Social Networking Notes, Issue 2

An example of how a user interface improvement can miss the point while still managing to address the thing it was intended to improve

If you haven't got to grips with Twitter's new retweet feature allow me to explain how it works: The "traditional way to resend a tweet to your followers that you had received was to add "RT" somewhere in the tweet and, if needed, add your own comment in which case you usually had to modify the retweet to fit the 140 character limit.

If you haven't got to grips with Twitter's new retweet feature allow me to explain how it works: The "traditional way to resend a tweet to your followers that you had received was to add "RT" somewhere in the tweet and, if needed, add your own comment in which case you usually had to modify the retweet to fit the 140-character limit.

Social Networking Issues, Part 1

The new Twitter-supported way is now available embedded in the regular Twitter Web interface and through the Twitter API.

In the Web interface the retweet option appears as a link that appears under each tweet as you mouse over them in your timeline – hit the link and the tweet is resent but it will appear in your followers' timelines as being from the original sender, not you.

A new menu item, "Retweets" is now in the right-hand menu and shows a list of the retweets you've received from others, a list of the retweets you sent, and a list of your tweets that have been retweeted and by whom.

There are obvious problems with this whole system. First, there's no commenting on retweets which is a huge loss. Second, who sent a retweet isn't immediately identifiable and if you aren't a follower of the original tweet author it looks like they just jumped into your follow list. Third, it is clumsy and lacks the immediacy of the original ad hoc retweet system.

This is a great example of how a user interface improvement can miss the point while still managing to address the thing it was intended to improve. If this was a car it would be like improving the gas mileage but then having to live with a vehicle that smelled like onions.

The long-term effect of the new retweet will be to make retweeting less social and more mechanical. It also takes away some of the simplicity of the overall Twitter service. Neither of these bode well and future feature creep could kill the goose that laid the golden tweet.

My second topic is a fantastic service that has been available for about a year and combines a timeline with a variety of social media services and content sources. Called Dipity, the service can be fed from a variety of sources including your accounts on Twitter, Picasa, Pandora, Wordpress.com, Last.fm, Flickr, Yelp, Blogger, and YouTube as well as any other supplied RSS Feed. The result is what is called a "lifestream".

You can monitor just your own content or track that of your friends by adding them from who you follow on Twitter or through your e-mail accounts on Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL. You can also set up topics to track by Google searches or from RSS feeds.

Your timelines can be viewed as a zoomable timeline, as a "flipbook" (a poor man's "coverflow" view), a simple list, and a map which tries, often unsuccessfully, to geolocate tweets based on recognized place names (my tweet "The Sixth Annual Gibbs Golden Turkey Awards" was misplaced in Turkey).

Dipity provides the ability to show your timelines in a widget suitable for embedding in blogs and on Web sites and also offers an API so that the timeline data can be used in other applications.

Dipity offers several types of account ranging from free (three timelines, standard Dipity theme, unlimited views, 50MB upload space, ad-supported, and for personal use only) through a $4.95 per month offering (unlimited timelines, premium Dipity themes, 10,000 views per month, 500MB upload space, basic stats, and for personal use only) and a $99.95 per month version (unlimited timelines, premium Dipity themes, 100,000 views per month, 10GB upload space, basic stats and analytics, a kiosk mode, no ads on your timelines, and licensed for commercial use with a discount for non-profit organizations). There's also a by negotiation "Partner" version.

Dipity is actually easier to use than explain and adds a whole new dimension to your social networking perspective.

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