Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twitter is still retro and needs these feature improvements. When will the real TwitterScript and TwitterAds appear?

I thought Twitter was feeling retro recently and it hit me that it looked like DOS and early operating system GUIs did. I started thinking about the kinds of enhancements that worked with DOS commands and enhanced the early Windows before they knew what was really useful and what wasn’t. The current Twitter app wars are showing lots of similarities.

You’ll have to adjust a little to the shift in technological culture as we’re moving from a fixed file system to a dynamic information channel system. But the ideas I think still work for both.

Back then, it was fun to see what kinds of small applications coders built to work with files because DOS wasn’t all that powerful. As some other guys from another OS improved DOS on their past experience, DOS developed a very Unix-like behavior. Actually any new code to try whether useful or not caused a little thrill for someone who had more than a handful of stored files.

Popular Twitter sites and apps

Many of the Twitter apps out there today don’t do much but are still popular just because they are interesting and do one thing fairly well. Let’s call those Twitter utilities. Something like Friend or Follow can be done easily on your own but it takes time. Better to just click a tab and see your friends, fans, and followers.

Then there’s a category of the better Twitter GUI. I remember using terribly functional programs that super-powered your file management system past the point of what a very indecisive admin would even want. Twitter has been slow to give us the features we need so others came to the rescue like
Others types of applications did a new kind of useful task and extended the current ability of the OS to manage files by creating shortcuts or scheduled tasks or something unique. Often Windows would add that to the next release. These are the Twitter improvements that you see being added slowly like lists which were implemented as groups, searching which so many sites have tried to do hoping that the Twitter API would not cause it to completely collapse, and trending topics. Check out some of these searching sites and trend watchers (number indicates Alexa ranking – lower is better):
  • Surchur – trending on Google, Yahoo! and Twitter (22,511)
  • Trendistic –  trending with charts (39,314)
  • Monitter – trends and monitoring (52,687)
  • Twazzup – better than Twitter search (44,541)
  • Trendistic search - better than Twitter search (39,314)
  • Collecta -  much better than Twitter search (64,456)
  • TwitterSearch – find birds. Really. Not up yet.  (268,779)
Some cool improvements that Twitter could stand to add are the mute button in Brizzly to temporarily turn off seeing noisy tweets from one person you follow because they are attending a conference and you don’t want to read about their travel experience.
Just got into Tampa. Wow, it’s hot.
Just got to the hotel. Wow, it’s big.
Another Brizzly feature I like is the automatic viewing of the real URL instead of the bit.ly version. And it also shows the real picture or video instead of the TwitPic link version of it. I like the New Followers pane in TweetDeck and somebody should add a People I Don’t Have in a Group group or private list because I lose people amongst all those grouping things.

There’s a set of administrative tools that you find on a app with a large menu or targeting that special niche to do better than what the status quo can do. DOS told you the basic count of files while other programs gave you numbers that sliced and diced everything it could find. Twitter tells you basic followers, following and now lists and listed. But now
all want a part of that business.

And finally there’s the games and entertainment that everyone eventually loses valuable work time with enjoyably. You couldn’t have technology like an operating system without a game like Star Trek or solitaire to relax with. Twitter provides endless amusements as well such as account based tweeting games for trivia or skills at the accounts of @playtwivia, @twitbrain, @tweetbomb, or @beatmytweet. Much like the files of ASCII art, the content of tweets provide amusement for all at sites like:
I’m not really loyal to the current batch of applications because five years from now, they won’t be around. Most of the utilities and other programs that supported the old DOS and Windows have left the scene also. One or two of the companies are still around like Symantec or Norton but there isn’t room for many. You still have quite a few utilities out there but they aren’t as popular as when it was fun to find a new command to show off to your friends.

What Twitter is missing

What is interesting is the part where Twitter isn’t following the general functions of the older OS functions. The current API, or programming interface, that programmers use to access and sometimes crash Twitter is like the set of DOS commands. In DOS you could write a batch file of commands and in Twitter you can write a program with a list of commands.

But there’s one thing missing: the command prompt. I’d like to do more than send a direct message, reply or follow someone with a click. I want a flashing cursor with the power to mute, direct to a list, delay a tweet, transfer followers to my other account, send to multiple accounts, etc. That can all be handled with a command line.

Files are like Twitter accounts and the directories for organizing files are like lists. We also need better transparency on the account information and the lists. How long has this person been on Twitter? What’s the average length of time this person follows someone? How long does it take this person to follow back after being followed? Give me a command line to query that kind of data. Then I can get the numbers of my friends, my fans, and my followers without a web site. I could also get all the folks who aren’t on any of my lists easily without resorting to endless dialog boxes and keeping track of them on paper. And maybe even pipe them into a new list.

I am asking for a scripting language here that hasn’t been invented yet, yes. Let’s call it TwitterScript even though there’s an ActionScript code library by that name. That’s because I program and I know the ease of use and power that it provides. It could open up self-managed tweets, accounts, and lists so much that many of the sites would fade away. But other sites would be able to provide a GUI more powerful than before based on it. How about using variables in the script so it can grab your account name or statistics and make the command easily reusable by anyone?

Twitter is still in its infancy and is growing. One impediment is that there is no cash flow from using the service so they’re getting off to a rocky start. But when they implement more data capturing by introducing more data to be used like geocoding and maybe even some demographic information, then they’ll be able to sell that info much like Google is selling their data on search queries.

But Google makes most of its money on ads. I expect Twitter also will start to use sponsored tweets that get pushed out every hour or so to appropriate accounts. Let’s call this one TwitterAds. It’s AdSense all over again as Twitter will auction off your ad for the most tweets per day to the accounts that mention your keyword. That’s what people who have valued Twitter at about $1 billion recently probably are thinking.

I’m a big supporter of keeping the noise down on my accounts. I don’t like commercials and I won’t like it when they start collecting their due from us who use the service but don’t pay. So I hope that they just keep it subtle as much as AdSense ads aren’t banner ads.

Twitter will have to grow up soon. Business demands it. It’s a great information channel for us as knowledge providers. I look forward to all the powerful features that they will be implementing and know that I’ll be paying for it somehow. And then, in a few years, you’ll be able to say “Back in the days of Twitter 1.0 I used to have to go to another site to search…”
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