Microblogging as You Like It
Call it the Great Twitter Paradox: The wildly popular, supersimple microblogging service barely has any features at all--yet it's remarkably rich, thanks to an array of third-party applications and services that make it more convenient, more powerful, and more enjoyable. Here are ten handy tools (plus one bonus) for Twitter novices and diehards alike, including some of my personal favorites and several that got hearty recommendations when I asked my 4900 Twitter pals for nominations. Want more? The Twitter Fan Wiki lists hundreds of Twitter-enhancers, from Twanslate (language translation via Twitter) to Tweetwhatyoueat (a Twitter-based food diary).
And if you're looking for additional PC World coverage of Twitter, check out "8 Ways Twitter Will Change Your Life," "Twitter Hack: How It Happened and What's Being Done," and "Connect to Customers With Twitter."
I asked my Twitter pals to tell me about the tools they use, and they responded with a profusion of raves for TweetDeck, a client for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Its three-pane interface shows your friends' tweets, replies sent to you, and your direct messages all at once; other features include a notification pop-up that alerts you as tweets arrive, the ability to create and view subgroups of friends (such as one for family members), and Tweetshrink, which cuts long tweets down to size by rmving chctrs from wrds.
If you love Twitter, love Firefox, and love to keep things simple, chances are you'll love TwitterFox. This slick Firefox extension crams all of Twitter's basic functionality (plus the ability to manage multiple accounts) into a pop-up window that sits in the bottom-right corner of your browser window. It informs you as tweets arrive, and lets you easily read your buddies' latest missives and respond without leaving the Web page you happen to be on.
There are so many iPhone Twitter clients around that you could spend weeks trying them all out. Or you could simply install fan-favorite Tweetie, which manages to be both powerful (it supports multiple accounts, for instance) and sleek (flick your finger across a tweet, and you can access options such as the ability to reply). Tweetie costs $2.99 and is worth every penny, but if you're feeling impecunious, try the fast, friendly, and free TwitterFon.
When you have only 140 characters to work with, each one counts, which is why every Twitter user needs to compress long, unwieldy site addresses through a URL-shortening service. Is.gd (pronounced "is good") is helpfully terse even in comparison with rivals such as TinyURL: Its five-character name and its efficient coding scheme create 17-character redirects (such as is.gd/6zCf), leaving you 123 characters with which to have your say.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's surely worth a lot more than 140 characters. Enter TwitPic, a quick, no-fuss way to share photos with the Twitter masses. Upload and tag a snapshot, and you can either tweet it directly within TwitPic or use your photo's 24-character URL in tweets that you create within Twitter itself. Like a mini-Flickr, TwitPic also lets you browse through your friends' pictures or check out the "public timeline" of all images shared by all users.
Friend or Follow
One striking difference between Twitter and other social networks such as Facebook is that there are such things as unrequited Twitter friendships: The fact that you're following someone doesn't mean that person is following you, and vice versa. Friend or Follow's sole purpose is to help make more Twitter relationships mutual--tell it your Twitter name, and it will show you people you're following who aren't returning the favor, as well as followers you have whom you aren't following.
Just how talented a tweeter are you? Twitter Grader will give you an instant appraisal in the form of a grade on a 100-point scale, based on how many folks you're following, how many are following you, and your volume of updates. Getting a grade in the high 80s appears to be a cinch, but if you're one of the 70 people who have scored a perfect 100 to date, I'm impressed.
Twitter is entertaining in part because it feels like the world's biggest cocktail party--but with millions of members, finding the ones you'd enjoy hanging out with can be a challenge. Send Mr. Tweet a direct message, and he'll respond with periodic recommendations of Twitter members you might like to contact. The suggestions are based on factors such as who the people you follow are following--and in my experience, the recommendations are well worth heeding.
What if Twitter's interface weren't quite so maniacally minimalist? It would probably look something like Tweetree, an alternative portal into the world of Twitter that does several things Twitter won't. Tweetree attempts to display conversations in a Gmail-like threaded view--which doesn't work perfectly but is still a major advance from Twitter's nonthreaded presentation--and embeds photos and videos right within tweets rather than making you click away from Twitter onto other sites to see them.
Twitter profiles are pretty perfunctory--you can display your name, your location, 160 characters' worth of bio, and a small photo. But the Twitter interface leaves plenty of undeveloped screen real estate--which Twitbacks cleverly uses to let you tell the world more about yourself. Its editing tools help you plunk a meatier self-portrait to the left of the Twitter feed, including your name, your phone number, your IDs on other services such as Facebook and YouTube, and a larger photo; the service also lets you fiddle with color schemes and fonts.
Bonus Tool: Twitter Search
Strictly speaking, Twitter Search (originally an independent search engine called Summize) is part of Twitter. But it's inexplicably hidden in a link in the footer, not integrated with the rest of the service, so it still has the feel of a third-party offering. It deserves to be front and center: Type in any keywords that come to mind, and you see the latest tweets that incorporate them. Using the search is at least as addictive a way to peruse Twitter as the primary interface is. And as far as I can tell, there isn't anything that tweeters don't tweet about: I searched for "Almond Joy" and got sixteen results from the previous three days.