January 06, 2009

Walls, Blogs, and Power: Building Fortress Twitter

By Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist (FriendFeed/Twitter)

The race to build the perfect Twitter add-on service is in full bore. There are so many new services and applications being delivered these days that new sites are cropping up exist solely to aggregate and organize all the cool stuff that's being built on top of Twitter's open API. For example, Twitterati notes that the goal of Twitdom is "to provide a consolidated view of all the applications developed for the Twitter ecosystem."

Some have argued that Twitter's relative simplicity may be a factor holding it back from going "mainstream." While I disagree – I believe that Twitter's strong growth will continue – I have been keeping a close eye on those applications that add value to the basic Twitter service to create what I call "Twitter Pluses." In a sense, the Twitter Pluses could be thought of as iterations of the base platform that Twitter itself could hypothetically adopt for itself.

The first Twitter Plus that took my notice is called TwitWall. You sign in to TwitWall using your Twitter login and password (the ongoing Twitter phishing plague will make people nervous about doing this for a while, but that's a different topic, I'm afraid) and are brought to a profile page that looks much like your regular Twitter page.

There are two main features that make TwitWall interesting. The first is the ability to add posts longer than the standard 140 character limit that Twitter imposes. The idea is that you can tweet away under the normal 140-max, but you also have the ability to add additional text, images, and video that appear on the TwitWall "side." This is a way to increase the range of Twitter's microblogging platform for those who are interested in doing so.

TwitWall also allows you to insert ads into the right column, giving microbloggers the ability to monetize their microblogging efforts. This goes a ways towards making Twitter the "full-fledged publishing platform" that I talk about here.

A challenge that TwitWall will have to solve to really take off will be to solve the problem of multiple communities within the Twitterverse. In other words, most people are probably not going to want to add TwitWall friends on top of the normal process of fleshing out a Twitter social network.

Twitblogs, a service that was released to the public recently, is similar to TwitWall but has fewer features thus far and a somewhat rougher-feeling interface.

I chatted recently via e-mail with Roger Kondrat, co-founder of Twitblogs, who notes that "we are going to add lots of value to the Twitter community but that won't be obvious for a couple weeks yet. Until then Twitblogs will at the very least give users a more flexible way to engage on Twitter using Rich Media such as images, video and sound as well as the additional characters 140+ that so many found useful on other services non-Twitter services."

Power Twitter
Power Twitter, covered by TechCrunch this week, is a Firefox add-on that amongst other things fuses the popular Twitter search service (formerly Summize) into the Twitter profile experience itself. Overall, Michael Arrington muses that "this is the way to fix Twitter, directly via the user interface, not from a third party site that users will forget to go to.

My opinion is that while most of these services add value in different ways, Twitter doesn't need to be fixed in the first place: it works just fine as is, but the bevy of new services and add-ons allow the various factions of Fortress Twitter to customize the experience in many different ways.

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist