For the past couple weeks I’ve been trying out a news lifestreaming service called Nebul.us (currently in private beta). Nebul.us offering is an easy way to share online content with friends based on your browsing history. By tracking your online activity, Nebul.us will show your friends the information you single out and provides a very simple hub for posting information.
Behind Nebul.us is a Firefox plugin (Safari and Internet Explorer plugins coming soon) that tracks your online activity. The plugin will share this information with Nebul.us where then you can move into Nebul.us and choose which of these you’d like to make public. Yeah, that’s right. It logs all your browsing history and delivers it to Nebul.us…more on that later. Another way of sharing is setting up sites for Nebul.us to monitor like Last.fm, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, RSS, etc.
Nebul.us is beautiful. It displays the content you share in a beautiful graphical “cloud”. Information is shown around a central piece with status updates, videos, articles, etc. shown around it. Nebul.us separates the categories to share into 5 categories: Articles, Music, Photos, Updates, and Videos. The cloud allows friends a simple and elegant way to view what other people are sharing by placing each item in easily identifiable flags and usage bars. The flags identify simple updates (status updates, specifically shared articles, etc.) and the bars show length of time. Whether it is length of time spent on a specific website or length of a song.
Nebul.us is an interesting concept. Sort of a merge between a Wakoopa for websites and Pownce for sharing. It can monitor your web usage and share that information if you let it. And it makes sharing updates, videos, links, and music very easy.
Wait, it Monitors What?
Like I said, the Nebul.us shoots your everywhere you browse to the Nebul.us private history. This isn’t automatically shared, but it is visible. I found some items like my bank site usage, email usage, and my cable provider’s account. This is a bit scary out of the box. Another key thing is that in my testing I found that Nebul.us still logs all the sites I visited while using Firefox’s Private Browsing. This I think is unacceptable from the plugin, or should be identified as such out of the box.
You can setup blocked sites for Nebul.us. Going into the settings and telling the plugin which sites to ignore is doable, but it requires the user to be proactive in blocking. Making sites trusted is also required in the settings, which is how it should be. I don’t know how Nebul.us can correct for these issues moving forward, but it is a bit complicated to handle. I may be in the minority these days when it comes to privacy, but this steps a little beyond my comfort zone.
I like Nebul.us in concept, but I have to admit I can’t see myself using it regularly. I also have a feeling it will not receive wide usage due to the fact that it doesn’t just work out of the box. I’ve never been a big fan of sites that require browser plugins. StumbleUpon was the one site that proved browser plugin sites could work, but times have changed and so has StumbleUpon (which has a toolbar that don’t require a browser plugin anymore). And in this age of Twitter, things as complicated as installing a plugin, setting up trusted sites, remembering all of your blocked sites, then handling the sharing; I cannot see Nebul.us gaining much traction. Which is a shame because like I said it’s beautiful and fun to look at. If I were to give any advice to Nebul.us it’d be, drop the plugin and expand your monitored site selection. Then use a bookmarklet for easy sharing beyond what’s monitored. At the very least, drop the browser history monitoring and have every site be blacklisted unless explicitly selected as trusted. (Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now.)
I have 15 invites for anyone that wants to check it out. Let me know in the comments.
* image from useallfive.com because their image is better than anything I could screen grab