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Microblogging as Adjunct to Your Foodie Site: Twitter Tools and Twhirl

Virtual Gears

Every so often I like to chat about the technology that makes all this wonderful foodie blogging possible. Some of you may have noticed that the Chile Underground uses microblogging for certain updates. Breaking news (and important Follies, of course), travel info and more can be published directly to CU from anywhere, any time it’s important.

The Web engine has a new set of gears, and man, are they fast!

Twitter was an obscure microblogging site until an event of international political prominence took place in Egypt, and Twitter was part of the immediate intervention and ultimate solution of the governmental misadventure. Since then, Twitter and similar sites have seen a huge surge in interest.

How does it work? You can micropost up to 140 characters from anywhere. Cell phones, PDAs, computers and more. Anything that can reach the Web and has an input interface, basically.

Why was Twitter helpful in Egypt? When the journalist and his translator were arrested for reporting on a food riot, the journo typed “Arrested” into his cell phone and it went directly to his site. Friends could immediately know he was in trouble, and they took action to seek his speedy release. The American was released after one day, with the explanation that it was all a big misunderstanding. However, the translator, an Egyptian national, was tortured and abused in jail for months before the pressure got him released.

Nothing in food blogging is likely to take on such dire political overtones. However, if you really want to inform your readership As Soon As It Happens, then you need this technology!

A key feature of microblog socializing is, people can get bits of news about you (or anybody else they’re following) quickly, on any device or portal they want. So, not only can you send from anywhere, friends and family can “watch” from anywhere at any time. Cool, eh?

Your wife is about to have a baby? She can send you notes about how close the contractions are, and which ice cream & pickle combo she wants for dinner. Without disturbing you while you’re making that Big Presentation.

You just found out about a great restaurant? Let your friends know NOW! Run a restaurant? Let your best clients know the special of the day. Found the cheapest gasoline in the area? Tell your family! A few words and you can have a gas line down the street.

Want to start a protest? Send a micropost, and have all your contacts forward it. You can get an obscenely large crowd in no time at all…

One of the beauties of this technology is, it’s really simple. Of course enabling input from anywhere, anytime, is a Big Deal. I find the ease of use to be very attractive, however. I believe anybody can use these microposts to enhance their blogging pages. There are some tricks, though.

First, find a microblogging site you like. Personally, I favor Twitter. There are many others, however. I don’t think it’s so much about the service as it is about the tools that make it possible to quickly interface to your blog. For my WordPress installation I use the Twitter Tools plugin, and I use Twhirl to input my microposts rather than using the native Twitter interface. Finally, I use TinyURL to format my micropost links; more on why in a bit.

Regardless of your blogging platform, you’ll likely need a widget or plugin that captures your microposts to your page. Twitter Tools does that for me, and it’s really easy to install (as most WordPress plugins are, these days) and configure. It may not be the best, I haven’t surveyed plugins recently. I like it, and until it urps on my shoes blog it’s here to stay.

Twhirl is a Twitter-specific client. Just like you need a client for email, you should consider a client for microblogging. Twhirl has focused on user-friendliness, and so far they’re getting it about right. Installation wasn’t super-quick, and at first the options were a bit confusing. There’s a bit of Adobe software that Twhirl uses in the background, so it’s really two pieces to install. But the Twhirl install manages that fairly seamlessly, and a couple of clicks and you never see the Adobe stuff again.

Twhirl can manage several Twitter logins simultaneously, and it has a pleasing, graphical interface; as long as you like green, that is. I manage eight Twitter logins, and so far, no hassles. Learning the icon-driven interface takes a bit of playing, but really there’s only about 3-4 things you ever need to pay attention to, besides typing in and submitting your post; a simple matter. I like Twhirl, and again, until it gets too hard to manage or breaks one of my sites, I’ll continue with it.

TinyURL is a great supporting tool for microblogging, and for other uses. Indeed, any place where you want a short link to manage and paste, it’s a good Web appliance. You install a small “bookmarklet” widget link into your browser’s link bar, and from then on you’re set. I use Firefox, and I’ve tried TinyURL in Exploder Explorer. Works fine. All you do is view the page you want to link in your micropost, hit the widget icon in the browser, and your massive URL is turned into 25 characters (more or less).

I simply couldn’t imagine microblogging without TinyURL (or an equivalent). Why is that important? Remember, you’ve only got 140 characters in a Tweet! Other microblogging platforms allow fewer, some allow a bit more. The whole point is, this is MICROblogging! Not novel-writing.

If you love to blog, I suggest you get an account on Twitter now! As the audience member said, “It couldn’t hurt!

Enjoy the (Fun Microblogging) Heat!


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