One of the coolest things about Twitter is how open it is. The company has published the specs for accessing the service, so that outsiders can write their own Twitter programs (Twitterific, Tweetie, Tweetdeck and so on)–and create Web sites that access the stream of Twitter posts and add all kinds of features.
For example, there are Web sites that help you figure out whom to “follow”: wefollow.com, mrtweet.com, whoshouldifollow.com, and so on.
There are sites dedicated to tracking who’s been retweeted (that is, whose comments are interesting or funny enough to pass on to your own audience) most often, like Retweetist.com and Retweetradar.com. There are sites that calculate people’s influence by number of followers and other factors (twittercounter.com, twitanalyzer.com).
There are also sites that let you include photos or even videos as part of your tweets (twitpic.com, posterous.com).
But I’ll tell you the site that saved my bacon.
Beginning collaboration on a book with my Twitter followers (500,000 at the time). Each night, I’d ask a question about life or love or current events. My followers responded with, in the end, 25,000 responses, which I winnowed down to a couple of pages of the very best and funniest ones for the book.
Anyway, the project was a lot more difficult than it sounds. It turns out that tweets don’t stay on the Internet forever. There is a search function on Twitter, but it “sees” only the last few days’ worth of tweets. Just figuring out how to capture the thousands of responses to my questions became a daunting project.
Then there’s the little matter of figuring out which tweets, in my massive tweetstream, were meant to be responses to which questions. Especially since the responses sometimes arrived days after I’d asked the questions.
We finally hit gold with yet another one of those third-party Web sites: Twitoaster.com. This Web site, created by a guy outside Paris named Arnaud Meunier, bestows Twitter with something that it otherwise lacks: threading. In other words, it groups replies with the tweets that inspired them.
It’s also filled with analysis tools, showing, for a particular Twitter member, how many replies he or she is generating, how various Twitterers rank, and–most useful for our book project–what day of the week, or time of day, seems to produce the most replies.
Better yet, Twitoaster holds onto your tweets and replies forever, which is a lot longer than Twittter does.
But even Twitoaster couldn’t always save us, because its threading works only if people reply by hitting the Reply button in Twitter. That is, if someone decides to reply by sending a fresh tweet (maybe they don’t even know about the Reply button), Twitoaster can’t associate it with the original post.
Anyway, it was a far more exhausting project than I ever anticipated. But the result, “The World According to Twitter,” finally arrived last week. It is, if I may say so, hilarious and often poignant–and I couldn’t have done it without the Web’s torrent of Twitter tools.