Due to its speed and distributed nature, Twitter is absolutely great at disseminating and spreading breaking news. Because of that, there are a bunch of sites trying to aggregate links on Twitter in an attempt at turning it into the next Digg or Techmeme. Twitter, though, is not very well suited to telling us what the crowd likes. Sites that rely on the “retweet” in order to rank links come the closest, since retweeting can be looked at as an implicit vote for that link (much like the backlinks used by Techmeme or Google). Retweet-based aggregators that look at the entire timeline are still kind of clumsy, though. They’re scattershot in the links they uncover and don’t do a great job at consistently showing me things I am interested in.
About a month ago, in a post entitled “Could Twitter Ever Replace Digg,” I argued that while Twitter isn’t great at showing what the crowd likes, it could be very effective at pointing out what your friends like. In that post I laid out the structure for a system I thought would accomplish that: “If there were a Twitter tool that could look at my friend graph, and then pull out all the links my friends have tweeted and arrange them by popularity (how many times have they been tweeted, weighted toward my friends) and retweets (how many of my friend’s friends thought it was a worthwhile link), it would expose a sort of Digg-like picture of people I already presumably find interesting.”
A couple of hours after the post went live, I was contacted by Olivier Verbeke, a Belgium-based entrepreneur who is CEO of Knowledge Plaza. Verbeke let me know about a new service that was just going into private alpha called MicroPlaza that essentially did exactly what I was asking. Today, MicroPlaza is expanding beyond the initial 50-person test set and beginning an invite only beta.
I’ve had a chance to be one of the early users of MicroPlaza and have come away very impressed. The site maps all links shared by the people you follow on Twitter and displays them by popularity (the number of times they have been retweeted) or by date in a Techeme-style link + sources view. MicroPlaza is great for a few reasons. First, it lets me easily track all the links shared by the people I am interested in on Twitter without requiring me to watch my timeline 24/7. Second, it lets me pay attention only to the most popular links, if I so desire. Third, it encourages me to follow more people, and follow only people who tweet about things I care about, because the more (interesting) people I follow, the more utility the site will have for me.
It’s true that if you follow oft-retweeted users, such as @problogger, @mashable, or @sitepointdotcom, your “popular view” timeline might be dominated by their links. In fact, your timeline might be already if your followers are retweeting links from these people. It would be nice to have the ability to block links originating from certain user names — or at least assign them less weight if they’re not people I follow (if they are, I presumably want to see those links anyway). Perhaps MicroPlaza could weight links so that oft-retweeted items are only pushed higher on my timeline if more than one of the people I follow is retweeting that link (with the threshold determined by the usual retweet behavior of the people I follow).
MicroPlaza attends to this problem somewhat via a feature called “Tribes.” Tribes are essentially groupings of your friends that act as filters. For example, I follow a number of Twitter users who most often tweet political links, and a bunch of others who mostly tweet about web technology, and still another group who generally tweet about entrepreneurship. I could arrange those users in Tribes and view timelines of just the links they’re talking about. The process is simple, though can be tedious if you have a lot of followers since you have to add each follower to a tribe one at a time.
MicroPlaza has two other helpful features: Bookmarks, which allow you to save your favorite links, and the very compelling “Being” feature. Being lets you become any other Twitter user and view the timeline based on the links tweeted publicly by their friends. This allows you to do a couple of things. First, you can see the types of things that thought leaders in your field are paying attention to, and second, if you aren’t following many people, the Being feature lets you explore links shared on Twitter in a fairly organized way in order to find people who tweet about stuff you’d be interested in reading.
Soon, MicroPlaza will be adding a search engine, as well as charts and statistics for shared items. The site is also one of the first users of Twitter’s new OAuth implementation, meaning that soon you should be able to Tweet about items you find via MicroPlaza directly from the site without having you enter your Twitter username and password.
In all, MicroPlaza is the best Twitter link sharing site I’ve seen. It solves the problem of only exposing me to links I care about relatively well, and has a number of compelling features that really set it apart from competitors. The site enters invite only beta today, but the public timeline is available to anyone, so you should be able to explore how the service works right away.
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.