I have to preface this post with a confession: The first time I
heard about blogging, my response was "That's the dumbest @$%#&%$
thing I've ever heard of. Why the hell would I want to do that?"
I said the exact same thing about Twitter when I first heard about it. The exact same words.
Of course, both times I was totally wrong… blogging and Twitter have
become the two most important tools I use to make a living, socialize,
and get things done.
I bring this up at the beginning because I know there's a lot of people who still respond to Twitter in the way I first did and
I want to put it the proper context. I signed up at SXSWi 2007 during
the first big Twitter boom… mostly as a way to track people
(TwitterStalking). Once I got back home, my Twitter use dropped off
pretty quickly and the account gathered dust. But as I started getting
excited about SXSW 2008, I logged back in and began adding new people,
writing more tweets and exploring what had become of this cute little
service in the last year. Wow… it's rapidly become, I think, my
favorite app on the web.
The thing about Twitter that makes it really powerful is it's
simplicity… although it's often explained as a way of constantly
updating people with what you're doing right this minute (having
breakfast, yelling at the dog, stuck in traffic — yes, that's boring)
it can be repurposed into so
many other contexts. I never would have guessed how many things you
could do with 140 characters. Twitter is especially useful when
combined with other tools that have been built using their API.
This post covers two separate topics: some of my favorite ways I've
seen Twitter used and then reviews of 26 powerful tools you can use to
make Twitter do all kinds of groovy things. For those of you who just
want to skip ahead to the reviews, use the convenient links below. The
category links take you to the reviews in the post below and the links
for tools take you straight to their website.
Twitter Clients: Twitter, Pocket Tweets, Twitterific, Twhirl
Twitter Search: Tweet Scan, Quotably, TwitterBuzz
URL Shortening: TinyURL, urlTea, Tweetburner
Twitter and RSS: Twitterfeed, LoudTwitter, TwitThis Feedflare
Twitter Badges: Twitter, Korelab Twitter Balloon, Morgan Aldridge
Twitter and Media Files: Jott, Tweetr, TwitPic, Twittergram, Power Twitter by 30 Boxes, Twiddeo
Twitter Stats: TweetStats,
Twitter Social Tools: Twitter Friend Adder, Twitter Pack:
Twitter Theories: strategies for getting the most out of Twitter.
If you find this post to be a useful resource, I'd like to ask you
to use the social bookmarking buttons at the end of the post to submit
it to Digg, Del.icio.us, etc. Thanks! Now, on with the post.
Some of my favorite uses for Twitter:
- TwitterStalking: Still number one is knowing where
people are and whether they're busy… some of my friends are hard to
reach due to insane schedules. Twitter helps me figure out when I can
call or email without interrupting their day.
- Microblogging: You don't see a lot of short posts at
TypePad Hacks… I prefer to write longer think pieces or tutorials here.
Which have been damn hard to fit into the schedule of late. Twitter to
the rescue! The Twitter format is a different process with a different
feel… so writing quick updates that are on-topic for the blog at @typepadhacks
may help me send more good info your way. It's working for me in
connection with other blogs I have. As much as I realize that short
posts would work fine here on the blog I don't write them because I'm
not wired to think of the blog that way.
- Note to Self: Twitter has become the quickest and easiest way to keep track of stray thoughts I want to hold on to.
- Breaking news: I'm finding it more difficult to stay on top
of my RSS feeds these days. But a lot of the people I follow in Twitter
drop links to the most interesting stories of the day. Also, some of
the blogs that generate way to much content to allow into my RSS can be
found on Twitter, allowing me to easily scan the headlines and choose
whether to follow links (@BoingBoing for example).
- Communication: I've never liked IM or SMS and I don't think
I ever will. But the @reply and DM (direct message) features in Twitter
work really well for me. Because I've got a Twitter client open all
day, I can send quick messages to most of my contacts without feeling
as interrupted or getting dragged into a long back and forth over IM. A direct message on Twitter is WAY
more likely to get my immediate attention than email or phone right
now… especially because by nature, it's required to be short and to the
- Link Sharing: There are a million tools for sharing links on
the web, and I've tried lot's of them. I set up a del.icio.us account
specifically for this blog years ago but never found a good way to
import the bookmarks into the blog (lots of ways that I didn't like).
I've set up a TypePad Hacks Twitter page that I see being much more useful for sharing quick links and tips.
- GTD (Getting Things Done): Twitter can be used in all kinds
of ways to help you organize (ratherthan disrupt) work flow. From to-do
lists, to tracking how long you work on client projects, to saving
notes or concepts or links. This also plays into my last point in this
- Advice, Support, Polling, Questions: More and more, I see
people using Twitter as a way to fire off a quick question and get
answers back from people in their network. This is way more useful than
I would have expected at first. Everything from tech support, research
questions, vetting new ideas, where to eat in a new town and so on. When I want a quick answer, sending out a twitter question is a great way to get one.
My favorite Twitter story right now is an example of number 8 that
happened on the way to SXSW: I was driving to Austin and saw a tweet
from Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) saying:
Anyone driving to Austin from
Dallas tonight? Stranded at DFW with 2 friends,. Hotel and car rental
situation not looking good here :(
I was still north of Memphis, but tweeted back that I'd be happy to
give him and friends a ride if he hadn't found one by the time I got to
Dallas. Five minutes later, I got a call from Brian Clark (@copyblogger) who called to tell me that the road conditions in Dallas were totally impassable and not
to go to the airport under any circumstances. As it turned out, Hugh
found a ride and I ended up getting a room for the night before I
reached Dallas anyway.
But the interesting thing to
me about the whole exchange was that it wouldn't have happened via any
of the other communication tools I use… with email, chat or phone I
wouldn't have known Hugh's situation unless he specifically reached out
to me. Likewise, Brian wouldn't have seen my reply and called to warn
me about the several hundred cars that had gone off the road in Dallas.
Twitter becomes almost like a sixth sense in these situations, with
extremely targeted, relevant information finding you when you need it…
without having to even know that you should be searching for it (I was
aware that there was snow in Dallas, and I guess I'd have expected that
Texans don't drive well in snow, but I had no idea that most of the
roads were blocked that night).
My favorite Twitter Apps:
There are tons of apps, hacks, mashups and tools built on Twitter's API. The Twitter Fan Wikihas
a good collection of links. For the most part, the apps I really
use and love have been found either in links from other Twitter users I
follow or by searching for a particular function I want. Without some
of these third party additions to the service, I doubt Twitter would
ever have become as useful or compelling for me as it has.
Twitter: You can post from the web at Twitter.com
or set up posting from your phone via SMS or post via IM. Although I do
sometimes log in on the web and post directly from Twitter's website, I
find that posting (and reading) from a desktop app or my IPhone are
much easier to integrate into my day.
Pocket Tweets: Definitely the
best way to post to twitter from an IPhone… Not as good as Twitter's
new mobile site for reading tweets however. I use Pocket Tweets quite a bit when I'm not at the desk.
Twitterific is still my favorite way to read tweets even though it
isn't nearly as robust as Twhirl. I like the way it looks, I like how
simple it is and I like the ease with which it allow direct messaging
and replies (because it accepts keyboard commands for those). Now that
I'm using multiple Twitter accounts for different blogs, though, I may
really have to consider just using Twhirl so that I don't ping the
Twitter servers too often.
Twhirl: Twhirl does a lot of
things really nicely… The most important in my experience being that
you can be logged in to multiple twitter accounts at once. I have
separate Twitter accounts for John T Unger, TypePad Hacks and Emoodicon and this
allows me to focus on different audiences without having to log in and
out of Twitter.Other nice features include: runs on both Windows and
Mac OSX, shortens long URLs, integration with TwitPic and TweetScan, crossposts to Pownce and Jaiku,
plus way, way more. The only real drawback is that it can be a little
difficult to figure out how to change settings at first… it would be
nice if the preferences were available from the menu rather than having
to click the Twhirl logo in the upper left corner (yeah, *not*
Tweet Scan is a Twitter search engine. Search
public Twitter posts in real-time from the page or add Tweet Scan to Firefox's
search box for instant access. Find replies, track keywords, and sign up for daily/weekly
Quotably allows you to enter a
Twitter user name to follow the comment threads of discussions that
happen in Twitter. It can be kind of hard to follow conversations in
Twitter itself, so pulling an entire conversation from multiple
accounts on to one page is pretty useful.
TwitterBuzz shows you what people are linking to in Twitter. It's updated constantly. The
default view shows the most popular links over the last day.
With only 140 characters to work with, a long URL doesn't leave you
much room to describe what you're linking to. In fact, some URLs
wouldn't even fit in a 140 character message.
TinyURL has been around forever.
It's a good solid service that does one thing well: make URLs short.
You can use it by pasting a link into their web page or by installing
the TinyURL bookmarklet.
urlTea adds the ability for users
to describe a URL however they want (following a ? at the end of the
shortened URL), as part of the actual URL text. You can add as much
description as you want but if the URL gets clipped by Twitter, the
link still functions
properly, as long as everything before the question mark was intact.
Tweetburner shortens URLS and
tracks what actually happens with them once they're posted. You can see
how often a link has been clicked in
tweets shared with you, by you, by your friends and every other
twitterer. Kind of a cool way to see who's paying attention, but more
importantly, it gives you a clear picture of what people are most
interested in at this moment in time.
Twitter and RSS
Twitterfeed imports your blog
entries into your Twitter account. You can specify how often it should
check your feed, how often it should post to Twitter and how you would
like to format the links.
LoudTwitter imports your Twitter entries into your blog.
If you use FeedBurner, add this feedflare to display in your blog or
feed. It allows readers to post a link to your blog posts to their
Twitter stream with a simple click.
There are lots and lots of place to get Twitter Badges for your sidebar… I like the following three.
Twitter: Twitter makes it just a little hard to find their badge/widget creation page
(the link is at the bottom of your Twitter home page… I'd have put it
in the settings menu. They provide both Flash and HTML widgets and if
you're using basic templates, you can easily add them to TypePad with
just a few clicks. You can style the colors of your badge to match your
site and there are some options for how many tweets to display as well
as whether to show only your tweets or also include the people you're
Korelab Twitter Balloon: This one has the potential for good or evil in my opinion… I love it. I used it to create the speaking mime in the sidebar at Emoodicon.com which totally cracks me up. It took almost no time to configure the widget the way I wanted it and install it in the sidebar.
has a really pretty (though awfully large) badge that you can download
CSS, you can configure it pretty heavily. The widget displays your
twitter icon (linked to your twitter page), one or more recent tweets,
date-stamps linked to tweet permalinks. I haven't tried this one out,
but I do really like the way it looks. Be sure to read the whole page,
as it makes mention of some browser errors associated with the widget.
Update: Here's two more and a link to CSS styling info for your badges.
Chris Forbes created the styling for the widget I'm currently using in my sidebar (with the Twitter
logo, background and color scheme). It's a nice, simple, pretty looking widget. Get the code on his blog here.
Has a very cool resizeable CSS-based Twitter Site Badge available for
download on his blog. It displays each tweet within it's own speech
balloon. His instructions in the download package include a quick
installation guide, an example page of HTML and all the files and css
Twitter and Media Files
Jott is one of my new best friends. I LOVE
Jott. Sign up for an account and Jott converts your voice into emails,
text messages, reminders, lists and appointments. I have it on speed
dial so that whenever I have an idea, I can quickly send it to my
email, contacts, or, you guessed it, Twitter! On the way to SXSW, I
spent the first day of the drive actually typing tweets on the IPhone
while driving… Then I decided to see if I could make Jott send my voice
as a text tweet. No problem. It's built right into the service.
The one thing that you might not like about Jott is that, like an
voice > text transcription, it's not always perfect… some messages
get a little garbled. On the one hand, that's no big deal because
there's a link to the audio file in your tweet, so people can
click through to hear what you said if they need to. On the other hand,
some of my tweets came out much more fun based on what Jott thought I said. The sentence
"C'mon people, nothing to see, no astronaut by the side of the road."
became "Funky. Boom. Nothing to see, no astronaut by the side of the
road." Personally, I enjoy the second sentence much more. I'm thinking
of writing a whole cell phone novel that way to see if it comes out like Naked Lunch.
Tweetr could have gone under
Twitter Clients, because it does all that they do… BUT, it does more.
Basically, Tweetr is a mashup of Twitter and file sharing. Drag any
file onto Tweetr to automatically upload your file; it will
provide a short url to send to your friends. Tweetr can also access a
webcam if you have one and take pictures to send to Twitter. File size
is limited to 10MB (which means this may well become my favored way of
sharing files at some point).
TwitPic allows you to upload
images to their site and then posts a link to the photo in your Twitter
stream. People can leave comments on the photo, which will be sent to
their own Twitter page along with a link to the photo. This is a pretty
cool way to share photos. You can also send pics from your phone.
Twittergram: Phone in 30-second audio messages to Twitter. Enter your phone number and Twitter username and
password. Click Submit. Then call BlogTalkRadio at 646-716-6000 and follow
Power Twitter by 30 Boxes is a Firefox extension that embeds the following media types into your tweets:
- Photo sharing with embedded flickr photos
- Video sharing with embedded youtube videos
- Shared tinyurls are unwound so you know where they link to
- All links are mapped to their web page titles
- Additional user information is mapped to twitter users thanks to
data conduits via 30 Boxes (e.g. flickr accounts, blog posts,
del.icio.us links, and tons of other social media!)
In order to view the media, it appears that people also have to have the extension enabled in their browser.
Twiddeo lets you upload video
files and send a link to Twitter. I wasn't able to get it to work last
night, but it's pretty new and may work better in the near future.
TweetStats: Enter a Twitter user name and TweetStats will create
graphs showing you cool usage stats, such as how often you tweet since
your account began, when you tweet the most, who has sent you the most
direct messages, etc. My personal Twitter TweetStats are here.
This page presents your Twitter stats in a fun, somewhat snarky way by
comparing the numbers to arrive at the following usage measurments:
Babble index (number of updates for every follower),
Popularity index (number of followers for every friend),
Usefulness index (number of useful updates based on number of friends)
Twitter Social Tools:
Twitter Friend Adder: If you want to be read by people who don't know you, the best way to get their attention is to follow them. Enter your Twitter login details at Twitter Friend Adder
and they add 20 random friends to your account. OK, so why would you
want to do that? If you were using Twitter as more of a broadcast
medium than as a two-way conversation. Think marketing. My advice
though would be that it can be easy to upset people with this tool, so
if you're going to use it to send messages out you should be prepared
to A) respond to all replies and DMs and B) provide content that is
actually likely to be enjoyed or useful.
Twitter Pack: A wiki
where Twitter users are grouped by topic of interest, company or
geographical area. If you're looking for people to read/follow within a
certain area of interest, this could be a really useful tool.
The following posts present a variety of strategies for getting the
most out of Twitter. All of them are worthwhile reads, even if you're
pretty familiar with using Twitter.
How to Handle Your Twitter Followers from Sarah Dopp at Dopp Juice
More Twitter Tips also from Sarah
The Beauty, Secrets and Utility of Twitter for Business from BL Ochman at whatsnextblog.com
winning practices of top tweeters also from BL.
Three Ways to Maximize Your Twitter Time for Networking, Marketing and Fun From Nathania Johnson at Copyblogger
UPDATE: Steve sent me links via Twitter to his posts about Twitter. They rock, so I've added them here.
Managing Information Streams: Twitter! from Steve Lawson
Managing Information Streams: General twitter tips also from Steve