Although opinions on Twitter are divided with many people not using it, I find it invaluable for news updates that often come faster than mainstream news sources. I don't keep up with trending topics, as these are more often than not peoples personal feelings on their own life to be shared with a select group of friends, but ends up in a worldwide audience that then has to be filtered through to see if there is anything worthwhile - a time consuming process that can sometimes be pointless. Twitter is a bit like a web based chat and a simple tool to post brief, but extremely fast moving content. The vast majority of it is needless junk and spam, but if you can filter through that and follow who you want you can be rewarded. Twitter is a great way to get updates on server status, news events, and ongoings that you might not get elsewhere - even through email or RSS feeds.
Moving on to the toolkit, the most obvious shortfall of Twitter is the fact that posts must be made in 140 characters or less. This requirement is actually something of an art form, just watch celebrities as they make sentences or jokes in a coherent manner and you'll see what I mean. This can be done without resorting to acronyms, but I still find it difficult and is one skill I have yet to master. This is why the first tool in my Twitter Toolkit is Twitlonger.
Twitlonger takes all the text you can type (unlimited) and sticks it in a single tweet, with a single "(cont)" at the end, showing viewers that the rest of your text is on a shortened URL (more on those in a bit) and can be read on their site. I often find it annoying to have to go through a message I want to tweet and substitute letters, words -- even entire thoughts and ideas and reduce it to fit in the confines of 140 characters. Twitlonger lets me say whatever I want with correct punctuation and grammar and still makes it palatable to the average Twitter user. Although putting your full message makes it slightly less accessible to mobile viewers, it makes your content a lot more coherent and reduces the need for multiple tweets to expand upon the same message. Twitlonger does show ads on their site, which is a bit of a drag, but they are providing a service and obviously they are trying to make a profit doing so (nothing wrong with that).
URL shortening is essential on Twitter. This goes without saying as the character limit and the need to post off site links are in the majority of Twitter posts. Bit.ly is the king or URL shortening service and although their URLs are steadily becoming longer, the main advantage they offer over competing shorteners is the availability of tracking statistics to each shortened URL. By appending a plus sign to the end of any bit.ly URL you are able to see an overview of each click. Some of the stats it shows are country of origin, where traffic came from, along with whose talking about it and what they're saying. They also have site specific shorteners for a wide range of sites such as Amazon (shortened to amzn.to). As mentioned, the main problem with bit.ly is its widespread usage is causing their URLs to become ever longer, negating some of the advantages of shortening. The other shortener service I use, qoiob.com, gives you much shorter URLs with the novel advantage of one character domains that come out as an arrow, chess pieces, telephone, smiley face and other non-traditional characters.
Yfrog is an image hosting service from well known free image host ImageShack. Very simply, it takes images you upload to host them and gives you back a shorted URL to post on Twitter. As of late, they have a new interface on their page that lets you integrate directly with Twitter to see threaded posts and keep track of photos you've posted, giving you an entire new user profile for Yfrog. Although some people prefer its well known sister site Twitpic, being a long time Imageshack user, Yfrog is just a natural move.
There are many other Twitter apps that give you access to posting and viewing content on Twitter. Many of them are specific to certain uses such as posting whenever you favorite a Youtube video or listen to a song. However, I find a lot of this tedious and unnecessary. Tweeting every time you listen to a song can make your followers rather bored and can lead to people choosing to unfollow you as you clog up their main Twitter page with random songs you listen to or videos you like. I scrobble all the songs I listen to from my desktop to the web to last.fm using both their scrobbling service and like.fm through a browser extension. I do this so last.fm can keep track of my music and then recommend me new music I may like through their radio player that I use on the web, in their client, and on my Xbox 360. However, I realize people don't want to see everytime I play a song, but I like to still post about my music interests. I use Tweekly.fm which integrates in both Twitter and last.fm and then posts the top 3 artists I've listened to during the week on Sunday (you can customize the day).
Without going over every Twitter application in existence here are a few others I've found useful.
- Twitpoll - Post a survey or a poll on your Twitter for your followers to answer
- Twitrbackgrounds - Customize your Twitter page with a personalized background and color scheme to make it stand out from vanilla Twitter options
- Twitition - Create, share and sign online petitions through your Twitter account
- Disqus - A great commenting system that integrates with most major blogging platform (included on here) and allows you to login and post through a variety of methods, Twitter included
- Scr.im - I always like novel ways to post your email that prevents spammers from reading it. Scrim gives you a customized link that will display your email address once a CAPTCHA is solved.
As you can see, there are many additions to Twitter that can save time and make it more useful. I haven't scratched the surface of what all can be done with this social network & microblogging site. If you have any other useful apps feel free to post them in the comments! Don't forget to follow me!