Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Twitter - Useful Applications

Twitter is everywhere. It's impossible to escape the ubiquitous 140 character microblog. Sure, some people have tried to move to Jaiku or Pownce, begging me to do the same, but until those two applications get as much functionality off their own site as Twitter has, I'm sticking with my Tweets. In order to enjoy Twitter and other microblog applications, they have to be truly portable. In spite of all its shortcomings, Twitter has definitely nailed portability.

I've been a plain vanilla Tweeter for a long time. I have Twitter on instant message relay, and that's been about the extent of my innovation with the product. Recently I decided to explore the possibilities of many of the third party Twitter applications out there and see if any offered me features I was missing (like user avatars showing on instant message Tweets, for example - it's impossible to keep all those Tweets straight sometimes).

It turns out there are quit a few third party Twitter applications available to download for both PC and Mac, but I was looking for a true web application set, not something else to download. If you are looking for the downloadable Twitter applications for PC and Mac, I'll link to them at the bottom of this post for you. Meanwhile, there are plenty of online Twitter applications to choose from to add functionality to your Twitter experience.

One of the areas in which Twitter is lacking is search functionality. The Twitter search feature for friends and colleagues leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily, several application have stepped up to the task. Two oldies but goodies are TwitterSearch and Twitterverse. TwitterSearch is a great way to find people by name if you don't know their Twitter handle or have them in your email address book. Twitterverse is an addicting application combining Twitter search and maps showing Tweets from Twitter users around the world. TwitterSearch is the better application for search, but Twitterverse is an excellent way to kill an hour watching the mundane details of people's lives flash across the screen.

Some other up and coming Twitter search applications include TwitterTroll, an app that lets you search within the actual Tweets to find people who share common interests. TweetScan is another application that searches Twitter, this one by topic of interest. If you are voting for Ron Paul, for example, and you want to see what other Twitter users have to say about him, TweetScan will sift through the thousands of Tweets looking for comments about Ron Paul (or any other topic of your choosing). TweetScan seems to work best with shorter search queries.

Twitter can function as quite a time sink, and people are even coming up with applications to track how much time you spend using Twitter, like TwitterStats. TwitterStats takes your Twitter usage and graphs it for you in a colorful chart you can display on a web page or blog. If you want to show the world how you waste company resources 140 characters at a time, TwitterStats is the application for you. My direct message TwtterStats for one day are shown above.

Some people have tried to make Twitter functional as a more useful application, like Twit.io. The developers of Twit.io are calling it the first social micro database. They are touting it as a solution to list jobs, events and video. They are also saying it can sort by location, which is helpful. So far they haven't added too much to the database they are building, since they are new, and they already have jokesters skewing the effectiveness by posting joke jobs (like President of the United States - funny, but not helpful). They'll need some monitoring, checks and balances to be truly useful.

If you want a more cosmic Twitter experience you can try an application like InnerTwitter. Applications like this one use Twitter as a kind of alarm system to promote a certain gimmick or task. In the case of InnerTwitter, the gimmick that you are supposed to stop at the sound of the chime to take stock of your life and surroundings. Not being much of a meditator, I think its silly, but I can see the appeal for some people.

Some applications give you a way to message to and from Twitter via email. I already get quite enough email, so I'm not interested in this kind of feature, but if you are, MessageDance is both the newest and the most promising looking. It also integrates your Twitter mail into your MySpace, FaceBook and other social networking accounts. If you don't need that much functionality, the more basic TwitterMail may be for you. It offers basic email interface and a post to the future feature.

There are hundreds of Twitter applications out there. Some of them are silly (one even makes your Tweets "tweet like a pirate"), some are useful and some just repeat the applications that Twitter already includes, for whatever purpose. Most of them are free, although some are not (like the popular Twitterific). One that is quite popular right now is Twhirl, a desktop download that is based on Adobe Air. I haven't tried it - I have too many desktop widgets and applications on my MacBook as it is, I don't need another one.

I've only begun to scratch the surface of available Twitter applications with this article. You can see a nearly complete list of Twitter applications in the Twitter Fan Wiki. With so many applications and add ons being developed that bring Twitter to you, you can see where applications like Pownce that haven't yet left their own web site to be accessible anywhere lose their appeal for someone like me, always on the go. Meanwhile, check out the Twitter Fan Wiki for a list of downloadable desktop Twitter applications as well as many more web based third party applications. Did I forget a favorite that isn't on the Wiki yet? Put it in the comments so we all can enjoy it!

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