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.

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The Best Tools for Social Microblogging

October 22, 2007

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.

Twitter

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.

Yappd (beta)

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.

Pownce

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.

Jaiku

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.

Tumblr

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


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.


Yappd (beta) – Reviewed by PC Magazine

October 22, 2007

Yappd is Twitter plus pictures. You can add the images to your posts by e-mail, camera phone, or the Yappd site, but the small size of pictures on the site limits its usefulness.

Simple, pleasant, clear interface. Lets you upload pictures via e-mail or camera phone. You can specify users whose posts you want to watch. Automatically generates short URLs for long ones you enter.

No private groups. Limited picture size. Incompatible with Opera and Safari.

Just when you thought there were enough services that let you could spout off a sentence or two on your activities of the moment, the latest Twitter clone, called Yappd, arrives on the scene. The only real differentiator of this new service/site is that it lets you include pictures along with your nuggets of verbal inspiration. What’s more, you can append pictures to your text posts directly from your cell phone as well as from your e-mail account or at the Yappd site.

The simple, pleasing Web interface has six static menu choices across the top: Home, Search, Invite, Settings, About, and Sign Out. Unlike Twitter, Yappd seems primarily aimed at having you exchange posts only with people you’ve included in your “watchlist.” You can see all recent public posts by clicking the All Yapps tab on your home page, but the default when you click on Home is to see posts from people in your watchlist. Search lets you set up a watchlist of yappers, those whose every passing thought (and photo) you’d like to keep up with, by using a simple text box that looks for first name, username, or e-mail addresses. You can easily invite new Yappers by sending an invitation by e-mail after clicking on the Invite main menu choice.

At this point in its development, there’s no premium, for-pay version, and there are no ads. The designers want to keep it as clean and appealing as possible to entice users, but the plan is to include targeted ads later in the product’s development in order to remain in business. I should note that the site works just fine in both Firefox and Internet Explorer, but Opera and Safari unfortunately present rendering errors.

Until very recently, there was no way to insert a picture to your yapp via the Web site—quite an oversight for a service whose main claim to fame is picture adding—but the software’s creators added this capability as I was reviewing the service. Beneath the yapp entry box, you can now click on Yapp a Link | Picture to drop down two more entry boxes; one, as you might guess, for adding a link and the other for locating (via a browse button) and uploading a picture from your PC. The link entry does a little more than just enter a URL in your message: It creates a TinyURL link on the fly via a cool mashup with the TinyURL service, so any otherwise mile-long link will be terse in your resulting yapp.

Alternatively, you use your cell phone or e-mail, simply by sending a missive to yapp@Yappd.com, to include a picture. I successfully sent a picture through e-mail. A thumbnail of the inserted picture appears on the right of a post, and it’s not to be confused with the identically sized profile image to the left of the post. The difference is that clicking on the thumbnail at the right pops up a larger view of the picture, which includes only a caption and an X that closes it. If you want to download the picture or do anything else with it, your only option is to take a screenshot. The service scales down your pictures so that they’re not overwhelming its servers. In this day of mashups, it seems odd that Yappd would store the pictures on its own servers; I think it makes more sense to do what Pownce does and display a thumbnail in your post that links to a bigger version of the image on an actual image-sharing site like Flickr.

A very simple interface nicety missing from Yappd is a question before the entry box similar to Twitter’s “What are you doing?” or Pownce’s “Post a note.” Yes, it’s obvious where to type your thought or description of your current activity, but the question does add a psychological nudge that’s not there with an unprefaced blank box.

Yappd’s settings page lets you enter or edit the obvious personal info such as name, e-mail, and password, user photo, and phone number. But it also offers Notifications options, where other Yappd users can text your phone to remind you that you haven’t yapped in a while. These reminders are forwarded to your cell phone—which sounds like a horrible feature to me, especially for people who pay by the message. Still, it’s only an option, and some hard-core users might like it. There’s also an option to receive an SMS whenever someone on your watchlist yapps—horrible, too, for the same reason

I wish Yappd offered the ability to create private yapps, where a contact or a group of people you choose would receive the messages—not just any Yapper who finds your username and adds you to his watchlist. Pownce offers this, but with Pownce, you lose the ability to put your posts up on a public page containing all users’ contributions. As with other microblogging sites, you may see posts in any language on the public Yappd page, though limiting them to those you understand would be practical. Also, the page doesn’t autorefresh, which makes no sense for a site that has the goal of being up-to-the-minute. There’s also no way to yapp through IM or through your Facebook or blog (that is, there’s no gadget). And I did encounter site problems, where the service wouldn’t let me log in (even after requesting and using a new password sent by e-mail) or even sign up for a new account. I was presented with the cute but unhelpful message “OMG WTF MATE?”

Yappd is still in beta, so I guess I’m willing to cut it some slack despite the kinks. Perhaps it’s enough that it offers a way to share thoughts and pictures with a wide audience. But with Flickr’s ability to add comments and an RSS feed of a photo stream, and Pownce’s ability to link to photo sites with thumbnails included in posts, Yappd must pin its hopes on the narrow spot it’s carved out of being the only Twitter-like, fast-comment posting site that lets you upload pictures. It would be easy to say, “If I want to look through other people’s pictures, I’ll go to Flickr,” or “If I want to pore over other people’s bon mots of the moment, I’ll go to Twitter.” Yappd is hoping enough people will want both together.

Source: PC Magazine