hypocritical : talking the talk without walking the walk

June 29, 2008

Twitter track hack: Where there's a will, there's a workaround

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Twitter.

Well, I was, until it started being so unreliable. Now, I'm caught with some golden handcuffs. I find myself using Twitter because that's where the people to whom I want to speak tend to reside. And yet, Twitter's ever faltering set of features has me struggling to find ways to workaround its fickle architecture.

But that got me to thinking. Maybe this is my problem to fix. Maybe? I mean, I already have to use tricks to stay on top of Twitter content. Why couldn't I come up with a trick to replace the Twitter functionality that I find truly valuable?

Maybe I can.

Let's take Twitter's track feature. Anyone who spends much time in Twitter eventually happens upon track. It's a really easy way to make sure that you're staying on top of Twitter conversations that are important to you.

Long story short, Twitter track uses the Jabber/XMPP interface to send messages to your IM (instant message) or SMS when a term you're tracking pops up. The beauty and elegance of the solution is that it knows whether your online or not. Online? IM. Offline? SMS.


There's only one problem: Twitter track has been broken for quite some time. And it's showing absolutely no sign of being repaired anytime soon.

But, I've come up with a workaround that's helping me compensate for the lack of track. So I thought I'd share the hack. (I'm a poet.)

So, why now? It's been broken for ages. Well, three things:
  1. Replies were broken for awhile (fixed!) which led me to use Summize pretty actively
  2. I just read an inspirational post from Marshall Kirkpatrick on RSS magic
  3. And a recent post by Corvida on IM Feeds sparked a bit of an epiphany for me
So let's get on with it, shall we?

Faking Twitter track by jumping through some hoops

Let me start out with some caveats.
  • First, this isn't perfect. It doesn't capture everything. But it grabs far more than what you're seeing right now.
  • Second, this isn't as elegant as the Jabber/XMPP thing. If you choose to do both IM and SMS, you're going to get both IM and SMS. It's not an intelligent or elegant means of alerting you. It's a hack.
  • Third, this is some serious hoop jumping, relying on a number of services to function.
  • Fourth, this isn't instantaneous. I've seen anywhere from a few minutes delay to 30-minutes delay.
  • And finally, fifth, if you're tracking your username, you're going to get an echo of the tweets you send.
That said, it's still better than nothing.

So, how do you build a pseudo Twitter track?
  1. Go to Summize (or TweetScan or another preferred Twitter conversation search that provides an RSS feed) and search for the term you want to track.
  2. Look in the left sidebar for the "Feed for this query"
    Summize feeds
  3. Right-click or Control-click to copy the URL of that feed.
Okay. Now, you've got the golden nugget. That RSS feed for the important term you want to track on Twitter. Now, you need to decide: Do I want to be alerted via IM? Do I want to be alerted via SMS? Do I want both?

(Actually, before you do anything else, another thing you might want to do is go ahead and add this feed to your preferred feed reader, too. I mean, just as a fail safe.)

If you want to build a fake Twitter track via IM:
  1. Head on over to IM Feeds (or a similar RSS to IM service)
  2. Add the appropriate account to your IM software
  3. Wait for the instructions to arrive
  4. Send the contact the message "sub [feed URL from Summize]" (or through its prescribed subscribe mechanism)
Congratulations! You now have a half-assed Twitter track solution for IM. Bravo! When that term pops up on Twitter, give it a few minutes for Summize to catch it, then give it a few minutes for IM Feeds to process it, and then you'll get it.

If you want to build a fake Twitter track for SMS:
  1. Head on over to Pingie (or a similar RSS to SMS service)
  2. Enter your particulars and the feed URL from Summize
  3. Verify the account when the message hits your phone
Voila! You now have a half-assed Twitter track solution for SMS. Now we're cooking!

Use both IM and SMS and maybe you'll actually catch all of the messages that Twitter is supposed to be tracking for us. (And, again, add that RSS feed to your feed reader. Better late than never, if you know what I'm saying.)


Oh, and of course, one last thing.

I know that this post will be outdated, redacted, what have you when Twitter fixes track. And I sincerely hope that Murphy's Law is in full effect so that track will miraculously return as soon as I push "publish" for this post.

Got a better way to do this? Have some more reliable services? Please let me know. Finding it useful? I'd love to hear that too.

And, until it finally gives up the ghost, I'd love to meet you on Twitter.

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Twitter track hack: Where there's a will, there's a workaround

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March 20, 2008

Twitter sanity via RSS feeds

I know. I know. Hypocritical is getting all dusty from lack of use. I apologize.

But I have excuses.

I've been spending a great deal of my time working on Silicon Florist, a blog about under-the-RADAR startups in Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding areas.

But what about the snark? The venting of my bile that used to occur on hypocritical rather regularly? Well that, gentle reader, has been occurring—for the most part—on Twitter, where I found that I can exorcise my demons in 140 characters or less.

If you haven't tried Twitter yet, I would highly recommend you do.

Which brings me to this post's topic.

I got into a discussion today about "influence" and "attention" on Twitter. And while I don't have good answers to those questions, I do have a decent answer to one little tangential question that was asked, "How do you use RSS feeds to manage Twitter?"

Now, I follow more than 1,000 people on Twitter. So sometimes the information can get a little deep. To help me manage the information flow (and to help you if you're interested), I have three simple ways that I use RSS feeds and a feed reader to make Twitter more manageable—and exceedingly valuable. (For more thoughts on using Twitter, I highly recommend Marshall Kirkpatrick's "Twitter is paying my rent.")

Enough lead in, let's get to it.

You've got a feed reader, right? If not, go get one. Google Reader will suffice. And you've got your Twitter account already, right? And you're following me? Oh wait. That last one is appreciated but not required.

So let's dive in.
  1. Add your Twitter "with_friends" feed to your feed reader. (That's the feed that's available off of http://twitter.com/home when you're logged in.) Why add this feed when this is the stream you see all the time? Trust me. You're going to miss stuff once you start following a few folks. And having a backup is going to help.
  2. Choose a few friends who are "must reads" and add each of them to your feed reader. (This would be the feed from something like http://twitter.com/turoczy.) Once the tweets start flying, you'll find that the person who seemed to dominate your Twitter stream in the early days will suddenly seem practically silent. Cut through the clutter by making sure you've got a trail of his or her tweets.
  3. Use a Twitter search engine to capture feeds of important topics, your username, and common misspellings. I use both Tweetscan and Terraminds (if it ever recovers) for my Twitter searching. Both offer RSS feeds. Pick a term, search for it, and snag the RSS feed. For what do I search? Well, I search for my username, for one. Because unless someone uses your @username at the beginning of a tweet, it's never going to appear in your replies. And, I know this may come as a shock, but some people misspell "Turoczy" from time to time. I know. Crazy. So, I also have feeds on "turcozy," just in case. You can use Twitter's track feature for this, as well. But I find having a feed makes it easier to process this info at my convenience. (Okay, I use track too, but the RSS feed is a good backup.)
So those are my three basic ways to use RSS to help manage your Twitter stream and your sanity.

If you're interested in more advanced techniques, just let me know via comments. I'd be happy to highlight some more.

And I look forward to chatting with you on Twitter.

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Twitter sanity via RSS feeds

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