One of the biggest negative side effects of the Web 2.0 boom has been data overload. From the many feeds, messages, comments and status updates that we receive from the multiple services and blogs that we all follow, users can quickly get overwhelmed by the amount of messages and data.
Sure, there have been tools and solutions to try and control some of these things. But just when you think you have one under control, say the feeds from the blogs you read, another new service such as Twitter or a social network comes along and you are once again faced with lots of data from different sources.
Of course, the main way that most people find these data sources is in their Web browser. So it might make sense to try to manage all of these messages and conversations from directly within the browser.
That's the idea behind Snowl, a new prototype project from Mozilla Labs. Snowl is a Firefox extension designed specifically to centralize management, browsing and searching of all of the online conversations that a user has, from blog comments to Twitter tweets to social networking pokes to e-mail and IM.
However, while the end goal of Snowl is to become a be-all tool for viewing online conversations, in its current alpha state it can only handle feeds (RSS and Atom) and your Twitter account. To test Snowl, I installed the extension onto a Firefox 3 browser and gave it a run with my Twitter feed, multiple blog and other data source feeds.
The Snowl interface is pretty simple and straightforward. Once installed, Snowl can be accessed from the browser View menu.
There are two default views for Snowl. The list view is a standard e-mail view with a list of messages and a preview pane. The other view, called the River of Messages view, provides a scrolling window of all the messages in the feeds.
I found both views useful. The River of Messages view proved to be effective for scanning across the multitude of information coming in from the feeds and focusing on specific trends or conversations.
Of course, one of the coolest aspects of Snowl is the ability to search across all of these different conversations and data streams, and when it came to searching I found the e-mail-like List view to be superior to the River view. In the River view a search didn't seem to change much about the view, and I would have liked to have seen search-term highlighting. In the List view it was easier to jump to the specific messages I was searching for.
I found Snowl to be interesting, and if it ever reaches its true potential it could become a groundbreaking new interface for accessing and searching all of our different online conversations and messages.
However, in its current alpha state, it still is just a ghost of what it could become, and I often felt teased by the features I wanted it to have but weren't there. For example, it would be great if it was possible to respond to any comment, post or tweet directly from Snowl, but right now this feature is well beyond the capabilities of the tool.
Given the raw state of Snowl, it definitely isn't ready for general use. But for those interested in giving it a test drive, Snowl can be found at http://labs.mozilla.com/2008/08/introducing-snowl/.