Monday, July 28, 2008

10 tools that will make you a Twitter power user

Author: Jason Hiner

Twitter can be powerful for professional networking and collective intelligence. Here are ten tools that can help you become a Twitter power user and take full advantage of Twitter for business and professional use.

In my article Is Twitter the most important development on the Web in 2008? I wrote about the fact that Twitter has made me better informed and better connected with my colleagues and peers in the technology business. For those who are using Twitter — or plan to start — here are 10 tools that can help you get the most out of it for professional networking.

1. Summize

Since Twitter is a great way to do a quick scan of what people are talking about, wouldn’t it be great to search it to see what people are saying about a specific topic? A site called Summize came up with a nice little search tool to do that.

In fact, the tool is so good that Twitter bought Summize earlier this month. The URL is now but, at the time that I’m writing this, it hasn’t actually been integrated into Twitter’s default search so you’ll have to bookmark that URL or go to (which redirects to it). Using this to do searches on specific tech topics that interest you is also a great way to find people to follow who have the same interests.

2. Tweetburner

One of the most common things to do on Twitter is share URLs to interesting stuff. But, since Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters it’s best to use Snurl or TinyURL or similar services to shorten the URL. While all of these services work just fine, the best one to use is Tweetburner because it gives you “personal statistics” to show the number of clicks that your links generated.
3. Twitter Mobile

At least half of my Twittering is done from my cell phone, and I’m not alone. Back in December, there was a big stink when T-Mobile was suspected of blocking its customers from using Twitter. There were a bunch of T-Mobile customers who were ready to drop the carrier over this before the issue got resolved — that’s how important it was to them to be able to Twitter from their cell phone. While there are lots of mobile clients like TinyTwitter, Twitterific, TwitterBerry, and TreoTwit, I still prefer to just use the mobile version of the Twitter site:

If you also do status updates on other social networks in addition to Twitter, then can be a great time-saver because it allows you to write a message and then it can post it to your account on Twitter plus simultaneously post it to Linkedin, Facebook, Plaxo and several other networks.
5. TwitPic

Another popular thing to do on Twitter is post photos. While you can put photos on Flickr or other photo sharing sites and then post shortened URLs, the better way to do it is to simply use TwitPic, which will allow to upload the photo and write the Twitter post and then it will post it with the URL automatically shortened for you. You can even use TwitPic from many smartphones. For example, earlier this week I posted a photo of the LCD TV I just set up in my office.
6. TweetAhead

If you’re not caught up in stream-of-consciousness, but want to use Twitter to announce something at a specific time (or automatically post an update at a time when you won’t have access to a computer or phone), then you can use TweetAhead to schedule a post at a specific time.
7. TweetStats

If you want to get serious — or at least scientific– about your Twitter use, then TweetStats will give you lots of data to see, for example, how many times you posted this month compared to last month, what times you tend to post the most, which users you respond to most often, and which tools you use the most to post on Twitter.
8. Twist

Twitter can be used as a research tool to see what users are saying about a certain topic, that’s where Summize (now Twitter Search) is handy, but you can also use Twitter for trend data to see how many posts there are about a certain topic by using Twist. Twist lets you see the number of posts for big topics over the past week or month, and you can even compare topics by simply entering multiple terms separated by commas. For example, a popular search right now is “iphone, blackberry” (see results in graph below).

9. TwitterLocal

Want to see if any of your local connections are on Twitter or find Twitterers in your local metro area? TwitterLocal allows you to search by area code for posts from Twitterers within 1 mile or as far away as 20 miles.
10. Twitterholic

Who has the largest following on Twitter? You can find the top 100 on Twitterholic. At the time that I’m writing this, the top of the list is dominated by a lot of personalities from the tech world, including notables such as Leo LaPorte, John Dvorak, and Guy Kawasaki. Twitterholic is a good place to find some top tech thinkers that you might be interested in following.

So, that’s my list. I hope it helps you put Twitter to use for professional purposes.

Is Twitter the most important development on the Web in 2008?

Author: Jason Hiner

For those who have never used Twitter, my biggest challenge here might be giving you a concise definition. Here are some of the common ones that you’ll hear:

* It’s micro-blogging
* It’s a 140-character note about what you’re doing
* It’s an up-to-the-minute status update for all your friends
* It’s a great way to keep up with what your colleagues are working on
* It’s a very timely source for news and links
* It’s like being part of the Borg but you choose your own Collective

Here’s how I explained Twitter to my mom a couple weeks ago:

“It’s like a text message or an instant message — limited to 140 characters — that you send to everyone on your buddy list. You use it when you’re doing something interesting, you have some news to share, or you have a Web link that you want to bring to people’s attention.”

f you don’t think that sounds very exciting or useful, you’re not alone. A lot of the most active Twitterers I know didn’t take to it right away. There’s an interesting phenomenon with Twitter where a user gives it a first try and then sort of abandons it, while still occasionly checking on the messages posted by the people on their contact list. Then, the user eventually starts doing and seeing stuff and thinking, “I should post that Twitter.” Pretty soon they actually start remembering to post that stuff, either from a Web browser or a cell phone, and before long they are hooked.
Five reasons why Twitter matters

1. Twitter provides a method for tapping into the brainwaves of people whose thoughts and opinions are valuable to you.
2. It can help you catch breaking news very quickly. It’s the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth.
3. It can allow you to communicate and network with people that you’ve wanted to meet.
4. Twitter lets you keep track of colleagues, see what they’re working on, and better understand what they do.
5. It can serve as a messaging tool to quickly communicate with multiple contacts.

Twitter for IT

I primarily use Twitter for three things:

1. Posting a lot of the stuff that doesn’t make it into my blog. That includes links, breaking news, thoughts on current events in the tech world, and occasionally a few off-topic notes about digital living and civilization as we know it.
2. Keeping up with current and former co-workers and other friends and colleagues — mostly people in the IT industry or the media business. I’ve learned more about some of my co-workers from Twitter than I did by working with them in the same office for years.
3. Responding to thoughts and notes from my network of contacts and get to know some of my contacts better in the process.

You can find me on Twitter at

Because so many of the early adopters of Twitter are techies, it can be a valuable tool for IT leaders, who can not only follow pundits like me but can also follow like-minded IT experts. In this way, they can build their own custom community of people of interest for IT. That’s the greatest strength of Twitter, and that’s why it will end up being the most important development on the Web in 2008 — the year it really started to gain critical mass.

There’s another reason why IT pros may be interested in Twitter, and it has nothing to do with its use for communication. As an online application built on RubyOnRails, Twitter has run into scaling problems that have recently led to several outages of the service and repeatedly dogged its IT department. In fact, the outages have become so common that they are — dangerously — becoming one of the distinguishing characteristics of Twitter. There’s even a recommendation to put ads on the outage page. Check out the TechCrunch article Twitter At Scale: Will It Work? and this blog post from the Twitter staff to get up to speed on the issues involved.
Further reading

For more on Twitter, take a look at these articles:

* The secret to Twitter (Scobleizer)
* The several habits of wildly successful Twitter users (Slacker Manager)
* Perspective on Twitter and its brethren (CNET)
* In Twitter’s Scoble problem, a business model (GigaOm)
* Twitter, again (ZDNet)
* 8 cool Twitter tools (Wired)
* Five Twitter tools we love (GigaOm)
* Twitter Valued at $80 Million (WebGuild)
* The three business models that make Twitter a billion-dollar business (
* End Of Speculation: The Real Twitter Usage Numbers (TechCrunch)

Bottom line for IT leaders

While Twitter launched quietly back in mid-2006, 2008 will likely be remembered as the year that it reached critical mass. In fact, the masses have grown to the point that Twitter’s infrastructure can’t keep up, which has led to almost-weekly service outages and outrage from users. However, whether Twitter itself is the brand or product that survives, the phenomenon of group messaging that it pioneered will undoubtedly continue. It has already hooked too many users, and there are lots more joining every day right now. IT leaders should join the party, too, because they can take advantage of Twitter to become smarter, more timely, and better connected.

UPDATE, May 26, 2008 at 9:10 AM EST:

One other effective use of Twitter is for following your most valuable RSS feeds. It’s not a replacement for a full RSS reader, but it is very useful for keeping track of your most-watched feeds (if they are on Twitter). Once you add them to your list, the new posts simply show up in your Twitter stream. Here are some RSS feeds you can follow on Twitter:

* TechRepublic Blogs
* ZDNet Blogs
* CNET News