There is no doubt that Twitter has been one of the hottest new web applications of the past couple of years. Since making a huge splash at the South By Southwest Interactive conference in March 2007, the simple little microblogging and status application has grown like a weed to the point where it is now slowly seeping into the mainstream with use on major television networks like CNN in the United States.
As great as Twitter can be as a communication platform, it can also be a major distraction and a pain to use if you don’t have the right tools. If you’re sitting on Twitter.com and clicking reload all day to get the latest tweets, you’re clearly not getting the most out of Twitter. So below are 12 tools you can use to make the most of your Twitter account.
1. Form Groups
One thing that Twitter has long needed, but so far hasn’t implemented, are groups. Once you hit a certain threshold of people you are following, the number of tweets coming in gets a bit overwhelming. Being able to filter your tweets by groups would go a long way toward helping to sift through that flood of information. It would also add utility to the site, which could then be used for group-specific communication (as in, for software development teams, companies, study groups, etc.). Though no official groups feature from Twitter exists there are a couple of ad-hoc solutions.
Tweetparty uses hashtags (see #7) to direct messages to groups you create on the site. Messages are sent by direct message to the Tweetparty bot and redistributed to the proper group based on the hashtag. GroupTweet works by creating a message distribution robot out of a new account that you register for your group. Your group follows that new, robot account, and routes all messages through it (remember to protect your updates on the robot account to keep prying eyes from following your group’s messages).
2. Find the Latest News
There are a number of Twitter link trackers that attempt to identify the top news by looking at URLs as they are tweeted and retweeted. Unfortunately, none of them work all that well. Twitturls is almost an exception, though. It’s not perfect — and isn’t as polished as other link-based, automated memetrackers you’re used to, such as Techmeme or Google News, but it gets the job done for the most part.
Twitturls looks at links as they are tweeted and attempts to find the most popular, recently talked about links across the Twittersphere. It definitely finds some gems, and can also be filtered to show just tweeted pictures and videos.
3. Share Pictures, Music, and Videos
Ever wanted to share a picture, music file, or video on Twitter? Well, you could link to it, but that means finding some place to host it, which means adding steps to the process. Twittershare is a handy little application that allows you to share files on Twitter up to 10mb with drag and drop ease. Right now it only has Mac and web interfaces, with Windows XP/Vista promised soon (why didn’t they just use AIR?).
4. Research Trends
Twist is an awesome (and for a blogger like myself, often times invaluable) tool that lets you create Compete-style trend graphs plotting terms mentioned on Twitter against each other. It’s a great research tool that can expose interesting snap trends in what people are talking about. For example, Google’s Chrome already gets more chatter consistently than Apple’s Safari browser, but neither can match the constant talk about Firefox.
Twist can show charts for the past week or the past month and can be embedded.
5. Don’t Forget Anything
One of the first web applications ever to start using Twitter was Remember the Milk, an online to-do list. RTM isn’t just a sentimental inclusion in this round up, though, it actually makes good use of Twitter. The site uses the microblogging service to let you add tasks, assign tasks, and mark items as completed via text message. Very convenient.
6. Find People
When you first sign up to Twitter, you’ll want to add some friends. But what’s the best way to find them? Twitter’s internal search isn’t all that great. Twellow is a good place to start, though. It’s a directory built on the back of Twitter that also links to other social site profiles of the people it finds and knows about. Twitdir is a directory of over 3.1 million Twitter accounts and also has some top 100 lists if you’re interested in keeping a pulse on the most popular or prolific Twitterati.
Once you have some friends, Twubble and Twits Like Me can help expand your social graph by recommending people like you that you might want to follow. Each site works a bit differently, so try both to get the maximum effect. The beauty of Twitter is that you can unfollow people easily and anonymously, so if things aren’t working out with your new friends, it’s not hard to say goodbye.
7. Join a Meme
Hashtags are a way to keep track of specific topics or memes on Twitter. By appending a certain word with the # symbol, Hashtags can group together tweets about the same topic. For example, if you are attending the XYZ Conference, you and others attending might use the hashtag #xyzconf08. Then followers could search for that hashtag and get each attendee’s tweets on the conference — and not their other tweets.
They’re a neat idea that can help to filter the signal from the noise on Twitter, which is one of the service’s biggest downsides. The downside to using hashtags, however, is that they make your already tiny 140-character message window just a bit smaller.
8. Tweet from the Desktop
Tweeting from Twitter.com’s web based interface can be tedious. And if you have a lot of followers or are following a lot of people, it is downright inadequate. For anyone serious about getting into Twitter, you need to get a desktop client to keep track of things. There are many, but my personal favorite is Twhirl. It’s a cross-browser client made using Adobe’s AIR runtime and also supports Identi.ca, Laconi.ca, FriendFeed, and Seesmic (which owns it).
On the iPhone/iPod Touch, I use the Twitterific app.
9. Follow the Conversation
One of the biggest knocks against Twitter is that conversations aren’t threaded, so it’s hard to keep track of who said what, especially if more than one person chimes in and replies are suddenly spread out over multiple pages. Third party site Quotably attempts to rectify that. Quotably analyzes @ replies and attempts to thread conversations. It doesn’t work perfectly, but the result sometimes brings at least a little clarity to long threads that on Twitter are almost impossible to follow.
Unfortunately, Quotably doesn’t seem to be updating as often as it should be recently.
10. Measure Your Addiction
Twitter addict? It’s okay, we’re on #10 on the list, so it’s expected that you’d be addicted by now. You can find out just how addicted you are with TweetStats. TweetStats graphs your Twitter usages so you can see how many tweets you’re sending each day, hour, and month, who you’re talking to the most, and how you’re sending your updates.
As long as you’re not tweeting a thousand times at 3am, I think you’ll be okay.
11. Get SMS Tweeting Back
In August Twitter announced that due to rising costs, it was cutting SMS support in a number of countries outside of the USA and Canada. I mostly use Twitter from my laptop or iPod Touch (meaning when I am in wifi range), but for many, using Twitter via SMS text message is how it’s done. If you’re in one of the affected countries and don’t mind forking over some cash, there are some third party sites that have you covered. At least four that I know of, in fact: hootSMS, TwitSMS, Twittex, and tweetSMS.
12. Make Some Money
Got a lot of followers? Then maybe you’ll want to sell your profile background to advertisers for cash. Launched about a month ago, Twittad is a marketplace for Twitter users to sell their profile background space for cash. Twittadd works by selling the “dead” space next to your Twitter update stream on your Twitter user profile page, which can be changed via the background image.
Twittad is a marketplace, so you (as the seller) set the price for your background, and Twittad collects a 5% service fee from the advertiser (so presumably you keep 100% of the sale price).
No word yet on how Twitter will react to people selling ads this way on their service.
Josh Catone joined Mashable in May 2009 and is Executive Director of Editorial Projects. Before joining Mashable, Josh was the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, the Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID.