Tag Archives: Twitter

A Kind(l)er way of consuming tweets

Kindle CoverI picked up an Amazon Kindle 3 over the Christmas period, primarily because I wanted to be able to support a family member who also acquired one. I’d been impressed by the hardware when I’d had a chance to play with a Kindle 3 recently (I’d always thought that the screen refresh and form factor would put me off, but they don’t), and I may also want to dabble in the possibility of developing kindlet applications for the platform. To my mind, despite some limitations, it could be a fantastic slate for displaying relatively-static business content like facts and figures, and of course it is light and has fantastic battery life. I’ve gone for the wifi-only model, not because I wasn’t tempted by the possibility of global free 3G access, but purely because I didn’t consider that I’d need to use it to connect to the wireless much when out-and-about and away from a wifi network.

So far I’ve been very impressed with the device. It is simple, has reasonable usability – although a web interface via Amazon’s website for creating and organising Collections would be exceedingly welcome – and it is definitely encouraging me to read a lot more. It’s a tiny point, but I’m enjoy the progress bars at the bottom of the page that show me how far I’ve got through each book.

Almost by accident the other day I noticed one of my colleagues retweet a comment from David Singleton:

Now to be fair, this hit me squarely between the eyes – I have the former, and do indeed like the latter. So I just had to ping him and find out more!

Moments later, I had been invited to blootwee.

After a short signup process on the website (hint: it didn’t work brilliantly on the Kindle browser, but it can be done very quickly on a desktop machine), my Kindle refreshed itself with a new document “blootwee for andypiper”.

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So what is this doing? Well, essentially, it is scooping my tweets up, grabbing the associated / linked content, creating an ebook, and emailing it to my Kindle – for free. As you will see from the gallery above, the book has tweets at the start, one per page. By following any links, you can jump forward to the point where that web page content is embedded. You can then hit the Back button to return to where you were in the Twitter timeline.

David is currently offering the ability to do this for free on an ad-hoc basis, but he also has some very low-cost paid options to enable this to happen on a daily basis… so you end up essentially with a “newspaper” based on tweets and interesting web pages from your network. The transcoding of web content is not ideal – obviously Flash is not present and image-based content is missing – but it provides a nice way of summarising the content.

I like it. I’m not sure it will become my default way of reading tweets by any means, but what it does give me is a very convenient way of gathering up interesting web content on a daily basis, and reviewing it as I travel. With a 25-hour trip to Australia coming up in the near future, I can see this could be quite useful!

Ping me via Twitter or comment below if you want an invite, and I’ll update this when they are gone.

Notes, because people might ask:

  1. To take a screenshot on the Kindle 3, hit Shift-Alt-G… then hook up via USB and grab the .gif files from the Documents folder.
  2. The linen slip case for my Kindle came from an etsy seller called kindlecovers.
  3. I have a few more images of my Kindle on Flickr.
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Digital Local Government

I just saw my mate Dominic Campbell retweet something interesting from Monmouthshire County Council (yes, really!)

For those who don’t know Dominic, a) you NEED to be following him on Twitter, and b) he’s the great guy behind the consultancy FutureGov which runs a whole swathe of events and projects which are about encouraging and supporting government organisations as they come online. I’m a big fan!

Every time I see something like this, I immediately wonder how my local council is doing. So this evening, I had a quick poke at the Hampshire and Rushmoor websites (hint: Rushmoor, you don’t have to require the ‘www’, you can use a redirect), and followed that up with a look at neighbouring Surrey (I’ve just joined the new Digital Surrey committee, incidentally, and spend a lot of time there, so I have a legitimate interest). What I saw didn’t really encourage me, so I found the contact form on the Rushmoor Borough Council website, and for the sake of transparency on my part if not on theirs, here is what I posted:

Details of your comment/complaint:
Do you provide news or information via any social websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or others? I’ve observed that several councils have begun to share budget information, provide important news alerts etc via these kinds of services and they would fit well with my lifestyle.
(http://twitter.com/#!/monmouthshirecc and http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=386)

Are there RSS feeds for news from your site? Do you have any APIs for access to local information and data (http://www.sunderland.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4112)

Do you have any kind of digital engagement strategy and where can I find it?

What would you like us to do?
Provide better access to local information online and explain the council’s view of how to use new technology to engage with people.

I’ll be interested to read what they send back! I’ve been extremely disappointed with my local MP’s digital engagement (oh look, his Twitter stream abruptly stops about a month after the date of last year’s General Election, hmm!). Still, at least if the local councils need some help, I know a bunch of very good people to put them in touch with…

The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that drop.io has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about drop.io a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like drop.io is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired Ping.fm as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – 12seconds.tv has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt :-)

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where about.me, chi.mp and flavors.me want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…

140 characters – the perfect size

This post will be longer than 140 characters in length

That’s OK though, because it’s a blog post. It’s not a tweet, an SMS, or a status update. It’s designed to be something longer and more in-depth. It’s a place where you the reader, and I as the author, can explore some thoughts in more detail.

140chars

In the past couple of months I’ve detected a number of debates around the “140 character limit” imposed by microblogging. In fact, this “limit” was pretty much invented / pioneered by the darling site of the moment, Twitter.

A few weeks ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke at IBM Research in Almaden. During the talk, he described how they arrived at the infamous number of characters in a tweet… I’m paraphrasing here, but feel free to check the video for his exact words:

The maximum in an SMS message is 160 characters before breaking the message, so we took 15 characters for the username, 5 characters for formatting or whatever, and ended up at 140 characters… we wanted to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the cheap $20 Nokia prepay cellphone…

With the runaway success of Twitter, and indeed with the increasing use of cellphones and mobile devices to access websites, the past few years have seen the proliferation of the 140 character status update. There are conferences dedicated to realtime microblogging (and, more specifically, to Twitter) which bear the magic number in their titles. We’ve become used to a more condensed form of communication, cutting out unnecessary words and letters from our online communications, and shortening our URLs.

However, one hundred and forty characters are not enough for everybody.

My friend Andrew frequently complains about the limit. Karl has been known to comment on the restrictions of shorter communications. Luis was famous for his thoughts which often used to run across 3 or 4 separate tweets – I unfollowed him for a while as a result, since he was breaking my preferred “rules”, but he’s better these days… I think he was suffering from email withdrawal :-)

Personally, I think 140 characters is the ideal length for microblog-style status updates.

Readability

For one thing, I’ve found that I’ve become accustomed to scanning realtime feeds from sites like FriendFeed and Facebook, and the short, sharp updates are very easy to read and digest. Almost accidentally, it seems as though @ev and @jack hit upon a length of update which is naturally easy to scan and absorb, without having to really stop, pause, and read. As Stowe Boyd noted back at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin last year (and again, I’m paraphrasing), the realtime web is like a continuous river of information, and blogs are becoming the rocks in that river, the places where more considered thoughts can be written and conversations held. Twitter, Friendfeed or whatever else provide, aggregate and prioritise the links and hooks out to the larger chunks of content. The fact that I barely have to pay attention to the stream but can quickly absorb the things that catch my eye enables Ambient Intimacy.

Write-ability

Sending a short status update is quick and easy – it barely takes a moment to type something of that length, and anything longer than 140 can be painful on a smaller mobile device, so it seems to strike a nice balance there. As Ben and Willie have pointed out, learning and adapting to the size constraint can have beneficial effects on the way we communicate in other media, too (my emails have become shorter and crisper, or more often have been replaced by quick IM updates).

On the other hand, there are some downsides to our newly-enforced brevity. Two areas of particular concern to me are the glut of URL shorteners (which may make URLs easier to exchange, but break one of the principles of the web,in my opinion); and the difficulty of archiving and preserving conversations. I wonder whether Google Wave will have an impact on either of those issues. Anyone at Google want to get me on the beta so I can give me opinion on that? ;-)

Flexibility

We’ve basically standardised the length of text updates to a whole bunch of online RESTful web services, making the convergence of clients to support those services much simpler. The mixture of content that can be shared over bite-sized streams of this kind has proven to be remarkable – from newsflashes, location updates, short links to larger articles or image snapshots, to IRC-style conversations and simple status information, and also to automated systems and pinging information between applications. I’ve often wondered whether Twitter is, in fact, the new nervous system of the Internet… and, according to Techcrunch, so have the company’s employees.

Why not make it longer?

The 140 debate became a bit sharper recently, where I commented on some internal tools at work that were using status updates of slightly longer lengths… say, 250 or 500 characters. The argument in favour of those lengths goes that 140 characters is just too short, sometimes. OK, but how is any other arbitrary limit any better? I’d argue that once you get to the 250 character size, I struggle to be able to simply scan through something. I’d also suggest that at 500 characters, you’re at the point of writing a short blog post.

I remember that at the genesis of one of the tools in question, a friend of mine argued for more characters to be allowed so that he could embed HTML tags in his updates. Strange how the huge variety of Twitter clients have managed to evolve rich hyperlinking features without having embedded HTML syntax in the updates, then.

Another of my colleagues suggested that you “need” more than 140 characters for some discussions. OK, but for those discussions you could either turn to IM (for one-to-one conversations) or a blog post, possibly linked to from a microblogging site, for a debate with comments. By the way, those blog posts and comments are likely to be indexed and retained by Google, whereas immediate and more generalised discussions held on a realtime service are still not effectively indexed. If you’re not satisfied with Twitter’s ability to thread and group conversations, there are other tools out there of a similar nature which do have some of those features. Also, if you want to go halfway towards a blog post, but have something to post which is a bit more than a status update, you might consider Tumblr or Posterous.

That was a lot more than 140 characters. Darn it.

(thanks to the always-excellent Geek & Poke for the cartoon used above, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Say Boo!

If microblogging wasn’t crazy enough… you can now audioboo!

AudioBoo is a free iPhone application linked to a website of the same name. It lets you record short messages and upload them to the site, where people can then comment if they so desire.

I heard about it a few weeks ago, and installed it on my phone, but never actually launched it. It wasn’t until yesterday that my interest was really piqued, when the boys on the Dan Logan Show talked about it (I dropped them an email to tie it in with my RSS chat, since AudioBoo quite naturally provides RSS feeds). I’ve noticed folks like Phil Campbell using it quite a lot too, so while I was waiting for some software to install today I thought I’d actually try it out.

Sign-up was a breeze… I was delighted to find that it autodetected my Gravatar so I didn’t have to upload a profile image to yet another service, and it used the new Twitter OAuth support to link to my Twitter account without needing me to hand over my password. Even better – the audio quality is brilliant, as it records locally on the phone and then gets transferred, rather than being recorded on the server side with all the crackly quality of a phone line. The iPhone app works beautifully, too, as you’d expect. Oh, and you can subscribe to AudioBoo feeds in iTunes, which is pretty neat.

At the moment I can’t see how much I’d use this, but it’s fun. I see via the AudioBoo blog that the Guardian used it to cover the G20 protests in London. Cool idea.