Tweaking Twitter

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in February of 2009.

Twitter is my favorite social network. Why? Because it’s easy to use (type a short message and hit enter); it’s easy to follow (just keep scrolling through the main page); it’s more casually interactive than the competitors; and, because I follow it in Twhirl, which is always in the upper-lefthand corner of my desktop, it’s always there. To contrast, I usually have Facebook open in a Firefox tab, as well, but I can go for hours without thinking to click on it.

If you’ve been curious about Twitter, or you tried it, once, but couldn’t see the utility, now might be a good time to try again. Getting started with Twitter can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t know many people who are on it, but we have an active community that Idealware readers should fit right in with. The nonprofit Twitter pack gives you a quick index of people that you might actually want to follow. And as we move into nonprofit conference season, with NTEN’s big shindig up in April and Techsoup’s Netsquared a month behind it in May, there are a lot of people joining in. Just be sure that, before you follow a bunch of us, that you tell us who you are in your profile, and maybe post an introductory Tweet — most people will not automatically follow back a blank slate.

Convenience, simplicity, immediacy, camaraderie — these are the terms that I associate with Twitter. There are some features that I’d love to see, though. These could all be implemented by Twitter, or some by a clever third party.

First, I’d like to have the option, and for my followers to have the option, of typing an introductory note to appear in the email announcing that someone has a new follower. That way, if I follow you (assuming that you’re on Twitter), I can say “Hi, you, I’m following you because I can tell by your tweets that you read the Idealware blog, and that indicates a refined taste in blogs” or “Hi, you, I see that you have all sorts of tweets about Android and the T-Mobile G1. I’m a fellow G1 user.” Make this optional, sure, but the ability to set some context when I’m establishing a social relationship would be a welcome addition.

Second, please, make the user lists (followers and followees) into a manageable interface. Let me sort them by name, location, average number of tweets a day, whether they’re following me back, how long since they last tweeted, how many tweets they’ve posted total. These are all useful metrics, and I can gleam some of them on Twitter; others via useful tools like Tweepler, which takes a stab at this type of manageability. And let me add people to groups, something that I really appreciate in Facebook’s feature set. This can be done, in a fashion, by Tweetdeck, but only if you want to donate that much of your screen’s real estate to your Twitter client. Twhirl added spellcheck this week, so I’m not going anywhere soon.

Third, while we all appreciate innovations like “Mr. Tweet“, a service that analyzes your Twitter connections and makes additional recommendations, the main algorithm for this service seems to be “who are your friends following? You should follow them, too”. Seems logical. But the result is that Mr. Tweet tells me, and everyone else, that we should follow the Twitter superstars, mostly social media gurus with followers in the thousands. Analysis of my profile should reveal that I use Twitter to converse with friends and associates, and follow very few people like that to begin with. So a recommendation engine based on my behavior, as well as my friends lists, would be great — the current options are like a Google without the option to search on terms, just a button that returns the most popular sites on the web.

Those are my top three — add your Twitter wish list requests in the comments.

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