Why Twitter will change the way business communicates

October 30, 2007

By: Robert Scoble

Hard to believe that only 10 or 15 years ago we interacted with coworkers and colleagues with memos and phone calls. Email and instant messaging changed all that. Now there’s a new communications revolution coming. These services mix contacts, instant messaging, blogging, and texting, and they’re poised to make email feel as antiquated as the mimeograph.

The best known of the new services is Twitter. Since its debut last spring, it has been one of the fastest-growing apps in the history of the Internet. The best way to describe it is as a microblog service in which you tell people what you’re doing or thinking at any given moment. The hook is that you’re limited to 140 characters. “It’s strangely addictive,” says NBC videographer Jim Long. “Evidently, people are interested in what I’m doing, and I genuinely care about what they’re doing.”

Twitter’s basic idea has proven so popular that others have copied its premise and added features. Jaiku lets me include blog posts, my link blog, and more along with my mini posts. Pownce users can send files to one another, as well as calendar events. At Facebook, I can add such information as my favorite music and the syndicated Web feeds I’ve shared in Google Reader.

All this adds up to a new way to share information about yourself. Although the content of the messages can vary wildly from voyeuristically interesting to terribly dull, a frequent stream of updates can strengthen your brand. My 4,000-plus Twitter “followers” can get my blasts online or via text message, and each one is also its own Web page, which means that Google can see it and let people search for it. When you’re traveling frequently and working from coffeehouses or the backseat of a cab, these services are great to keep in touch with coworkers back at the office and with customers nearby. “I post where I travel and arrange user meetups,” says Betsy Weber, an evangelist with software firm TechSmith.

The professional intimacy these services create–hey, if you know someone’s whereabouts and musical tastes, you’re halfway home–can also win you clients. “People won’t do business with you until they like you or have a sense of trust,” says Cathryn Hrudicka, a consultant who uses Facebook, Jaiku, and Twitter. She has already gotten referrals from people she has met online because she has shown she’ll be available when clients need her.

Sales and marketing are lagging in seeing the potential here. When I used all these services to tell the world that my wife and I were expecting a child in September, I anticipated hearing from the world’s largest consumer-products companies begging me to try their latest diapers, food, car seats, and financial instruments. What came back? Nothing. Where was Procter & Gamble? Given what it and other companies spend acquiring new customers, there’s an untapped gold mine in Twitter and Facebook because we’re volunteering so much information about what we’re doing right now, whether it’s working on a project or eating a chicken-salad sandwich. Learning how to tap it correctly–both to sell to me directly and in seeing major trends in the millions of daily public posts–will be the next major challenge for these companies.

If we revisit this conversation again in three years, I suspect that we’ll have found all sorts of little uses for these services, and they’ll simply become what email is today: something we must do just to participate in the heartbeat of business.

Source:


Tumblr – Reviewed by PC Magazine

October 22, 2007

Situated somewhere between super-lightweight microblogging sites like Twitter and full-fledged blogging services like Vox, Tumblr gives you a very easy way to disseminate your thoughts, links, pictures, and videos quickly and in a pleasing format.

Good-looking, clean, easy-to-use interface. Prebuilt page themes. Mobile posting aannd viewing. Support for video and several types of feeds.

Help could be better. No comment feature.

More of a “miniblog” than a microblog, Tumblr offers some of the instant gratification of Twitter and some of the richer formatting and media capabilities available in standard blogging services such as Blogger, LiveJournal, or Vox. Tumblr goes deeper than true microblog sites, adding richer goodies such as photos, video support, and feeds. With it you can create a “tumblelog,” which the company describes this way: “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.” These are usually full of prominently dated posts that are short on text and long on clipped pictures, video, quotations, and other Web artifacts. The archetypal example is Projectionist.

Tumblr combines the quick Web-posting and mobile-posting capabilities of Twitter with standard blog features such as a choice of page themes, rich-text formatting, and your own URL. Entries get their own pages, but they’re not longer than the post on the main page. These pages don’t have the comment capability you’d find on a fuller-fledged blogging service, so, if you’re looking for validation in the form of feedback, this isn’t the service for you. Unlike most microblogs, Tumblr doesn’t have a page dedicated to public posts, and the posting entry box isn’t on the same page as the entries themselves. I don’t think these are actually shortcomings, as the service’s aim is different from that of blogs and microblogs—but if you’re accustomed to those features, the lack may feel a bit odd at first.

To get Tumbling, just fill in the site’s simple sign-up. All you need is an e-mail address (which will be your account name), a password, and a title for your Tumblr Web address (as in title.tumblr.com). You’ll do most of your posting from the Dashboard, where there are options for Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, and Video. Don’t be fooled by the Chat button—it’s just a text entry where you’re supposed to paste text from a chat dialog you had or saw: The post will be formatted to look like a conversation.

 

Are you ready to Tumbl?

Probably the most common type of entry is the text post. Tumblr’s simple WYSIWYG interface lets you do basic formatting (bold, italics, lists) and add images to the post. There’s also a spell-checker and an HTML code viewer. Though the site’s design doesn’t lend itself to very long posts, there’s no specific limit on length. After you’ve created the post, you can easily delete or edit it, and you can ascertain its direct URL with tools that appear to the right of each entry in your Dashboard.

Adding a photo post is a simple matter of browsing for the file on your hard drive or entering a hyperlink to an image. You have the option of adding a caption, which is done in the same edit box used for text posts. You even have the odd option of inserting an image into your image caption. I prefer the way Pownce handles links to Flickr images, creating a large thumbnail image and linking to the full-size image on the photo hosting site.

You can add videos found on sites like YouTube or DailyMotion to your tumblelog from the Add a Video page by entering the video’s URL or embed tag and an optional caption. The videos will be playable right from your tumblelog. This works with just about any video-sharing site, but you can’t upload your own movies directly to Tumblr. The Quote entry option merely gives you two text boxes, one for the quotation and another for the source, and formats the post appropriately based on your theme choice.

Along with regular RSS, there are ten tailored feed types you can add to your tumblelog, including Flickr, Last.fm and YouTube. For these, it’s just a matter of entering the username for the feed you want. I had no problem adding feeds from Twitter, Last.fm, and RSS. Since Tumblr can output an RSS feed from your entries, I wondered what would happen if I subscribed the tumblelog to its own feed. The service wasn’t biting, however, in my quest to generate an infinite loop of RSS. You should probably go easy on adding feeds, anyhow; remember, this service is supposed to be letting people know about your thoughts and activities.

Tumblr resembles Twitter and its ilk in providing the concept of a “following,” which users can sign up for to keep track of your posts. You’d really only want to use Tumblr for posts intended for the public, as there’s no way to designate your tumblelog as private, to be shared only among those you’ve selected—an option Pownce, Jaiku, and even Twitter offer. If you’re logged into Tumblr, other tumblelogs will display an “Add to friends” icon; if you click this, the friend’s icon will appear on your Dashboard but not on your actual page that’s visible to the rest of the Web. You can also opt to see your friends’ posts interspersed with your own on your Dashboard page. I would prefer that pages be able to display friends’ icons as a sort of blogroll so that you could let your readers know which tumblelogs you consider worth following.

 

Settings and Goodies

The Settings tab is where you can edit your tumblelog’s title, description, URL, and password, for starters. It’s also where you can upload your profile picture and choose one of the five prebuilt themes or enter your own custom CSS code. If you don’t want to get into the code, color pickers let you customize every page element.

You can choose whether you want to be promoted in the Tumblr directory, to “ping the blogosphere” or send it to Technorati and other blog aggregators every time you make an entry. These options give you a convenient way to drive traffic to your page.

On the Goodies tab, you’ll find four utilities offering more ways to post and view tumbles. A bookmarklet that you can drag to your browser’s toolbar lets you post content from the page you happen to be browsing to your tumblelog. It’s pretty clever about telling what kind of post is appropriate—link, video, photo, and so on.

Next, two mobile helpers: One lets you post text and photos from a phone using an e-mail address, and the other is simply the mobile-friendly URL for viewing your tumblelog on a phone browser. The e-mail address works from your regular e-mail account as well as from a phone, but the post won’t get a title. Finally, Mac users have the option of downloading the Tumblet Dashboard Widget. This is pretty basic, and doesn’t identify a post as, for example, a video, so it unfortunately won’t display the player.

Tumblr will make a lot of sense for many people who want to share Web content. It’s an example of a good idea well executed. Occupying the space between full blogging services and microblogging sites like Twitter, Tumblr offers an easy way to get your messages and images out on the Web without the hassle of setting up a standard blog. This innovative service combines a lot of power and features in an extremely easy and intuitive user interface.

Source: PC Magazine


Jaiku – Reviewed by PC Magazine

October 22, 2007

Jaiku is a Twitter microblogging site that looks good and works well, but the number of phones it works with is too limited, and some of the design choices seem contradictory.

Good-looking Web 2.0 design. Cool “presence” features let followers know your exact location. Easy to stream content to your blog.

Posts get their own pages but can be only 100 characters max. Very limited cell-phone support. IM-posting support very limited. Posting via text requires a European number.

This Twitter-style microblogging, moblogging site is a study in contradictions. It claims to be about letting your friends or coworkers know not only what you’re doing but also where you are (your “presence”) via its mobile component—yet phone support is pretty limited. And though posts have a smaller size limit than Twitter, Jaiku more closely resembles a real blog site in that posts get their own pages, where comments can be added.

Jaiku’s interface looks a bit more polished and more “Web 2.0” than Twitter’s, but in many ways the two are nearly identical. Standout differences in addition to the post page and comments: It lets you add RSS feeds from your blog or photo site and has some nifty location capabilities (if your phone works with it).

Getting going with Jaiku involves three main steps: creating your “mini-blog,” adding contacts, and setting up your mobile phone. If you just want to see all public posts without even signing up, click on Explore from the menu at the top of the Jaiku home page.

When you sign up for an account, the screen name you choose will be used for your Jaiku URL in the form name.jaiku.com. Right from the first sign-up screen, you can choose whether to make your Jaiku mini-blog visible to the public or hide it. If you choose to hide, only your accepted contacts will see your posts. It’s all or nothing: You can’t choose to have some posts public and others private.

Next you add a portrait of yourself—you can either upload your own, which can be any size—Jaiku will resize and crop it—or choose one of the animal heads provided by Jaiku to represent yourself. Oddly, at setup, you’re not asked for your location, only at the top of a right-hand sidebar for your main page. And you can change it at any time.

Then you’re asked for your mobile number. At this stage in the setup, you don’t get a Next choice, but only a “Send your activation message.” I’d have liked an additional choice to skip this and start adding contacts. Mobile setup is further complicated by Jaiku’s being based in Helsinki. U.S. users need a Nokia S60 series phone, a java smartphone (not common for U.S. phones), or a mobile Web browser. If none of these are available to you, there’s a European phone number you can text your Jaikus to after activating your mobile number. I can’t imagine many U.S. users are going to want to pay for international text messaging just for this service. At least Twitter has a U.S. text number.

What Can Jaiku Do?

If you are able to use Jaiku on your phone, you’ll be able to browse and add Jaiku posts, let others know your availability, and show your location, based on cell towers—pretty cool. Those Jaiku-ers who have Bluetooth can show their proximity to each other. For Nokia S60 series users, the Jaiku app integrates with your phone address book. If you have a phone with an actual Web browser, such as the iPhone, you can access the mobile version of the Jaiku Web site at m.Jaiku.com.

Jaiku can import your contacts from Hotmail, Gmail, or Jabber if you enter your log-in for those accounts. Alternatively, you can upload an address file in TXT or CSV format, or just enter a list of e-mail addresses. The service will check if any of the contacts are already signed up, and it will offer to send an invitation to join. A “Who you might know” option suggests contacts, but users in the resulting list seem to be randomly selected. One Jaiku suggested for me was in my location (New York), but the next was from South Africa, and another listed his location as “Space.”

Just like Twitter, Jaiku uses the concept of contacts and “followers.” Contacts are people you add and allow to see all your posts. You can choose to receive notifications whenever someone you’re following adds a post to his Jaiku stream. These can be sent to your cell phone, e-mail, or IM account—frankly, I’m not a fan of cluttering any of these inboxes with more sources. Though you can’t create separate groups of contacts for private group message boards, you can create or subscribe to “Channels,” separate Jaiku streams on a common topic. These are open for anyone on Jaiku to subscribe and post to (though this could change, as the feature is still in beta).

Posts are limited to a mere 100 characters and will display on their own pages, where other users can add comments. Comments? I thought these Twitter-type sites were comments. It seems mighty odd that comments on a post can be longer than the post itself. To be fair, this feature actually was useful to me: I asked a question in a short post, and someone from the Jaiku team responded in a comment, starting a little forum-type discussion. So one use for the service might be as a lightweight version of Yahoo! Answers, Answerbag, or Microsoft’s upcoming Live QnA Beta. Pownce also lets you add replies, but it doesn’t limit the length of the original post, which makes more sense to me.

 

IM, RSS, HTML

You can send posts to Jaiku from an instant-messaging program, but this capability is restricted to Google Talk, LiveJournal, and Jabber—not very useful, as the list omits the biggies—AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger. To post via IM, you add the address jaiku@jaiku.com to your contacts and send it an instant message with your username and password to log in. After this, any IMs you send to it will become Jaiku posts. If you want to post via one of the more popular IM services that Jaiku doesn’t support, a neat Web service called IMified can help. (IMified is basically an IM robot that presents a text menu of options for posting to other sites with the requisite APIs.) Oddly, posting via e-mail is not an option. This seems like an oversight to me, but it’s worth noting that Twitter has the same limitation.

You can also set up a Web feed to create posts from your blog, your photostream on Flickr, or any RSS or Atom source. (Your Jaiku stream can, in turn, be subscribed to by others as its own feed, too.) I successfully added feeds from my Flickr account and my LiveJournal blog, the first using RSS 2.0 and the latter Atom 1.0, and posts from those sources soon appeared on my Jaiku page. With feeds from Flickr, a thumb of the first picture in your stream appears on your Jaiku stream; this links to your Flickr page instead of being hosted on Jaiku. I don’t really see the point of generating posts from a feed in this kind of site: If the point is to broadcast your presence and immediate activities or thoughts, it doesn’t make sense to have the stream filled with external RSS material. But I do prefer the way Jaiku (and Pownce) handle images—linking to the real photo site—over the photo capabilities of yappd, which shrinks your uploaded pictures and stores them on its own servers.

Keeping with its theme of using every connecting technology it can lay its hands on, Jaiku offers HTML code for badges, Jaiku’s term for the gadgets that let you add your Jaiku stream to your blog. Three options are available: Stream, Map, and Simple. Stream shows your latest few posts in a 330-pixel high window, Map shows your last post with your location on a world map, and Simple just shows your last post. In another backward-priority-seeming design choice, you can customize background colors for these with an even friendlier interface than the one used to customize your main Jaiku page: You get a choice of color schemes rather than just a text box asking for a hexadecimal color code.

Jaiku seems to have a bit of an identity crisis: It limits posts to 100 characters yet aspires to be more blog-like than Twitter by giving posts their own pages and allowing comments. It claims to be all about “presence,” while offering feed support, which will fill your posts with external (and often not very timely) content. It touts its cell-phone integration, yet support is limited to a very narrow selection of phone models, and there’s only a European phone number for sending posts from nonsupported phones. Still, if Jaiku can find a real, defined purpose, its admirable design and technology base will serve it well.