Twitter tools, pt. 2: Enemy of the good

When I first got into Twitter I entertained the idea of limiting myself to following just 100 people. This seemed like a feasible idea at the time, but now that I’m following 196 people I realize how ridiculous it was. I have no desire to cut the number of people I follow in half, but I’ve also reached the point where the volume of Twitter activity is getting a little unmanageable. Unfortunately I haven’t found any tools to make this better.

Take the problem of Twitter/Facebook interaction. Twitter posts and Facebook status updates serve similar purposes but aren’t exactly the same; responses to Tweets take the form of another Tweet rather than a comment, so the output can be overwhelming for Facebook users if the two accounts are integrated so that all Tweets become Facebook updates. The perfect solution to this problem is to designate which Tweets get sent to Facebook. Selective Twitter Status is an app that only passes on Tweets that include a “#fb” hashtag. That solves the problem for Facebook, but takes up precious characters in Twitter and pollutes the service with a meaningless tag.

A better solution would be to filter out any @replies. As a general rule on Twitter, any post starting with @somebody is directed primarily to that person and not particularly useful for Facebook users. Filtering @replies is an imperfect solution; some @replies are valued on Facebook and some non-@replies are worthless. However, this simple filter would take care of most of the problem and would require no effort from users. I’m amazed that, to my knowledge, an app that does this doesn’t exist. It’s a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

The same is true for handling the volume of Tweets from one’s contacts. I spent a couple hours this afternoon playing with Tweetdeck and Seesmic, two desktop apps using the Twitter API. They both allow users to separate their Twitter feeds into groups. For example, I could have an A-List for people whose updates I want to be sure not to miss and separate lists for cocktail, coffee, politics, and Portland people. I can see how this would be useful. The downside is that running these apps requires leaving my web browser for the Adobe Air environment, a tool from a company not exactly known for its trim computing resource demands. And worse than that, the apps haven’t worked all that well for me: Tweetdeck fails to include all of my contacts and the user interface for Seesmic is extremely unintuitive.

A simpler approach would be to offer people binary levels of contacts on Twitter: One A-List they never want to miss and a larger stream they follow only as time allows. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an easy solution. It could be implemented completely within a browser if Twitter decided to make this happen. Yet as far as I know, this option doesn’t exist anywhere.

Programs like Tweetdeck and Seesmic are still young and might eventually take Twitter to the next level. I hope they do. Until then I’d really like to see some simpler, imperfect solutions to the problems Twitter’s rapid growth has caused. Since those don’t seem to exist, I’m stuck missing updates from people I’d like to follow and spamming Facebook friends with incomprehensible Twitter updates. I don’t seem to be alone in this.

Update: Barzelay notes that the Facebook Twitter appears to now filter out @-replies, a welcome and recent development.


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