Can #NewTwitter Swim Faster Than a Fail Whale?

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the question of whether Twitter should really be in the Twitter app business, or should simply be keeping the infrastructure running.

When you look at Twitter’s recent work, especially the iPad app and #NewTwitter, you have to admit that the startup is making important strides. In the past “the company didn’t quite know where it was going,” writes Alex Payne, who was an engineer at Twitter from 2007 to early 2010. Now “Twitter is getting focused,” he says. That’s clear from the iPad app, which has a beautiful scrolling stream of tweets down the middle and a nifty column that slides in from the right whenever a tweet includes a link to Web or multimedia content. It’s all a lot more…kinetic than anything we’ve seen before from Twitter.

Twitter's new iPad appNever mind that the app is a bit confusing to use, or that Twitter’s mobile developers seem to have made up most of their own navigation conventions and user-interface gestures. (The app is riddled with “non standard actions, panels, and interactions,” in the opinion of Brookline, MA-based mobile developer Greg Raiz.) At least Twitter saw the possibilities in the iPad, and decided to throw its own hat in the ring.

But for my money, there are more effective Twitter apps than Twitter for iPad. If you want to quickly scan incoming tweets from your friends, see who’s cited you in an @mention lately, or see who’s tweeted about specific search terms, there’s still no better tool than TweetDeck, which can show you up to three columns of tweets side-by-side. TweetDeck is slow and terribly crashy, but I like seeing all that information in one big array, especially the saved searches. (I’ve got a search set up just for tweets mentioning Xconomy, for example. You can view such saved searches in the Twitter for iPad app, but they’re buried two panels deep.)

Then there’s Flipboard, which turns your social-media feeds into a kind of interactive magazine. Flipboard can connect to your Facebook account and to a number of custom “sections” drawn from major publications. But at its heart this app is Twitter-centric, giving you a pleasant way to browse not just your friends’ tweets but the stuff they’re tweeting about. That’s a key point. If you follow me on Twitter, and I tweet about this column, then what will show up in the Twitter section of Flipboard is not the tweet but the column itself, or at least the first few paragraphs of it. (If you want to read the whole column, Flipboard will open it for you in a browser window, or send it to Instapaper.)

FlipboardI absolutely love this function of Flipboard. The 367 people whom I currently follow on Twitter were carefully chosen because they tweet about content that’s useful to me. In this way, I vastly increase my information reach, learning about many things I would never have had time to discover on my own. True, I can find the same content through TweetDeck or even Twitter for iPad. But I have to dig harder for it: I have to read each tweet, decide from each 140-character clue whether the content it links to sounds enticing, click on the URL in the link, and wait for the linked content to come up in a browser panel. Flipboard does most of that work for me in advance.

But because Flipboard de-emphasizes actual tweets in favor of the content they point to, it’s an app that Twitter itself could never have built. The Twitter API—the wonderful open conduit that allows applications built by third-party developers to tap into Twitter users’ accounts as long as these apps are properly authorized—has given rise to a whole galaxy of apps that do cool and wholly unintended things like this. Most of these features are things that Twitter will never profit from.

There’s been a lot of attention paid in the blogosphere this week to a farewell blog post by Alex Payne, the aforementioned former Twitter engineer. For years, Payne ran the Twitter Platform, meaning he was the guy who decided how the API could be used. The API originally grew out of … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Can #NewTwitter Swim Faster Than a Fail Whale?”

  1. Lily says:

    Is anyone here actually making money from Twitter?

  2. After reading this fine article, I still don’t know which twitter app to use for my iphone.