Twitter‘s great. It’s like a secret club where people in the tech sector go to talk about the inanities of their lives… and it’s horrendously addictive. It may surprise you to learn though that Twitter can also be used for some genuinely useful things.
Okay, that was obviously a lie. But there are many things you can do that will enhance your Twitter feed, and give it the virtual 140-character equivalent of bells and whistles. For this week’s mash-up, I’m going to go through some services that you can hook into Twitter.
First up, if you’ve ever wanted to include photos on your Twitter, Twitpic could be what you’ve been looking for. You can sign into the site with your Twitter credentials, and then you can either upload images you want to share with your followers through the site, or better still, set up a super-secret-twitpic e-mail address that you can e-mail pictures into from your phone or whatever, meaning your friends need not wait until you get home to see the funny misspelled sign you saw whilst out shopping or whatever. When the picture is uploaded, it will automatically send a tweet to your Twitter linking to the picture with a nice short URL.
Brilliantly, a few Twitter clients, such as Twhirl (an adobe air app that will run on Windows, Macs or Linux) or Twibble for s60 mobile phones even have Twitpic built into them, meaning you can upload pictures directly through the application, avoiding all of the minor faff anyway.
So sure, pictures are pretty okay, I guess… but how about streaming live video to your Twitter followers from your mobile phone? You might have heard of Qik, a service that allows you to stream video over 3G or wifi from your phone (s60, iPhone, maybe some others are supported) to a flash applet that looks a bit like YouTube but live. But how are your friends going to know when to tune in to watch you live in the pub saying, “Look what my phone can do! Isn’t it amazing?!” followed by your friends demanding that you switch it off, and covering their faces. As luck would have it, you’ll be totally unsurprised to learn that you can hook it into Twitter, so that when you press record on your phone, it will ping Twitter automatically and send a link to the stream. Excellent.
Sometimes jokes are made about stalking on Twitter – it isn’t hard to see why. Some members of the Twitterati are so addicted that they’ll share everything about their lives – what they’re eating, what they’re thinking, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the bowel movements of some of the more hardcore users are detailed on there. Stalking isn’t what it used to be – years ago, stalkers had to make the effort to sit in bushes outside houses and trawl through bins, all without being caught – now all they need is an internet connection, so if you’re on Twitter, you may as well give in to the stalkers rather than resist them and try to make life easier for them by using a location service like Brightkite.
Brightkite is basically another social networking site, so wouldn’t usually be worth the time and effort, but what sets it apart from Facebook is that it places a great emphasis on location, and how near to your friends you are. The idea is that you “check in” periodically, whenever you change location, via SMS, e-mail or the website, and it will update your friends on there as to where you are. Whilst this is pretty useless in itself – after all, who on earth knows anyone else who uses Brightkite – you can hook it into Twitter, where your friends actually are. This means that when you check in with your new location, it will automatically tweet your location too. Probably not the best idea if you’re worried about people knowing exactly where you are, but you can fiddle with the privacy settings so that it will only tweet at city (rather than exact building) level if need be.
So these are just some things you can do with Twitter – it’s all possible thanks to Twitter’s extremely easy to use API for developers. It’s so easy, in fact, that me, a graduate in the arts has managed to use it. If you’re into writing code and stuff, then it also makes it easy to write swish little scripts that will make your Twitter feed look nice on your website – like I’ve done on my personal blog. I’ve got it so Twitpic pictures show as thumbnails, and Qik videos auto-embed and it will even cascade down my tweets to my Facebook status. But this is probably a discussion for another week.