Investigating the real-time web

Admittedly, I have been keeping away from Twitter and its kind for a while now but the current run of cold weather in the Britain and Ireland has alerted me to its usefulness and I have given the thing a go. With public transport operator website heaving over the last week, the advantages of microblogging became more than apparent, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Centrebus, National Rail Enquiries and the U.K. Met Office. The pithy nature of any messages saves the effort needed to compile a longer blog post and to read it afterwards. This aspect makes it invaluable for those times when all that needs to be communicated is short and sweet. Anything that cuts down on the information tide that hits all of us every day cam only be a good thing.

Along with Twitter, there is a whole suite of tools available for various bits and pieces. First off, there’s integration with WordPress courtesy of plugins like Alex King’s Twitter Tools. After that, there are numerous web applications for taming the beast. Though I only can say that I scratched the surface of what’s available, I have come accross HootSuite and Twitterfeed. The former is a console for managing more than one Twitter account at once while also offering the facility to do the same for Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress.com and others too. Twitterfeed may be more limited in scope with offering to turn RSS feeds into tweets but it has its place too. HootSuite might have something similar for WordPress but Twitterfeed is a good more universal in its sweep. Naturally, there’s more out there than these two but I am not trying to be exhaustive here. If I make use of any other such services, I even might get inspired to mention them on here.

Using blog widgets

The theme that I am using for this blog, Andreas09, allows me to add widgets to the sidebars. And most of these are customisable to varying extents. I have selected a few for mention here but there are others like Tag Clouds (very Web 2.0 and, I think, very inelegant) available too.

The most customisable of all is the Text widget; you can add practically any (X)HTML to it and it’s how added my online photo gallery teaser. Don’t try adding any scripting or it will be removed for security reasons. Even JavaScript suffers this inglorious fate and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same for PHP.

Next up in usefulness, at least from the content point of view, are RSS feeds (just look for the headings with the orange logos beside them). The ability to show shared items from you Google Reader is a nice piece of convergence. Speaking of convergence, I also added the feed from my hillwalking blog too. Taking things further again, I have added ones for InternetNews, A List Apart and The Blog Herald and I wonder if RSS feeds will not replace email newsletters now that we have tools like Google Reader.

Moving to the navigation side of things, the Categories widget can be collapsed to a drop down menu like I have for the Archives one. I prefer things to be the way that I have them because I want people to see what’s here. The Calender widget makes up for visitors not spotting what the drop down represents; that’s why the Archives widget can be a drop down menu rather than a list.

Google Reader

Going through the stats for my other blog, I noticed some activity from Google Reader and decided to investigate. what I discovered was a very capable feed reader, much better than Technorati’s equivalent. The interface feels a little like an email client with a different entry of the sidebar for each feed. It also gives you full text and pictures for each blog article that it picks up, though it messes with my hillwalking blog for some reason… As a feed aggregator, it performs very well and makes my blog surveying a lot more effortless. I know that Outlook 2007 has aggregation functionality too but the portability of Google’s little online offering makes it worth taking further, especially as you wouldn’t need to pay for it anyway.

Update: Google Reader also allows you to share items from your feeds; you can find what I am sharing here.