The State of Multi-Column Twitter Clients

I’ve used a Multi-column app for Twitter for a few years now, as it is e one way for me to compartmentalize and prioritize the people and topics that I’m interested in. Of late, I vacillate between Tweetbot and the new, Twitter-owned Tweetdeck, both of which are solid, while having a couple of flaws that keep me from adopting either 100%.

This is a bit frustrating, but also provides an opportunity to break down what does and doesn’t work for me in each app, with the goal of outlining the changes that would result in a “perfect” app for my needs.

I’m not going to enumerate over all of the feature of each as their respective Web sites can sell the products. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the features and gaps that impact how I use the apps. For reference, I use both on two different screens: a 13″ MacBook Air and a 27″ iMac. I’ll leave a review of the mobile apps for another day.

Columns & the Timeline

Tweetbot’s column layout is clunky – if I add another column, I have to minimize and maximize the app in order for it to appear. I’ve found reordering of columns to be more intuitive with Twetdeck. Plus, in Tweetbot, the main Timeline column cannot be moved – I prefer to have the first column display a subset of the overall list of people that I follow. Tweetdeck provides this flexibility.

Twitter posts with images in TweetbotTweetbot’s display of attached media, such as photos and videos is cleaner, showing the thumbnail to the right of the text. But, this is also the place where it shows my avatar when I tweet, so I don’t see the thumbnail. While this isn’t a huge deal, I post quite a few images via Flickr and Pinterest, so I like to see the thumbnail to confirm everything is working as expected.

Syncing

Tweetbot’s integration of history syncing is a killer feature for me, as I access Twitter on four different devices. Tweetdeck lacks any form of cross-device history sync such as Tweet Marker

Muting & Filtering

Tweetbot’s Hashtag mute functionality is excellent and convenient to use. All it requires is that I right-click on a hashtag, select Mute and choose a duration. Tweetdeck’s filtering capability is strong, but it is buried, so it isn’t convenient to use when I want to mute a specific hashtag.

Post-Filtered Columns

I miss the column functionality of the old Tweetdeck, which didn’t rely on Twitter lists, but instead allowed you to create a column that is post-filtered. The problem with using Twitter Lists, is that they don’t include @replies between two users that I follow. So, if @patramsey replies to @atxryan, that tweet doesn’t appear in a List, even though they are both in it. The conversation will appear in my main timeline. Neither app provides the functionality, but I still see it as a gap.

Knowin’ What to Throw Away and Knowin’ What to Keep

It’s time for another installment of the State of the Hostile Web, a series that I’ve never officially started, yet have many entries examples of user-antagonism to highlight.

This time it started with a simple goal – I wanted to craft a clever reply to a Twitter post by my buddy Chris Bailey (@chriscognito):

Chris' Tweet: "Do you know when to cut bait and run? Sometimes knowing when to kill a program is as important as knowing how to start one."

I don’t know about you, but for me, I immediately heard Kenny Rogers. Maybe that’s because I was born and raised in Texas, but that’s besides the point. This was a crystal clear opportunity to blast the Internet with a reminder of the awesomeness that is The Gambler.

The Gambler Album Cover from KennyRogers.com (Links to Amazon)To ensure I got it just right, I did a quick search for the lyrics, and the first site to pop up is called LyricsFreak (they don’t get any link love from me – you’ll see why), which displays the words in all of whiskey-soaked glory. But when I go to cut-and-paste them (you can call it lazy – I call it efficient), nothing is selectable. At all. The normal click-and-drag to highlight doesn’t work and the right-click menu is taking the day off.

I was perplexed. I was annoyed. But I also know a little bit about these here Web pages, so I figured that I would just view the page source to disable the code that was blocking me, or I might copy the lyrics from there.

…and I stopped dead in my tracks, confronted with this:


&#79&#110&#32&#97&#32&#119&#97&#114&#109&#32&#115&#117&#109&#109&#101&#114
&#39&#115&#32&#101&#118&#101&#110&#105&#110&#39&#32&#111&#110&#32&#97&#32
&#116&#114&#97&#105&#110&#32&#98&#111&#117&#110&#100&#32&#102&#111&#114
&#32&#110&#111&#119&#104&#101&#114&#101&#44

That’s the very first line of the song: “On a warm summer’s eve on a train bound for nowhere”.

Seriously.

Beyond disabling all of the standard methods for copying a bit of text, Lyric Freaks encoded every single character of the song.

Part of me understands that their goal is to not have other people copy their database in bulk. Assuming they paid for the transcription, it has value to them that they want to protect in order to make some money . I get that. I’m a happy little capitalist myself.

But this practice has instantly made the site useless to me, when there is a sea of lyric sites available. Beyond that, any developer can tell you that this won’t make the least bit of difference to someone specifically scraping the Lyric Freaks site to snag their content. None.

So, the people who actually use their service, see, and hopefully click, their ads and tell others to visit are hamstrung.

Luckily Sing365 made it easy for me to reference The Gambler Lyrics.

Which I used oh so cleverly in under 140 characters:

This is a very long blog post that boils down to the fact that LyricFreaks has lost site of what’s important, hurting prospective users before they even have a chance to turn them into fans. All this in an attempt to protect something, using a method that won’t work, making the Web a little less friendly and a little less usable.

User-hostile practices do not work on the Internet. Your site or service is one among many competitors, and it won’t take long for a competitor to eclipse your work, so do yourself a favor and build solutions that reward the user for visiting instead of making their day harder in an attempt to protect a castle made of sand.

Confusing and Cluttered Twitter Search Results

For the last couple of years, one of the most important columns in my TweetDeck setup was the one tasked with presenting tweets that mention Refresh Austin. The search itself is pretty straightforward, though it includes several variants to account for all of the possible ways that people might reference our group: refreshaustin OR austinrefresh OR “refresh austin” OR “austin refresh” OR @refreshaustin. This worked beautifully for a long time, but a little while back (I don’t know when exactly) I noticed that the feed included many tweets that have nothing to do with our group. A significant portion of these are written in languages other than English, so it’s been hard to detect a pattern.

Until today.

Twitter Search for Refresh Austin

The photo shows five recent tweets, three of which do not apply to our group at all. The key detail is that all three link to bit.ly/ra, which I set up a long time back to point to the Refresh Austin site. But in these cases, the problem appears to be due to the fact that a longer URL, which starts with ‘ra’ was cut off when the users retweeted or simply posted a tweet greater than 140 characters.

Twitter’s search now follows links within tweets to determine that they are both valid (non-spam, no malware) and also to provide additional context. So, in this case as bit.ly/ra resolves to RefreshAustin.org, the tweets appear in my search feed even though they have absolutely nothing to do with us.

So now I understand why this happens, but I do not have a solution for it. While I do not want to filter out tweets that contain the bit.ly/ra link as it is a valid link, I’d love to reduce the overall noise. This is a bit frustrating, but seems solvable with a bit of time and effort. Should I figure something out, I’ll post it.

ifttt »

“If this then that” – this looks awesome and maps against a couple of different services I use and hacks I’ve put into place to automate parts of my digital life. Hopefully I’ll get an invite soon

Tweet Nest »

Finally, an easy way to have a browsable and searchable archive of your tweets. Even better, you can host it on your own site. Hat tip to @rands for the link.

Employers & Your Online Reputation

Our study found 70% of surveyed HR professionals in U.S. (41% in the UK) have rejected a candidate based on online reputation information. Reputation can also have a positive effect as in the United States, 86% of HR professionals (and at least two thirds of those in the U.K. and Germany) stated that a positive online reputation influences the candidate’s application to some extent; almost half stated that it does so to a great extent.

Microsoft Releases a Study on Data Privacy Day

The world’s already small and it’s only getting smaller.

Trendspotting: It's Your Job

Juhan's 2009 Career Graph - image from Flickr user juhansonin
Image from juhansonin

What are people saying about the company you work for? How do customers view the products or services you work on and the interactions they have with the organization? Don’t know? Think that this only matters for people in marketing or higher up the chain?

Wrong.

It matters. It matters a lot.

You need to know when customers have issues, even if they aren’t yours to fix. You need to know when a trend is forming within the company and among the public. This is your livelihood, this is how you pay the bills and pay for drinks. Who in your company is excited and who’s dejected? Who’s gone quiet all of a sudden and who’s denouncing their boss or a new project? How does all of this impact you, your job and your happiness?

While I can’t answer that last question – that’s for you to decide. I can help you with a very simple way to get on top of the game so you can spot trends before they appear on the official radar.

This post may look like a lot of work, but it isn’t. You’ll spend a little time up-front, but once everything is set up you’ll be able to skate by with a quick daily or weekly scan of headlines.

The Components

There’s a small set of tools that will provide you with all you need: Google Alerts, Twitter and RSS.

Twitter

Twitter Logo If you aren’t on Twitter by now you need to sign up. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid, people are using it and they’re talking about the company you work for. They’re talking about your work. If you are on twitter but don’t check into it all that often, you’ll want to increase your attention, but don’t worry – you don’t have to participate to a high degree, though I recommend that you do jump in.

Step One

Assuming you’ve already signed up, find your coworkers’ accounts and follow them or add them to a company-specific Twitter list. If you’re lucky, at least one of those coworkers will have already created a list for your company, making life much easier. Start with people in Marketing or that you know are into Twitter as those are the most likely to have made the connections with coworkers already. You may have to be selective if you work in a large company. If that’s the case, start with a Twitter list of everyone then follow those you think provide the most value.

Step Two

Pay attention to the traffic and back-and-forth discussions, especially those of people higher up the chain or in key positions. The latter group doesn’t necessarily equate to an important title; it could be a QA person or developer who’s the linchpin for a product shipping or someone who who staffs trade shows tweeting about who they just met or an interesting product in a neighboring booth.

Participate

While this isn’t required, you will gain much more from this process if you participate by answering questions and asking some of your own. I’ve connected with customers actively using our products via Twitter and my work is better for that exposure, and my view of the company is more informed.

Twitter Search

The fastest way to gauge reaction to a new initiative or to see the ramifications of a positive or negative customer experience is to have Twitter act as your personal monitor. Setting up a saved search on Twitter is easy and provides a wealth of information and alternate viewpoints.

Step One

Go to Twitter’s Search page and type in your company’s name. If the name is more than one word, place it in quotes to reduce false-positives. The same applies if the name is a single word that may be used in common communication. Use the Advanced Search if your company name is common or is likely to be a part of a common phrase so you can weed out the useless results. You may even use the “positive” and “negative” results checkboxes, but I recommend you take everything.

You can even use the advanced Search to specifically follow tweets to, from and referencing your company’s main Twitter account as well as key people in the company.

Step Two

Add the “Feed for this Query” to your RSS reader of choice. Even if you don’t check your feed reader often, it will cache the results for you so you won’t miss anything.

Bonus: Set up additional searches for alternate spellings, typos and key product names.

Google Alerts

Google Google Alerts are an invaluable tool for keeping an eye on the Web. While Twitter has quickly become the fastest way to learn about trends and opinions, this service provides insight into long(er) content. Someone may mention your company in a blog post or article, but the company name may not be included in the title of the piece or the 140 characters used to tweet about it.

Step One

Go to Google Alerts and as you did with your Twitter search type in the company name, placing it in quotes if it’s more than one word or is a single word that may be used often in a different context. Set the Type to Comprehensive and E-mail Length to Up to 50 Results (you do’t want to miss something). You can choose whether you want to receive the results via e-mail or RSS feed. I recommend the latter so it’s a part of the same workflow and it doesn’t clutter your inbox.

Step Two

Add the feed to your RSS reader of choice unless you opted for delivery via e-mail.

RSS & Newsletters

RSS Icon Assuming your company has a blog or two, make sure you’re subscribed to those RSS feeds. You may know the topics they cover backward and forward, but it’s important to see how they’re presenting the company and your work. The same goes for any company newsletters.

By now you’ve likely noticed that the RSS reader is key to this process. Beyond it providing a central location for you to gauge what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, you may be able to use it to spot general activity trends. For example, here’s a graph provided by Google Reader that shows the activity for a Twitter search feed broken down by day:
Twitter Search Activity Chart

If you didn’t notice the spike the first time around, you’ll see it now and be able to do a quick search to see what caused it.

Extend

These steps can easily be applied to your competition or other groups or companies of interest. If you’re interviewing at a company this framework will help you gauge the activity, personality and culture of the organization. If you want to see how your competition is fairing, there’s no better way than to apply the same process.

What Else?

I avoided large-scale social metric reporting services as this post is for people interested on a personal level as opposed to it being a key part of their job. Outside of those services, I’m sure there are many more ways to keep an eye on the trends that I didn’t cover. I’d love to know your tips and tricks if you’d be kind enough to leave a comment.

Missing the Point: Twitter for SEO

In my morning feed-scanning I came across Mihaela Lica’s SitePoint article touting how Twitter can impact SEO. Part of me wishes I had skipped it, but I read it and feel the need to review and correct what I believe is a faulty premise.

To make a long story short: although Twitter is a social media tool meant to create community and relationships, it does have an SEO value. For example, Twitter can affect positively your Alexa rankings by sending visitors to your pages. Usage data is a sign of quality for Google and all the other search engines. If you can make people come to your site via Twitter, then this is an SEO advantage you cannot afford to miss.

Mihaela Lica – Twitter’s Little Known SEO Value Emphasis from the original

I’m going to disassemble the article’s foundation here, but I want to note that I’m not writing this to skewer Mihaela, she took the time to write the article in order to help others, which I appreciate. Very few people give of themselves and I applaud the fact that she is contributing to our community.

The article attempts to make a case that Twitter helps SEO, even though the search engines don’t follow links in Tweets. The path follows the line of, if you tweet and include a link, someone will follow that link back to your site, which will increase your traffic and eventually Alexa and maybe Google will notice.

The exact same logic applies to those guys hired to hold furniture signs at intersections: give them a sign with a URL, and someone may visit the URL, your traffic will go up and if you’re lucky the big G in the sky will notice and bump your site up a notch.

The inclusion of Ask.com as a way to justify the argument isn’t valid. It’s not that you should ignore Ask.com – it’s whether the time and effort to focus on Twitter for SEO in the hopes of benefiting from Ask.com’s notice will be worth trading the opportunity cost of focusing elsewhere. If you’re expending effort to gain a small bump in a service that holds less than 2.5% of the market share, you’re wasting your time. Odds are good that that small bump isn’t the least bit noticeable.

SEO is not the be all and end all – it is a tool in your marketing efforts (whether you’re a giant brand or a lone blogger, you have a brand). Twitter can also be a tool in those efforts, but all too many people don’t understand how to use it properly, much less the expectations they should have and the ramifications of their efforts, both good and bad.

Twitter and Marketing

So, now that we’ve determined that you really don’t want that guy holding the furniture sign on the corner to be in charge of your advertising, let’s talk about who should be engaging your audience and prospects.

Simply put: you.

Want to use Twitter as a good Marketing tool? One that will have an impact? Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  • You or someone as passionate about your work needs to be the voice behind each tweet. It matters
  • Tweet with the same level of excitement you have when you’re explaining what you do at a party to someone who actually appears to care. If you aren’t excited about talking about your company, blog or product, then why the hell are you trying to market it? Seriously – you’re in or you’re out. Half-assed attempts are quickly ignored on Twitter or even worse publicly ridiculed.
  • People expect you to communicate – posting links to your own blog or site without any other content is a quick way to fail. Twitter users expect a conversation – follow your fans back and reply to their questions, praise and anger
  • Promote other people and services that you use and like. Tell me when you’ve had a good experience with a company or been ignored. Provide value by being a good citizen within our community. You’ll quickly find that others will do the same for you.
  • When you have news – real news – post about it. You added a blog post, hey cool, lemme know. A New product release? Sweet, I’d love to hear about it. But don’t spam me with it. Reruns suck.
  • Like a marketing campaign, your effort will take time
  • Find a good URL shortener that will give you click-through metrics. I use Tr.im and have heard great things about BudURL. Then use that service for all of your links. You aren’t getting SEO love no matter what, but at least this way you’ll get some data.
  • Once you have metrics, take a look at what people actually found interesting and post more about that.

Disagree or Have More to Add?

Speak up in the comments or hit me back on Twitter: @BaldMan.

Twitter's Hidden Benefit

Twitter makes it easy for me to keep up with my dear friends here in town and those flung about the globe. I can stay on top of ever-moving trends, learning about them in minutes if not seconds. Twitter connects me when I’m ready to be connected and allows me to reach out when I feel the need. Those capabilities alone makes it an invaluable part of my day, but there’s an unsung benefit to embracing Twitter: memory improvement. Specifically improving my ability to remember people I’ve met.

In my day-to-day life, I’m involved in projects and groups of different sizes and to different degrees. I do my damnedest to remember names, faces and details about the people I meet, but that’s not an easy task by any stretch. Refresh Austin alone has over 400 members and I’ve met a sizable portion of ‘em. Add the other amazing colleagues and friends I’ve met through events like SXSW Interactive and the Geek Austin parties and it quickly becomes overwhelming to remember, and more importantly quickly recall a name when I bump into someone that I’ve met once or twice.

Twitter changed that with a constant stream of updates.

Each tweet contains a face, a name and something that was of at least slight interest to that person. Those components reinforce the neural pathways associated with each person in my cranium, making it easier to remember them later. I may have to take one more mental hop to unite the real world face and name for those people who adopt an avatar and/or a nickname within Twitter, but that’s still a lot more than I had five years ago.

Twitter reinforces my real-world connections with those relationships that are the most tenuous as a byproduct of my having fun using it.

Now that is cool.

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @BaldMan.

Sandy Twitters

Sweet, I Want Sandy, which I’ve covered previously supports interactions via Twitter! This makes it even easier to quickly capture something that should be remembered later. While the supported options are a subset of Sandy’s full capabilities, all of the major needs are covered. Plus, they’ve spent some brain cycles thinking about how to make the process as easy as possible, including a single letter Twitter name (‘s’) and short hand for common commands like remind/remember (‘r’), lookup (‘l’) and update (‘u’).

Damn, the folks at Values of n just keep rolling out cool ideas!