Archive: November 21st, 2006

The Six-Word Memoir Contest: presented by SMITH Magazine and Twitter

Send a six word message to Twitter prefixed with "smithmag" and you could win an iPod nano. Go on, give Earnest Hemmingway a run for his money.

Twittering

Twitter has suddenly taken off, at least amongst my friends. Who knew that a site could still be popular without amending the end of its title from “er” to “r”? It’s been fascinating to watch the usage grow.

Apparently it’s been pretty popular in the States for a while already. Brian was telling me how popular it was at the Future of Web Apps summit in San Francisco. I only discovered it a few weeks ago, which I mentioned in my post about my life stream. That may have prompted some people to investigate but I suspect that the real Typhoid Mary was Dunstan’s message about moving from Apple to Flickr, which acted as a vector for European infection.

Since then, people have been steadily signing up. At the same time, the site has been rolling out updates at a very fast pace. It’s a lot of fun watching an app get iterated on a daily basis.

The usage of Twitter is, um, let’s call it… emergent. Whenever I tell anyone about it, their first question is “what’s it for?”

Fair question. But their isn’t really an answer. You send messages either from the website, your mobile phone, or chat. What you post and why you’d want to do it is entirely up to you.

The usage seems to vary between the States and here. While Americans are doing a lot of updates from mobile, my comrades in the Greenwich Mean Tribe are more likely to update from the website or chat. That means that the US stuff tends to be a bit more outdoorsy than the European updates sent from geeks sitting at their desks.

Overall, Twitter is full of trivial little messages that sometimes merge into a coherent conversation before disintegrating again. I like it. Instant messaging is too intrusive. Email takes too much effort. Twittering feels just right for the little things: where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m thinking.

It’s strangely compelling watching messages from other people come rolling in (the page updates via Ajax). Twitter is simultaneously a complete waste of time and a genuinely rewarding experience. I guess that describes most of the best social websites.

The site has many problems, but given its rapid iteration cycle, I suspect that these will soon be sorted. Tantek pointed out problems with the sign-up process. I have issues with the Ajax implementation:

  1. It uses a href="#" in places spit
  2. There is no instant feedback when you submit a message. Update: one hour after posting this, I noticed that the submit button now changes to being disabled as soon as you click it. Coincidental rapid iteration or SWAT-team style response to a feature request?
  3. While there is a setting for enabling and disabling updates to mobile, there is no corresponding setting for disabling updates to chat.

Jon points out a more pervasive problem. Twitter is yet another social network where we have to go and manually add all the same friends from every other social network: Flickr, Upcoming, etc. This is something that Derek talked about in his talk at Web Directions.

Here’s what I want: when I go to the latest social networking fadsite, I want it to ask for my URL. Then it can go off and fetch my hCard and XFN list. A pre-filled form for my details and a pre-filled list of potential contacts can then be presented to me.

I’m not saying that this should be the only way of signing up but wouldn’t it be a nice added extra for those of us already using microformats?

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