At some point, it became clear that blogs just weren’t cutting it for some social-networking addicts. Connect-o-philes across the globe couldn’t be satiated just telling you what they were thinking or doing in a few (or even many) blog posts a day. They had to let you know what they were doing right now! Overnight Internet celebrity Twitter stepped in to fill this desperate need in October 2006. The “social networking and microblogging” site, which lets you read quick takes (up to 140 characters) both fascinating and mundane, such as, “ate a piece of cherry pie for dessert” or “I just had a great workout,” has spawned a crop of imitators that add new capabilities to the original concept.
Many of my colleagues trash-talk these sites because of the triviality of the sorts of stream-of-consciousness posts mentioned above, but there are benefits to be reaped from sites like Twitter. First, private group lists let you alert your friends and coworkers about what you’re doing, and you can see their activities—which may actually be of interest to you. Second, you can get good ideas on sites to visit, stuff to buy, or activities you’d enjoy doing yourself by seeing what the savvy, connected users of these services are up to. For example, on one such site, Jaiku, I found this link to a YouTube video of an incredible project: Building the Liverpool Philharmonic in Second Life, complete with orchestral music. Third, they satisfy our natural human voyeurism: Admit it, who doesn’t like occasionally peeking into others’ lives? Finally, some of these instant-post blogs have served more critical purposes, such as helping reporters communicate breaking news to their organizations. And at least one fire department has used Twitter to alert fellow firefighters about the onset of emergencies.
Here I round up five social microblogging sites, including the archetypal Twitter itself. There are a lot more of these things than those I’ve included, but I selected those that add unique twists to the basic concept of jotting down short ponderings. The category is still in its infancy, and it shows: None of these passes muster yet for designation as a PC Magazine Editors’ Choice.
Pownce adds some nifty file-, video-, and appointment-sharing features, while Yappd adds pictures. Jaiku has some cool mobile-phone location capabilities, but those only work with a very limited number of phone models. Tumblr is a somewhat different sort of beast, falling somewhere between the true microblogs and their fuller-featured forefathers, blogging services like LiveJournal and WordPress.
These services do make some sense as communication tools—giving you the ability to send an update to a Web page via your cell phone. Another of their purposes is that they offer notifications—via e-mail or cell phone. I can’t see that it makes much sense for one person to send a Twitter post using his phone and then another to be notified by a text message on her phone. Why the middleman? Just send a direct text. Text messaging would, however, make sense if a group was involved.
Another drawback is that messages may appear in any language and different alphabets; it would be nice if you could limit them to tongues you understand. And these sites don’t have a moderated option, that is, they don’t offer a way for an actual human to filter out the junk and just display comments of value. This would take away the immediacy that’s a key part of the phenomenon, so maybe there’s an opportunity for an offshoot social-wisdom category of sites. Another feature I might suggest adding to these sites is a number showing how many users are online—so that exhibitionists know how many people are watching.
One caveat about using Twitter and its ilk: Don’t post your location or contact info on the public message area. You don’t need to give potential stalkers an edge. Read on to see what Twitter can offer you—and whether its challengers will give you even more microblogging goodness. Note that this isn’t every player in the space; it’s just the ones that look the most interesting at the moment. As always, click on the links below to read the full reviews.
The alpha dog of microblogs, Twitter has inspired a cottage industry of helper apps and has the largest following of these sites. It’s not the most powerful, best designed, or intuitive to use, but it’s the one people know.
This new arrival is a good-looking Twitter clone that adds the ability to upload pictures for your postlets and lets readers easily add comments.
More feature-rich than other microblogs, Pownce also has comments. On top of that it adds the ability to share files and events, and integrates nicely with video and picture-sharing sites. But Pownce won’t let you blurt out your message on a public timeline, though your own page is visible to all on the Web.
Like Yappd, Jaiku is a pretty straightforward clone of Twitter, though its design is slicker. It adds a comment feature, RSS feeds, and some location-based mobile features available only to a limited group of phones. Posts also have the smallest limit of any of these sites: 100 characters.
This one’s a bit of a different animal from the others in this roundup. It’s more of a “miniblog” than a microblog—a lighter-weight version of LiveJournal and its ilk rather than an expanded version of Twitter. There’s no public timeline, though you can post from a mobile device with e-mail capability. Posting is easier than with a full-fledged blog tool, but you don’t get quite as much customization. If you want something approaching a blog but don’t want to go through the setup, Tumblr’s a good bet.
Source: PC Magazine