Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Give a hoot on twitterville - A look at hootsuite

Hootsuite is the home of the ow.ly links and the little linkbar that goes with them. It's a web application which adds useful functions to the twitter user experience. It's not so strong however on automation like auto-follow.

You start by registering an email address with hootsuite. This is instead of registering a twitter ID with them, as you do with other twitter applications. This is to enable managing multiple twitter accounts from one hootsuite account. Along the way you'll have to verify the email account with the normal method where hootsuite sends you an email containing a verification code, you copy the verification code and paste it into a box (or else click on a verification link).

Once verified and registered and logged in you're on a screen that lets you tweet. And that seemed to be about all it lets you do, tweet. Hm, say what? What's the big hype about if all you can do is tweet? Oh, there's a FAQ at the bottom of the page and reading the FAQ actually gives useful information. I think they should instead do a bit of redesign on their dashboard page rather than depend on the FAQ to get you going. Anyway the trick is to click on the Settings link and a whole world of options opens up for you.

On the dashboard page there is one feature that's important: The "Add twitter profile". In case you manage multiple twitter accounts, click on that button and set up additional accounts. It's unclear whether there's a limit on the number of twitter accounts you can set up. Something to watch for is in the dialog to add a twitter account there's a button to autofollow the hootsuite account. Hopefully they don't blast out zillions of spamtweets. But if you have lots of accounts it's going to be boring to see the hootsuite tweets in all of them. So be careful and only follow hootsuite in one of your accounts, eh?

The last item on the dashboard page is the hootlet. It's a thingymajob to drag to the bookmark toolbar. Upon selecting the hootlet a window pops up letting you tweet about the current page you're looking at. It's pretty convenient, more convenient than going over to twitter.com to tweet, plus with the hootlet you can select which of several twitter accounts to send the tweet through.

Now let's all click on the settings button and take a tour of those features.

First interesting thing is the Google Adsense integration. You generate an advertisement in your adsense account (you do have one, don't you?) and paste it into the box they provide. However there is a warning that they're having trouble getting the adverts to display and are working it out with Google. The interesting thing is it's a revenue sharing arrangement where sometimes it is their advertisement that shows, and other times it's your advertisement. Obviously tweets themselves cannot have advertisements in them. Instead the advertisement is shown when the user clicks on an ow.ly link making your tweets a possible source of direct revenue.

Let's take a little detour and discuss ow.ly. There doesn't appear to be a website residing at ow.ly but there's a lot of links published on that domain. Most URL shortening services simply jump the user to the destination page. Some put a frame around the destination page with a little title bar at the top. The ow.ly bar has a number of useful features. It shows which twitter account the link is associated to, linking to the twitter profile page. It has a tweet button letting you tweet about the page. It has a share button letting you post about the page on various services. It has a 'Top Tweets' button showing a list of the most tweeted pages. It has a + and - button pair to vote for (or against) this link as a positive or negative experience. Pretty darn useful.

Back in the settings page ... Manage Users is an interesting tab. Apparently you can have multiple email addresses with access to one hootsuite account. For example it can be difficult to have one or more group managed twitter accounts using the normal twitter account features. Hootsuite may make this simpler but I've not tried this feature.

Last feature to mention is they can autotweet items on an RSS or Atom feed. They allow up to five feeds to be managed this way and suggest if you need more than that to visit yahoo pipes.

A concern about autotweeting a feed is whether it will flood the universe and piss off the people following you. I sure find it annoying to have a firehose running because some tweeter feels they can tweet 10 posts at a time every 10 minutes. Over on twitter.com they talk about usage limits and being nice to your fellow tweeters. There's an argument to be made in some cases it's useful for information services to make lots of tweets. But too much can be easily achieved with autotweeting robots. It was nice to see in their autotweet setup page that it strictly limits the number of tweets per 24 hours, and you can select 1-5 tweets per 24 hour period. Very nice.

hootsuite doesn't have any leave-it-in-the-background-automated functions. All it's functions are ones for users to use directly in person. If you want to do automated in the background functions, look elsewhere.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking at Tweetscript (tweetspinner.com)

I saw this tweet "How cool is tweetscript??" and decided to take a look. I've done a bit with a Groovy script to automatically tweet contents of an RSS feed, and I've been thinking it would be useful to have a more comprehensive twitter toolset. Unfortunately tweetscript isn't what I was thinking about but it may be useful as it is. It offers you tools to manage your lists of followers, scheduled tweets, and to update the design of your twitter account. These features are useful in making powerful use of twitter. By becoming a paid user of tweetspinner.com even more features are available.

"Smart Tweets" are the way to schedule tweets. I think it might be useful to post occasional messages about your product or service or some cause you're promoting. That's what scheduled tweets offer. But I can followers would be turned off reading the exact same message from you over and over. Smart tweets generates varying tweet text. It uses "Lists" to hold words or phrases that are substituted into a tweet template.

For example the account comes with the 'adjective' list containing: amazing, cool, stupendous, awesome, neat

With that list your smart tweet could be: check out this [adjective] site about electric vehicles: http://wwwatts.net

Okay, it's going to take more thought than this to be truly compelling. Lists are more powerful than this simple example.

With a smart tweet created it can be scheduled to be sent. A tweet can be sent once, or sent repeatedly (if you upgrade).

A message scattered all through the basic account screens is "Upgrade for More".. the Basic account is free, and at a monthly subscription price you can have more features. More smart tweets, the ability to schedule a smart tweet more than once, more profiles, more lists, more flexibility in follow management, more, more, more. More is a slippery slope.

In "Designs and Profiles" you can easily update the design or bio on your twitter page. Twitter gives you a short bio and a link to a web site, plus a few background designs. Supposedly if you customize the account even further it makes you look more professional and more worthy of following. The site lets you maintain several bio's and designs, and easily upload those to your twitter account. You can even schedule rotation of bio's and designs.

In "Friends and Followers" you maintain the relationships with other twitter accounts. This area may be the most powerful section and most of it is available only in the upgraded account.

It gives you a small report of accounts you follow, those who don't follow you, accounts who follow you, and those you don't follow. You can purge your follow list of those who aren't following you, and can follow accounts that are following you now.

The report seems useful but this auto purge or auto follow strikes me as not very useful. It would force you to follow accounts who follow yours, or not follow those who don't follow you. There's a lot of accounts blasting outright spam or otherwise aren't terribly useful. There is a practice of following a zillion accounts, simply to gain more followers. I explicitly do not want to follow an account simply because that account followed mine, so that I don't have to see tweets from less-than-useful accounts.

The 'immunity lists' are accounts you want to never unfollow. 'Nofollow lists' are accounts you want to never follow. Those two features solve the issue I just mentioned, and are only available in the upgraded account.

There are two interesting tools to find accounts to follow. 'Keyword following' searches twitter for accounts using words you specify, and automatically follows those accounts. 'Mimic following' is based on a practice many use of following the followers of accounts you specify. It shows you the percentage of overlap between the followers of your account, and the followers of the specified account, and it can be instructed to close the gap by following the followers of the other account.