Using Tweetbot and Lists to Make Twitter Useful


As many of you know, I have been occasionally hot and usually cold on the Twitter experience.  Yes, I share hand-curated links *** to my Twitter followers, but much of that takes only a couple of clicks from within Feedly, my feed reader of choice.  But I have never embraced Twitter as either a consumption or a conversation platform.

*** If you’re interested in tech news and topics, you should consider following me, not because I am so interesting, but because almost all of my tweets are links to tech topics and apps I find interesting.  It’s the best stuff from my very large reading list.

For probably the fifth time, I recently embarked on a project to better understand Twitter, both the bad and the good parts.  Some of this is ongoing, but from a content consumption perspective, I knew I had to filter and divide my Twitter feed, to slow the roll a little so I can find the content I care about.  I decided to do this via a third-party Twitter app and some topical lists.  Eventually, I’ll have more lists and the lists will be fully populated, but here’s where I am so far.

tweetboticonI chose Tweetbot as my third-party app.  There may be better choices out there (if so, please let me know), but I keep reading about Tweetbot, so I decided to give it a try.  Installation is easy, and you can get up and running quickly.  It takes some trial and error to figure out how to manage the columns and how to administer lists from within the app, but it’s not a difficult learning curve.

Next, I decided to start with three lists, on three topics I’m interested in: breaking news, Mac & Apple talk, and Wake Forest sports.

I added some of the obvious candidates to each list, and I tweak the lists as I discover new sources or realize some sources simply regurgitate too much quantity and too little quality (I’m looking at you, Houston Chronicle).  It’s early, but clearly this is a system with potential to work.

Click for larger view
Click for larger view

Using lists, I can separate my feed into topics and can manage the content within those topics.  This allows me to better consume content via Twitter, and to be more interactive.  I’ve probably retweeted more in the last week that in the years before, simply because I can see things easier.

I also like the way Tweetbot lets you arrange your columns, and switch to Mentions (so I can reply or retweet if appropriate), Messages (though I really don’t like Twitter Messages as an email substitute), and a search function.

I’ll have more later, but for the moment I’m hopeful that the fifth time will be the charm.

If you’ve already made some good Twitter lists, let me know.  I’ll take a look.

RIP Topify

I’ve praised Topify before, saying that it was one of the most useful little apps in my toolbox.  I’ve used it for over two years, and it has saved me a ton of time, by allowing me to manage my Twitter follows and un-follows (for those dumbasses who think auto-DMing someone will somehow make them money) via email.

Last week, Twitter changed the format of its email notifications, which broke the Topify’s method of  identifying and processing Twitter notification-related emails.  I don’t care enough about Twitter to explore this in any detail, but my general impression has long been that Twitter has a very schizophrenic relationship with the developer community- they love them- until they don’t. 

I was immediately worried that the end may be near for Topify, and today I received an email and read a blog post that confirmed my fears.  Topify is shutting down on August 5, 2011.

There’s theoretically some way to work around this change, but Arik Fraimovich, Topify’s developer, made the understandable decision to throw in the towel:

I considered switching to using the Streaming API in the past, but the only option for Topify is to use the Site Streams version of it. But Site Streams are still in beta, and according to the documentation there is no estimated date for it to exit beta. Considering this last episode and other actions by Twitter in the past year, I have no desire to expriment with their beta offerings. Not only this can result in unstable service for you, they might just shut it down one day.

Unless you are making a butt-load of money in the meantime, why in the world would developers work on small value-additive apps, when they know from experience that Twitter can and probably will pull the rug out from under them at any time?

All I can say to that is, thanks Arik for a great little service.  I used it every day for years, and it will be missed.

Now I’m going to have to visit Twitter to un-follow everyone who auto-DMs me

The Holy Grail of Social Network Sharing: Single Clicks, Native Shares & Clean Streams


I’ve been thinking about the distribution of my content across the various social networks.  My challenge is to use the social networks in a way that benefits me and my readers, while keeping control of my brand and managing my content at a central, owned-by-me location.  That location being here at Newsome.Org, and my primary distribution tool being the “Send to” feature of Google Reader.  I consume 90% of my online content via Google Reader.

Networks I Use

At this point, I use two primary social networks.

I use Twitter (follow me, if you’re interested in hand-picked links to good tech, music and life articles) as a largely list-and-search-driven resource for third party content.  You simply have to rely on lists and saved searches to manage what would otherwise be complete chaos.   Via Twitter I  give (via my hand-curated “Interesting” links) and receive (via lists and saved searches) links to stories of interest.  In other words, the “what are you doing” Twitter updates are of very little interest to me (mostly because, as we’ll see in a moment, I find Facebook much better for that sort of thing), but the pointers to news articles and blog posts are very much of interest.

I use Facebook (Friend me, if we are)  as more of an interactive, conversation stream.  I find the connections between people on Facebook much more meaningful, and much more enjoyable, than on Twitter.  In other words, Twitter feels like an internet creation.  Facebook feels more like real life.

They are very different things.

How I Share

Which means that content producers like me need to carefully decide what parts of our content get pushed where.  Until today, I pushed all of my Twitter content into my Facebook stream.  Primarily, this was to get my curated “Interesting” links into both Twitter and Facebook, via a one-click “Send to” Google Reader process.


I would send an item to Twitter, which in turn would be  sent to Facebook.  It worked, but it was noisy.  There was too much static on the line.

For example, when I publish a new blog post, it gets linked in my Twitter stream, via the WP to Twitter plug-in.  Then, in turn, it would show up on Facebook, the same way.   Like this.


But Facebook’s native sharing process produces a much better stream entry, with a thumbnail, etc.  It looks less spammy and more elegant, giving a result like this.


Duplication and Dirty Streams

Which meant that I had to either allow duplicate new blog post entries in my Facebook stream (bad) or manually delete the automatic Twitter posting and then re-post the item using the Facebook’s native sharing process (inefficient).  Ultimately, I found myself rushing to Facebook to delete certain Twitter-imported items and replacing them with native Facebook shared links.  I felt like George Jetson on the treadmill, with no Jane in sight.

Then I finally realized I was doing it backwards.

The interactive quality of my stream (both incoming and outgoing) is better and more valuable at Facebook.  So that’s where I need to use the most care.  I very much wish I could one-click export selected items from my Facebook stream to Twitter.  That would allow me to pick and choose the links and other content that I wanted to send over the Facebook walls, without having to clutter my Facebook stream with a bunch of imported content.  But you can’t do that.

Tossing Twitter Out of Facebook

So I decided to cut the cord.  As of today, my Twitter feed is no longer pushed to Facebook.  Rather, my curated “Interesting” links will continue to be the most valuable part of my Twitter stream, and any of them that I want to also share in my Facebook stream will have to be re-shared.  This double effort will serve as a mighty filter on my Facebook stream, which is good and bad.  Good because the quality of the content will be higher.  Bad because there will be some interesting stuff that never makes it into my Facebook stream.

Call Me Percival


Which leads to the search for the holy grail.

What I want, but have not yet found, is a way to share content from Google Reader one of three ways:

1. To Twitter (can do this);

2. To Facebook (can do this); or

3.  To both simultaneously, but using each service’s native sharing API (cannot do this).

There needs to be a way to select, slice and dice and distribute content via a Google Reader “Send to” (or the equivalent), which will send the selected content to Twitter and Facebook, simultaneously and separately (without going into one and then being imported into the other).  Another, likely easier to develop, solution would be to create an application that only pushed certain content from Twitter to Facebook.  It would be rules based.  For example, I could create a rule that would push any Twitter post that starts with “Interesting:” to my Facebook stream, but would not push other Twitter posts.

For me, this is the holy grail of social network sharing.  I thought perhaps might be a vehicle to do this or something acceptably close, but I don’t see a way to push the same link through to Twitter as a Twitter post and to Facebook as a natively shared (as opposed to imported) item.  In other words, it seems my ability to push things from my Twitter stream to my Facebook stream is an “all or nothing” decision.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to share especially interesting items twice, in order to keep my Facebook stream clean.  But I’ll keep looking for the holy grail.  It’s out there somewhere, or will be one day.

Seesmic is Dead, Long Live Seesmic

So Twitter buys Tweetie, and some say this is another Apple-like maneuver designed to smack down third party developers and control the whole show.

Who knows what Twitter’s objective is.  I’m not entirely sure Twitter knows.  But I certainly don’t see this as the death knell of third party Twitter apps.

For one, choice is good.  For everyone.  Unless Twitter locks out third party developers, which simply will not happen, just because Twitter owns a desktop and/or mobile app doesn’t mean third party apps can’t thrive.  Hell, Twitter owns Twitter already, and the whole reason we need third party apps is because the native Twitter platform- and the unenhanced experience- is so lacking.

In other words, there are enough holes in the Twitter experience to keep third party pluggers busy for a long time.


I have Tweetie on my iPhone.  I used to use it, and thought it was a well made app.  But lately I create most of my Twitter content in third party apps (WordPress, Live Writer, Posterous, Foursquare, etc.) and push content from there to Twitter.  I can’t imagine that I’ll ever go back to creating whatever content I publish to Twitter on a dedicated Twitter web page or app.

Not to mention the very relevant fact that the Tweetie desktop app is Mac only.


As far as reading Twitter goes, well where to start?  First of all, I don’t think there are that many people who do it.  What I mean by that is that tons of people cast their content onto Twitter, but other than hardcore geeks and people with skin in the game I don’t think anybody really consumes their online content at Twitter (not in the least because most information tossed into Twitter is in the form of links to content elsewhere).  I think Twitter is one giant California with millions of prospectors setting up camp there in hopes of finding gold.  If there is no gold, or when the gold is all taken, most of the herd will move on to the next land rush.

I’d really like to know the percentage of people who regularly read Twitter who do not regularly post to Twitter.  I bet it’s a relatively small number.

To the extent that people do read Twitter, a third party app is a necessity.  Multiple columns, better list handling, the list goes on and on.  Again, choice is good for everyone.  If Twitter is the big honking deal the Twitterati  is trying to convince us it is, how in the world can you say there isn’t room for a multitude of apps and options?

Do we all drive Fords?

Seesmic Web is infinitely better than the native Twitter web site

Furthermore, many people- myself very much included- prefer web based apps.  If this is the year of the cloud, why would I download a desktop app to read Twitter?  This is the main reason why I prefer Seesmic.  The other being an elegant, but not overdone, feature set.  Very Apple like, in a good, non-evil, way.

So I’m not ready to morn Seesmic or any Twitter-dependant app.  I think they’ll do fine.

At least until the gold runs out.

Antisocial Networking, Foursquare & the Binary Filter

Fellow Houston tech blogger and Houston Chronicle writer Dwight Silverman told me today that he was unfollowing me on Twitter, because he finds my Foursquare Twitter updates irritating.


No worries, Dwight.  But as a student of human nature and social networking, I thought about this some while I was having lunch (after checking in on Foursquare of course).

First, some stats to put this in perspective.  I have checked-in with Foursquare exactly 35 times since February 12, when I joined.  That’s slightly more than once every other day.  I have become Mayor of 5 locations, for a total of 40 Foursquare-related Tweets.  Of my 2,871 Tweets, approximately one percent have been Foursquare related.  So while there are probably plenty of reasons not to follow me on Twitter, Foursquare is not one of them.

In fact, I think Foursquare is social networking at its finest.  Unlike Twitter, where people mostly toss links at each other, Foursquare actually provides the opportunity to truly network- as in see people in real life.  When you check-in at a location, you can see who is already there.  If that’s not networking, and this is, then I am seriously confused.

I may be kicked off this list if I mention that
I’m on my way to the Galleria Apple Store.

Other than a passing thought that maybe the relatively few Houston tech bloggers with any sort of web presence ought to stick together, I don’t care whether Dwight, or anyone else, follows me or not.  By no means am I a committed Twitter writer or reader.  I’m not offended- just curious. 

I also understand the need to manage and filter your content stream.  Farmville single-handedly caused me to become an expert on Facebook filters (Facebook, unlike Twitter, is very interactive, once you filter out all the noise).

The obvious lesson here is that Twitter needs to implement key word filters.  I’m sure it will at some point.  In the meantime, we all develop our own binary filters, in or out.  I certainly don’t understand Dwight’s filter for Twitter streams, but that’s OK.  The great thing about these services is that we can all create our own recipe for consumption.  Dwight has his, I have mine, you have yours.

It’s all cool.

Not nearly as cool as becoming the Mayor of Skeeter’s, though.


Now I’m off to the Apple Store.  I need to buy a cable, and see if I can oust the Mayor.

Helpful Links:
Unfollow me on Twitter here (I can’t figure out a direct unfollow link).
Add me on Foursquare

Why Google’s Shot Across Twitter’s Bow Missed the Mark

Erick Schonfeld has three interesting theories as to why Google pushed Google Buzz out the door and into the email client of millions of users, before it was ready for prime time.

I’ve tried Google Buzz, and found it to be pretty uninspiring.  I’d been thinking that one of Erick’s theories might be at play.  A theory that, if true, is going to backfire on Google.  I also came up with a fourth theory that I think plays at least a part in this drama.

The Twitter Negotiating Power Theory

One of Erick’s theories is that Google really wants to buy Twitter, and launching Buzz was a shot across Twitter’s bow, indicating that if Twitter doesn’t come to the bargaining table, Google will use some of its war chest to do battle with Twitter on the micro-blogging front.  Certainly Gmail provides Google with a ready-made user base, and you would think that Google could easily be a force to be reckoned with.

The ability to put Buzz front and center in the Gmail email app gives Google a clear path to the stream.

Or does it?

image via TechCrunch

If the Buzz as a negotiating tactic theory is even partially correct- and I’ve been thinking the same thing, it’s going to fail epicly.  I’m sure somewhere in the bowels of Twitter Control, the powers that be have been worrying about what Google might do to steal some of Twitter’s stream flow.  Google is the potential exit strategy and Death Star for most start-ups, so it gets complicated.  One way or another, anyone operating on the web has to keep a constant eye on Google, who could bring pleasure or pain at any moment.  If Google came out of the gate with a mature, elegant and at least evolutionary  micro-blogging alternative, it would combine naturally with Gmail’s massive user base, and it would be game on.

Which means that the swoosh sound you heard in the halls of Twitter Control on the night Buzz was heaped front and center onto the world’s email screen was a giant sigh of relief.

Other than infesting our inboxes with needless Buzz-related email, Buzz isn’t horrible.  But it’s not evolutionary either.  It’s just another Twitter clone.  If anyone other than Google had released Buzz, it would be almost universally referred to as Butt.  As in of jokes.

Stated simply- if this is how Google intends to scare Twitter back to the negotiating table, this effort won’t only fail.  It will actually increase Twitter’s bargaining power.

The Toss Apps Against the Wall Theory

I have another theory that I believe may also be at work here.

Google has done some great things, and is, for many, the backbone of the online experience.  It owns search, which was its lightning in a bottle beachhead in the battle for the ownership of the web.  Ads spring naturally from search and page views, and Google was able to leverage the first to dominate the second.

But after that, there is no denying that Google has had a decidedly mixed record with new projects and apps.  It got there with email, because of its search presence, and because Yahoo and Microsoft were asleep at the wheel.

But it has also had its share of failures.  Google puts on a brave front, but Google Docs is still, at best, a work in progress.  Google Apps looks and acts like a bunch of unrelated applications haphazardly tossed together.

And there have been plenty of others.  Remember Google Catalog?  That’s OK, neither does anyone else.  What about KnolLively?  Something called Orkut?   Dodgeball?  Shoot, even Wave, which came out to a parade of hype, seems to have already lost its mojo.

Google has a track record of tossing a lot of stuff against the wall, and waiting for something to stick.  Some things do, and some things don’t.  It’s too early to tell how Buzz will turn out, but I can say with confidence that it is not now- and is very unlikely to ever become- a threat to Twitter.

Seesmic Web Makes Good Twitter

I was way late to the party, but have been using and enjoying Seesmic Web for the past few weeks.  It takes the chaos and user-unfriendliness that is the native Twitter web site, and makes it darn near usable.

I like the way I can select, see and manage three columns of content on one screen.

click for a bigger, annotated image

I keep my main feed in the first column, and either a saved search or one of the lists I follow in the second or third column.

Today, Seesmic updated the app to include some really helpful new features.  One of those is pretty close to the feature I asked for the other day- better subscription management.

See the Contacts link?

Click on it, and you get a screen and toolset that makes managing your follows a lot easier.

click for a bigger image

Click on the “following” link beneath your photo, and you get a list of the people you follow.  Click on a person, and you get a screenful of information.image

I’m following the Dalai Lama, but alas he is not following me (can’t imagine why not).  If he was, that message would say “This user and you are following each other.”

From this screen, you can also send a message or unfollow someone.  Not perfect, but better.

It’s also easy to manage lists from this screen, and like Facebook, lists are crucial to an efficient Twitter experience.

The new version still has some issues.  I’ve had some log-in problems, lockups and script errors in Firefox 3.5.8, and the All Contacts button doesn’t seem to work after you view a contact’s details.

But it’s a definite step forward.