Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bookmarklets and Twitter

It's fair to say that Twitter truly hit the mainstream in recent months. And it hit the mainstream media most when the Persian protests kicked into high tweet-gear after their government stopped almost all other net communication (they even stopped Twitter, but many jumped right in and created proxies for them).

Despite the 140-character limit, the Twitter user pool is very broad and covers every topic imaginable. Granted, there are the lame tweets (Twitter messages/posts are called "tweets") like "drinking my coffee" and/or "feeding my plants." That, however, may have been how things started on the service. Now, many of the tweets have depth and experience. For example, many of us on the service knew of events before any news outlet reported on them. In the previously mentioned Persian protests, it took CNN (and others) almost half an hour to catch up. Perhaps they were worrying about presentation, format, appropriate material, etc. Whatever the reason, their news was simply old news by the time I saw it --And I was glued to the TV. People are posting about natural disasters (like earthquakes), accidents (traffic or otherwise), etc. all as they're happening. Pretty much live.

Given the 140-character limitation, and I don't mean that to sound negative (I actually think the limitation is a source of the Twitter's success), many services have spawned to compliment and supplement Twitter. And although this article is not a review of those services, a few deserve mentioning. Amongst such services is TwitPic. The service (unaffiliated with Twitter) allows you to share photos on Twitter with ease. You log into the service with your Twitter account, upload a photo (from your computer, your phone, etc.) and share a link with a simple tweet (see the image).

Other services, which existed before Twitter but truly flourished with Twitter's popularity, are URL shorteners. With the 140-character limit, you don't want to tweet a long URL like that of a map or a blog's article, for example. Heck, some of those URLs are guaranteed to exceed the character limit alone without any message you may like to add. That's where URL shorteners come and save the day. Amongst the URL shorteners that truly made a name for itself is tinyurl. Go and check it out to see how it works. I wouldn't do it any justice to describe it here. There are many others out there, some of which I think are much better than tinyurl including bit.ly and is.gd.I've recently started working with is.gd, but I'm very familiar with bit.ly and love how the service can track how many people have clicked on my link (if I'm signed in). Update: While writing this article, Mashable released an article on URL shorteners that's a perfect fit with today's topic.

There are many more services out there that work specifically with Twitter (like TwitPic), and others that work with all sites but are probably most used with Twitter (like the URL shorteners). I could spend hours talking about Twitter, and days about the services that cater to it. Instead, and in the spirit of last week's series conclusion, I wanted to focus today on bookmarklets and Twitter; but felt the need to go into what Twitter is; especially given the service's recent explosive media coverage. Having said that, I urge those who are familiar with Twitter, but especially those who are not, to review the following useful presentations on the service, which are guaranteed to teach you a thing or two about different ways people are using Twitter:
Alright ... Now that we've covered Twitter as a service, and touched on some of the services that surround using it, it's now time to talk about how could bookmarklets help. For starters, let's say you come across this one thing that you really want to tweet about. If you wanted to use TinyURL, you're better off using their bookmarklet, so you don't have to leave the page you're trying to tweet out to all who follow you. As mentioned in the bookmarklet organization article a few weeks ago, you may have a folder full of URL shorteners and use different ones for different things (although that's unlikely; and you're probably using only one that you like most). For me, the bookmarklet that bit.ly provides is almost perfect.

Looking at the bottom of each post on ahmadism.com, you'll see a "Tweet This" bookmarklet that works much like tweetmeme thanks to a PHP tool that Bernhard Häussner provides. Other awesome bookmarklets that work with Twitter out there include one that allows you to use your tweets for social bookmarking! The Fleck bookmarklet, Fleck Tweet, posts URLs to Twitter, shortening the URL for you (so you don't need bit.ly or others) and then saves that tweet as an easy to find bookmark in your browser. The tool, Fleck Lite, seems to be an awesome tool that I'm sure to give a try in the next few days.

Another service that takes advantage of the marriage between bookmarklets and Twitter is Twitlet. Although it requires your Twitter username and password up front, the service only does so to generate a custom (encrypting your Twitter login info.) bookmarklet for you. Amongst the features of this free services is the ability to use the special #link or #this keywords to add links to the current page using the previously mentioned URL-shortening service is.gd. Also, you can select some text on the page you're on and the Twitlet bookmarklet will place it in the text box for you to tweet out.

TwitThis is a similar service to Twitlet. It also uses a URL shortener (which I think once used to be TinyURL and is now using their own URL --It's short enough); and in addition to the bookmarklet, the services also provides buttons for your web site/blog with or without an image, a WordPress (a blogging service) plugin and even a Blogger/Blogspot integration. This means that should I decide to stop using Mr. Bernhard Häussner's PHP tool for my "Tweet This" link at the bottom of each article, and I don't want to use the commonly used tweetmeme service, I could always use TwitThis allowing the readers of ahmadism.com to tweet the article while they're on the page. TwitThis also allows you to use just their URL shortening service.

One of the features I like most about the bit.ly URL-shortener is its ability (if you're signed-in) to provide statistics on clicked on my short URL I created and disbursed (via Twitter, blog, email, etc.). But it also shows you how many other people have tweeted about the same page using its service, and lists the latest tweets about that short URL. I imagine bit.ly has a service that simply searches for that short URL across Twitter and returns the results. But what if you wanted to know if there's any buzz about the page you're on, whether it was done via bit.ly or not? That's where TBuzz shines. The service is very simple: You add their bookmarklet by dragging a button they have on their home page to your browser's toolbar. You simply click on that bookmarklet whenever you visit a web page you’d like to talk about on Twitter. The service uses bit.ly as its URL-shortener and also sports features like that of Twitlet allowing you to select text that it quotes and readies for you in the box to tweet with the shortened URL. A video on their home page is much better at explaining this than I ever could.

In addition to posting things on Twitter, there are bookmarklets that work with it. TweetPkr is one of those services. On their site, they say: "tweet-peek-er" - Take a peek at your friends twitter updates from anywhere. They have a video on their home page that describes their service along with how to add their bookmarklet (which all readers of ahmadism.com should know by now how to add any bookmarklet; right?). The service, like Twitlet, requires that you enter your Twitter username and password. Like Twitlet, and they're clear about it on their site, they simply encrypt them to include them within the customized bookmarklet. Nothing, as they state, is saved on their servers.

Finally, I'd like to bust through the 140-character limit with a service called BigTweet. Via a bookmarklet, BigTweet allows you to tweet from any page (like most mentioned in this article), without any registration required (but prompts for a log-in, but promises OAuth seamless login soon), post to Twitter or FriendFeed, with the option of 140- or 240- character limit, shorten a URL (using bit.ly, of course), ☺ include special ♫ unicode characters ♥, post to del.ici.ous (so you have all your links bookmarked; which in essence could compete directly with previously mentioned Fleck), capture & automatically insert highlighted text, title & link ... and best of all track your link statistics, by signing up for the previously mentioned bit.ly service, all without leaving the current page you're trying to post about via a simple bookmarklet. I've only learned of BigTweet recently, and it has officially replaced the bit.ly bookmarklet I once used.

And before I call it a day, it's worth mentioning that with all these URL-shorteners, there are services out there that will reveal the shortened URL destination (the long URL) for you. Amongst them are UnTiny and LongURL.There's even a Greasemonkey script that when active it takes all compacted URLs from 13 URL shrinking services and automatically convert them to their source URLs. No resource hogging extensions or bookmarklets you have to interact with, just automatic and seamless replacement.

There are numerous other services (some are truly amazing) out there, and these are by no means a summary or even a "best of" list. Instead, they're a glimpse of what's out there. A glimpse of how bookmarklets are evolving and even extending the services of many to simplify their use with other services like Twitter. And like Twitter, bookmarklets exist for such services as Facebook, Flickr and many others.

If you know of any must have social media bookmarklets, please don't hesitate to share them with us in the comments. ▣

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