If you’ve been on Twitter anytime so far this year, you know how bad 2009′s been treating it. First a phishing scheme, then a completely unrelated hacking, and then MacWorld clogged the service’s tubes. Wednesday brought a respite, but Thursday the Failbots and Fail Whales returned early and often. When those weren’t popping up, users were greeted with timelines an hour or more into the past, making Twitter largely unusable. To make matters worse, today’s starting with more of the same. (I blew off some steam about this Wednesday night on Serious Business, and if their problems continue, Twitter will get another tongue-lashing next week. The Twitters are serious business.)
A lot of people are new to Twitter since its epic meltdown this summer, so they may not know that there are a couple other places you might be able to find your Twitter friends while Twitter’s down — and, for that matter, even while it’s up, as each service brings a set of unique and valuable qualities to the table that make them worth sticking around.
FriendFeed is an aggregation service that brings together your activity from as many as 58 different services (including Twitter) — and can bring in any activity from a site as long as the site spits something out in RSS. My FriendFeed brings in updates from this blog and my work blog, Brightkite, Delicious, Digg, Disqus, Facebook, Flickr, Google Reader, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Pandora, Stumbleupon, 12seconds, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube. (Try saying that five times fast!) For a treat, I also bring in an RSS feed of my Twitter favorites. FriendFeed also has native sharing facilities for photos, links, and even just plain text messages (a microblog with considerably more room to breathe than Twitter’s 140 characters).
The cool part about FriendFeed is that activity from any of your imported services can be “liked” and commented on. A “like” is a small endorsement of a post which aids in promoting it to the top of the feed and also spreads it around through FriendFeed’s “friend-of-a-friend” feature, which inserts the post in a person’s feed who may not necessarily subscribe to you. (Commenting on a post also has a similar effect.) Friend-of-a-friend is a neat way to virally spread a post through FriendFeed; I’ve seen several of my posts take off quite rapidly this way. There’s a love-hate relationship with the friend-of-a-friend feature; there’s a school of thought that says it adds a lot of noise (and I can see how people can think that). However, I’ve discovered so many quality people from that feature that I don’t dare turn it off. It’s an excellent way — especially for a new user — to expand one’s view. In fact, I think friend-of-a-friend is among one of FriendFeed’s most important features. If you create any content that you want to get out to a decently-sized audience, it behooves you to engage FriendFeed regardless of Twitter being up or down, as the viral distribution possibilities make the return on the investment of your time well worth it.
FriendFeed beats Twitter seven ways from Sunday for conversations. FriendFeed gives a conversation context, which is something Twitter’s had to bolt onto their service in recent months. Comments display as a linear discussion underneath a post. If you link your Twitter account with FriendFeed, you can also send responses to Twitter messages as both FriendFeed comments and tweets (while it’s up, of course :) ). FriendFeed can also send out FriendFeed activity over Twitter with a link back to FriendFeed in each tweet; however, this can get very noisy, so it’s good to be judicious with what’s re-shared.
The big hit against FriendFeed is that it does tend to cause information overload. However, FriendFeed features friend lists, which permit you to organize your friends in a way to perhaps curb noise or get together folks with related interests. I have a “Lowcountry” list so I can specifically follow locals, for example. FriendFeed also has a “hide” feature, which permits either the hiding of individual posts (say, a work-unsafe post) or entire types of entries (like Twitter entries from one user or all Twitter entries). FriendFeed’s noise control systems are actually quite powerful if not very well refined yet.
One of the most fun things about FriendFeed is its real-time view. (Check out what my FriendFeed real-time view looks like.) This came in particularly handy when I was following the MacWorld keynote the other day; people were posting notes from the keynote as it was happening, and I was able to comment and “like” items as they came across. It was incredibly useful. Real-time is the perfect thing to put up on a second monitor as a distraction; you never know what might come across, after all. FriendFeed also offers the ability to interact with it over Google Talk (or any other Jabber-based instant messaging; Google Talk is the most common). You can get your full home feed, or a sub-list, delivered over IM (I recommend breaking your IM list into folks you want to ensure you see — this gets very fast very quickly!). You can also share items, like, and comment on things right through the IM bot. Geeks like me look at it as FriendFeed at the command line, and that’s pretty cool. :)
If you’ve got some time to spare, Robert Scoble’s FriendFeed instructional video is an excellent primer on the service that goes into detail well beyond the scope of this post. A great way to get started is to find your Twitter friends on FriendFeed and subscribe to them; Carter Rabasa‘s Twitter-to-FriendFeed tool makes this super-easy.
Identi.ca is a very Twitter-like microblogging service with a focus on working well with instant messaging. One of the casualties of this summer’s Twitter meltdown was its ability to work over IM; Identi.ca was constructed with IM functionality as a primary focus. It also has integrated support for hashtags, the ability to tag your own profile to be easily found, OpenID support, and the ability to bridge your updates to Twitter. Identi.ca lets you find and add your Twitter friends (provided they used the same username on Identi.ca as Twitter) automatically.
I like to use Identi.ca in particular for originating the Charleston Weather Twitter messages. This is cool because I ensure that I keep the audience that moved to Identi.ca from Twitter and also have a place, in case Twitter’s unreliable, to continue to get updates out. Originating updates there is more convenient over IM, as well.
Identi.ca’s mobile support is decent and improving, though it’s not nearly as seamless as Twitter’s mobile support. Identi.ca can’t take incoming updates over SMS, but it can take e-mails. It sends SMS updates using cell carriers’ e-mail-to-SMS gateways.
Unfortunately, unlike Twitter, there’s no way to pick and choose whose updates are delivered in realtime — the all-or-nothing thing is tough when following louder people (such as myself). Correction: Identi.ca can let you pick and choose whose updates you receive over both IM and SMS. This can be found on your Subscriptions page. Many thanks to lead developer Evan Prodromou for pointing that out!
Identi.ca’s coolest feature, though, is its software. It runs on Laconica, an open-source and standards-based microblogging platform that anybody can run. In effect, you can run your own microblog service. Leo Laporte already does that with TWiT Army. It’s been quite a success thus far, too.
Identi.ca is best for those who enjoy the Twitter concept and want maximum compatibility — its compatibility with Twitter is its most attractive feature. If you want to get started, find me on Identi.ca. Admittedly, I’ve not been great about using it on my own personal account, but I’m going to begin to use it more.
Perhaps Twitter’s driven you so crazy that you want to give multimedia a shot. 12seconds is a great place to shoot quick videos with what’s on your mind — just know that you only have 12 seconds to say your piece. In that 12 seconds, though, you can be as creative as you like. All you need is a webcam and a microphone — the Flash-based recording software plugs right into your browser and does the rest. No additional software is needed and the site works quite well. You can follow other 12seconds users and get their updates in your own timeline, much like the microblogging services. 12seconds also works with the power-user Twitter application TweetDeck, so you can catch your timeline and watch videos (though you still have to use the website to record for now). 12seconds accepts pre-created videos as well, including videos from mobile phones that can be e-mailed to your own unique 12seconds e-mail address. In essence, it’s a video Twitter.
One thing that’s really fun and helps encourage involvement in the 12seconds community are daily challenges, in which 12seconds asks a question, and you answer it in a specially-tagged video response. The winner of that day’s challenge receives a featured slot in the sidebar of the site for a day and a badge saying that they’re a challenge winner. Charleston’s own Eyebee recently won one of those challenges.
12seconds is still a fledgling concept; I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg with what it can do, and I’m excited to see what can come of it. Want to get started? Follow me on 12seconds, and also be sure to check out my 12-second weather updates for Charleston.
While Twitter downtime is a great time to try out new services, there is, of course, life offline. Go outside, enjoy the weather — it’s going to be crisp but clear in Charleston today, after all. Read a book, watch bad television, spend time with friends — because, after all, the best things that get posted to Twitter are the things that happen off Twitter. :)