Hands on: Sweetcron a self-hosted lifestream service

If you're creating content at so many social media sites that you can't even list them all to give mom and dad a chance to catch up, you've probably discovered the wonders of lifestreaming through services like FriendFeed and Swurl. If you've been hoping to host your lifestream at your own domain and get a lot more control over it, however, a new product called Sweetcron (yuk yuk) shows a lot of promise. HangZhou Night Net

For starters, we should tell you that Sweetcron is in an early beta. By today's standards of one-click installs with many modern web hosts and powerful CMS (Content Management System) dashboards, Sweetcron may be a bit rough around the edges for some users, too.

That said, Sweetcron is, in a nutshell, a self-hosted lifestreaming CMS that offers full control over what content gets imported, and how it looks on the live website for visitors. A server with PHP5, MySQL4.1, and htaccess control is required, and setup is a tediously manual (though fairly short) process. After the initial login, the first thing to do is (obviously) start plugging in various services with which to keep your lifestream flowin'. A trip to Sweetcron's "Feeds" tab in the dashboard offers a simple input box for entering RSS feeds, but herein lies one of the first significant hangups of Sweetcron's infant status.

Sweetcron's one and only method of aggregating your activity from various social networks, like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook, is by RSS feed. While there is arguably no problem with using RSS as a medium for lifestreaming services (FriendFeed and others are doing quite well this way), Sweetcron isn't advanced or polished enough yet to offer the typical convenient tools for plugging in one's activity. You actually have to visit each community to grab the appropriate RSS feed, then plug it into Sweetcron for aggregation.

Another problem that stems from this DIY process is that there's no simple list of services that Sweetcron, or one of its two included themes, are compatible with out of the box. Plugging in our Twitter and Flickr RSS feeds worked fine, and the live site could display tweets and new photos with style and even a favicon to distinguish what site the post actually came from. Plugging in a Tumblr blog, however, resulted in error messages on the live site, with invitations to tweak specific PHP and CSS files in the theme's directory.

An advantage of Sweetcron, as you may grep from its name, is that once you do get things set up to your liking, it can run a "pseudo cron" job by default every 30 minutes to gather any new posts from your sources; no configuration necessary. If you want a more aggressive aggregation of your lifestream, you can plug in your own cron job at any interval you want.

Another great feature is a built-in tag cloud that aggregates tags across platforms. For example, we have photos as Flickr and posts on an unrelated blog that are both tagged with "software." Clicking this tag in our Sweetcron lifestream reveals all these items, complete with favicons and a link back to the original. This is a powerful tool that lets Sweetcron be not just a linear stream, but a topical aggregator across all of one's content.

After spending some time with Sweetcron, it's clear that there is a lot of potential here, but still a lot of work and polishing to do. Beyond the aspects we've already discussed that need a fair amount of manual setup and tweaking, we noticed little details and quirks all over. There's no link from Sweetcron's dashboard to the live site, for example, and Sweetcron's architecture from a sheer directory perspective feels clunky and overly complex.

If you're more comfortable with pre-packaged software like WordPress, Blogger, and Swurl, Sweetcron is probably a bit unpolished and in need of too much elbow grease to be a viable option for a self-hosted lifestream—yet. But if you're a fan of getting your hands dirty and styling every aspect of a site, and if you eat theming and API documentation for breakfast, Sweetcron is the first capable lifestream package that shows a lot of promise.

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