One of the nice things about Twitter’s social background noise is that you actually can shut it down – like putting on headphones in a bustling office when you want to concentrate on a task. But you might want to avoid anger and irritation when someone actually wants to talk to you and calls your name… and you seem to ignore them. So far, intelligent headphones haven’t been invented yet (as far as I know). On Twitter however, there are a few ways not to miss the occasional personal address (“address” as in “being spoken to” :-) ) that is the “@username” reply.
You’ll find all of the @replies to you at your replies tab when logged in. All of your replies, meaning: also from people you do not follow – they don’t even have to follow you. That’s different from the @replies in your twitterstream on the front page where you only see tweets (including @-replies) from people you follow1.
Potentially, the @replies tab is a source for spam, but I haven’t seen any so far – and blocking the account solves the problem. Especially if you want to limit the number of people you follow, but still want to track replies from your followers, the replies tab is your friend.
But: there should be better ways than to check it regularly on the web, not?
Clients that integrate the @replies nicely
As Kris Hoet wrote:
- The client people use can tell you more about how much conversation people are willing to get into. [...]
- The client people use can tell you how fast (or not) people will see your replies, [...].
Like Kris, I really like Twhirl, because it integrates all of the @replies (and direct messages) in a nice and visually distinctive way in your timeline. Switch the display to the last 20 @replies just to check for those that may have dropped from your timeline already. (Next to that, Twhirl is a really modest client, fading in the background automatically and just popping up discretely for a few seconds in your peripheral vision when new tweets arrive.)
However: this will probably work if you’re behind your own computer regularly, not for people on the road or on computers they don’t control.
Authenticated @replies feed
For a more asynchronous way of tracking your @replies, there’s the corresponding feed at http://twitter.com/statuses/replies.rss. However: you’ll need a desktop feed reader, since not a single (as far as I know) web-based feed reader supports http-authentication (Update: Netvibes does – of course you need to trust them).
If you have your own web space, you could de-authenticate the feed with a php script I wrote and host that on a “secret” place2. That is in fact how most services who publish personalised, private feeds, do it: they provide you with some “secret, non-guessable url”.
The risk then is that these feeds pop up in other people’s searches if you use them with a web-based feedreader, so the script features an access/privacy restriction. Introduced by Bloglines, it seems to be supported by other web-based feedreaders as well (on the feed-publishing side, only a few services include the element though!).
Still: not a solution for the non-technical and/or web-based user.
Using the Twitter “tracking” feature
Twitters tracking feature is a great way to get notifications when a word or phrase is mentioned, so you could as well use it to track “@your_username”. If you’re brand- or ego-aware than you will probably want to have a lot more words tracked, on top of the ego- and brandname-search feeds you already have running on Technorati and other blog search engines…
As an extra advantage, you also get the name-dropping tweets where “@your_username” is in the middle of the sentence – those are not captured by the @replies feed. Try “track twitter” to test the feature and experience the self-referential nature of the service :-). If you understand Dutch, check out the excellent screencast by Pierre Gorissen).
Two huge disadvantages:
- only works on Instant Messaging or on your phone (make sure notifications are ON), there’s no web-based way to use the tracking feature (you can have them archived in Google Talk/Gmail’s chat folder as a workaround)
- only works for public tweets. People who have their account protected aren’t tracked, not even when you follow them.
Twitter search services
When twitter doesn’t provide a feature, third parties jump in – both:
seem to provided excellent searches and searchfeeds. Tweetscan doesn’t distinguish between @username and username though, Terraminds does and has a longer history.
But again: only for public tweets!
Sidenote on silos…
If you have a closer look at the above list, there’s a multitude of ways (3d party services) to scan public Tweets for replies, or phrases and keywords in general. It’s a lot harder have that done for private accounts you follow – and you need username and password for it3 – something you shouldn’t trust a 3d party with. In fact, when it comes to non-public information, all content platforms and social networks still are closed silos.
But there’s change in the air: Twitter is one of the services pioneering with OAuth, a generic open specification on how to give access to your private stuff to 3d parties without giving username and password (you give them a unique “access token” you can revoke at any moment).
OAuth doesn’t solve “that other problem” Twitter has though: the constant polling for new updates (via the API and via feeds: 20 times more than “normal” web usage!) tears the service down regularly.
An exciting effort that is going on right now is: moving from polling (or pull) to secure and authenticated push between services, with Jabber, OpenID and Oauth as building blocks. On this side of the Atlantic, it’s Mediamatic in Amsterdam that is bringing people together: check out the project blog on Federating Social Networks – a meeting is planned this very weekend.
More Twitter musings
1. You could ask yourself: why do people use Twitter, that’s supposed to be all about non-critical information, for direct remarks or questions? Isn’t email or private instant messaging more reliable? I tend to think4 we use it as a form of social blackmail. By taking your followers as witness, you kind of force the addressee to reply because – “hey, people might think I don’t know the answer or can’t come up with a witty riposte“.
2. In a previous post on Twitter usage, I kind of speculated that after the quick uptake by “IM-Bobs” (the heavy digerati, users that are behind their computer most of the time) a broader, slower uptake would follow by “Sms-Alices” who use it for what Twitter was probably meant for: keeping friends and close relatives up to date on your whereabouts with text messages. This funny New-York Times column seems to contradict that:
“The people who I see using it are [...] people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.”
So it’s all marketeers and egomaniacs after all :-) … Whether you feel you fit in either category (or both of them) or not, you nog longer haven an excuse for missing your @replies!
- you can still fine-tune: either following no conversations at all, or just between them and people you follow as well (the default), or listen to their conversations with “strangers” – the latter is a good way to get to know new people [↩]
- since you do not want to expose tweets from people who keep their tweets protected, right? [↩]
- Update: Twittermail provides this service [↩]
- in fact it was Ine who pointed it out to me :-) [↩]