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Let’s talk about Twitter and Facebook

Posted May 15th, 2009. Filed under Personal

A good friend of mine loves Twitter.  He uses Twitter to drive his status messages on other social networks (Facebook primarily).  He promises me he’s got an upcoming blog post detailing his recommended method, so I won’t get into too much detail on it myself, but it basically involves using the Twitter application on Facebook to automatically change his Facebook status to match his Twitter status.  I’ve lately started using ping.fm to do, essentially, the same thing.  Either method is convenient and many people do it, but I see one small problem and one huge problem with this method.

First the small problem – grammar.  From the ping.fm wiki:

Social networks that accept status update messages commonly prefix your messages with the username you have selected at the network.  This is great and all, but some networks don’t do this and cause strange looking messages to be posted.

For example, say you post “is watching TV.”  That message will end up on a network like Facebook as “USERNAME is watching TV.”  But, if you also posted the same messages to a network like Blogger, or TypePad, the message would just show as posted: “is watching TV.”  This can lead to confusion and chaos.  Alternatively, the same websites that prefix the username will do so to micro-blog method messages and make it look all sorts of weird.

I’m still not convinced there is a good way to update your status in one place without running into these grammatical problems.  I’ve tried playing around with Yahoo! Pipes without good results.  Ping.fm’s approach might work (prefixing your status with “said: “), but I’m not completely sold yet.

The bigger problem I see is lack of engagement.  It has been my experience that people that update their Facebook status via the Twitter application tend to be far less engaging on Facebook.  Sometimes, days at a time go by between their visits to Facebook, resulting in these individuals joining a conversation long after everyone has moved on from the conversation.  If I see a status message from my friend on Facebook, I can comment on his status on Facebook and expect a response eventually OR I can go to Twitter, respond to the same status message on Twitter and expect almost immediate engagement.  Going to Twitter to respond works out fine for me, but he’s got plenty of friends on Facebook that see his status on Facebook only.  These friends of his are hurt the most by missing out on the joys of an immediate and engaging back-and-forth.

Yes, I’m overstating things more than a little bit here, and to be fair, I have the same problem with Twitter.  If you interact with me on Facebook, you can be almost 100% sure you’ll get a response from me in a reasonable amount of time.  If you interact with me on Twitter, there’s a good chance I won’t see it until hours later.

So, my mission was to find a way to consolidate all of my social network updates into one place so that I’d never miss a comment or response, no matter what social network was pinging me for attention.  Months ago, I read this article detailing a pretty nifty way to turn Twitter into a digital personal assistant (henceforth, and with apologies, referred to as your Twissistant).  In a nutshell, the article suggests using a second Twitter account to monitor your social network presence.  I liked the idea and started to try it out, but quickly saw a big problem with this process.

The email-to-RSS services available all generate publicly viewable RSS feeds. Also, using these services in this way requires you to change your registered email address on the networks you’d like to track to a throw away, unprotected email address.  For most updates, this wouldn’t be a big deal. However, if someone were to manage to find your RSS feed, it wouldn’t take very much ingenuity for a mischief-minded person to hijack your accounts (hint: password resets are usually sent via email.  some services even send you your current password in plain text in an email).  I needed a way to get my notifications into Twitter without making them publicly accessible.

So I thought about it for a while and modified the method a bit.  My first thought was to just use the RSS feeds Gmail creates for each of your labels.  I figured I could label incoming notifications as “Social Networks” and then use Twitterfeed to send them as tweets.  This didn’t work, however, since Gmail’s RSS feeds are only usable by clients that support authentication.  I couldn’t find an RSS-to-Twitter service that supports authentication.  I did find Twittermail while searching, though.  So here are the steps I ended up taking to setup my Twissistant.

1 – Create your new Twissistant (complete with a cool name and nice avatar, if you care).  Make your Twissistant follow your personal Twitter account.  Then, log back in to your personal account and follow your Twissistant.  Finally, log back in to your Twissistant account to set updates to be private.  Remember, your Twissistant’s tweets are for your eyes only.

2 – Create an account at http://twittermail.com.  You will receive a secret @twittermail.com email address.  Anything sent to this email address will be sent to Ttwitter as a tweet.  When signing up for this service, use  your Twissistant’s Twitter username and password.  Also, check the option to keep your updates private to prevent your updates from showing up in twittermail.com’s public feed.

3 – Create filters in Gmail to catch notifications from social networks, comments on blog posts, anything you’d like to track inside Twitter.  Set the filter to automatically archive incoming notifications, mark them as read, and forward a copy to your new @twittermail.com email address.  Be smart with your filters – you have full control over what will and won’t be forwarded to twittermail.com.

4 – Your Twissistant will sit there silently and privately, waiting for tweets from Twittermail.   When you get a comment or a reply or a notification on one of the sites you’re tracking, you’ll see your Twissistant tweet that update to you in your Twitter stream.  Since your Gmail, your Twitterfeed.com account, and your Twissistant Twitter account are all private accounts, your notifications will remain for your eyes only.

Lucille Van Pelt

So now, while you’re browsing Twitter, using your favorite Twitter client, or checking incoming SMS messages from Twitter, you’ll see your Facebook notifications, blog comments, last.fm recommendations,  email from your mom, package tracking messages from UPS, and whatever else you feel like tracking with your friendly Twissistant.  Now you can keep up with all of your high volume social updates and notifications without clogging up your inbox AND you get the added bonus of making use of SMS and all the Twitter clients out there (both things you wouldn’t get from a Gmail-labels-alone solution).

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