook view is different, offering the familiar wall, info and photo view, so you can open photo albums and browse thumbnails and pull up fullscreen versions of those images.
SocialScope seems to be heavily geared towards Twitter as the "search" option only covers Twitter users. You can't search Facebook and you can't easily enter a list of your friends. You can view their updates, and from there open their profiles, but there is no central location to browse friends and send them messages for example, and we'd like to see some expansion here to make it a more complete offering.
There is also another option hiding in the menu which will let you link Twitter users to BlackBerry contacts. This adds a link to their Twitter feed URL into the contacts list, rather like Facebook linking adds a code for their profile. This then means you get a view updates option from that contact's profile. It's nice, but involves a little too much effort to be really valuable at this stage.
The settings menu gives you an easy-to-configure range of options, so you can select what you want notifications for, whether you want spell check to run and so on.
SocialScope on the BlackBerry holds a lot of promise. As applications go, it covers a lot of ground, so you might decide that you don’t need your existing apps. What is more promising is that SocialScope appears to be stable and looks to have most functions covered whilst still being in closed beta. We'd like to see some of the deep integration taken a little further, the Facebook offering fleshed out and it did sometimes seem a little slow to deal with images over the 3G network.
On the whole we like SocialScope because it gives you access to a lot of social networking information without having to dive around different applications. It gives you some of that richness that rival smartphones will offer, and with a few tweaks here and there, could stand to be a very popular application.