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.

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