8 essential tools for enhancing and improving your Twitter experience

There are tens of thousands of applications for enhancing and improving the Twitter experience. But the tricky part is to find them, since Twitter does not offer an app store. App discovery is definitely one of Twitter’s Achilles heels. To make it easier for you, here is a selection of 8 browser applications everyone who is using Twitter, both for private or professional purpose, might enjoy. These are – apart from Twitter clients that we don’t focus on in this post – pretty essential tools that help you to use Twitter in a more efficient, effective and fun way.

Feel free to let us know in the comments which Twitter apps you wouldn’t want to live without.

Snap Bird
Snap Bird is an incredibly useful Twitter search engine. Yes, Twitter has its own search, but for some reason it doesn’t let you search through tweets that are older than a week or so. This is where Snap Bird has its strength: It let’s you search through the complete Twitter timeline of any Twitter user, either yourself or others. Furthermore you can search through all the tweets that were directed to you, through all the direct messages you sent and those you received. For each search you make you get a permanent link in case you want to show the results to somebody else. Snap Bird is a great tool, especially for those people who use Twitter to “bookmark” their thoughts and links, and who want to find that specific URL they posted on Twitter in summer 2009.

ManageFlitter
Formerly known as ManageTwitter, this tool is your ultimate follower manager for Twitter. After connecting to your personal account, you can use ManageFlitter to get a list of the people you follow based on a bunch of different criteria. You can see at a glance who of those people is not following you back, doesn’t have a profile picture, hasn’t tweeted for a long time, has a posting frequency far higher than the average or is unusually quiet. And for all those criteria, the service allows for bulk or selective unfollowing. You could either choose to unfollow everyone who does not follow you back, or just a few of them, for example.

Bettween
Even if that’s not recommended, sometimes two people have some kind of longer conversation on Twitter, packaged in a couple of 140 character tweets. That might be boring for you, or it might be a really interesting exchange of thoughts. If the latter is the case, you maybe would want to show the discussion in your blog and comment on it, or you are one of the two people involved in the Twitter conversation and would like to publish it somewhere else. Bettween helps you with that. You just enter the names of the two Twitter users and Bettween presents you with a threaded view of the conversation including a permanent link. You could also create a screenshot of the conversation to embed it on an external site.

Trendrr
If you are working in the media, marketing or web business, chances are good that you are interested in statistics surrounding specific keywords on Twitter. Trendrr is a great free service for this purpose. You enter a keyword and Trendrr then gives you a variety of graphs and analytics regarding the keyword, for example the number of tweets containing the word over a specific time period. Trendrr also tracks other platforms like Facebook, Last.fm and Delicious. Every search is visualized and offered as widget to embed on any external site. Really useful!

Klout
It’s not a secret that people on Twitter like to compare themselves to other users, to see how much influence they have, how many people they reach with their tweets and so on. Most Twitter users are vain. Klout helps them to live that out. After you have entered a Twitter username, the service does some algorithm and analytics magic and shows you some figures and statistics about the influence of that respective user. The main figure is the “Klout Score”, a measurement of an user’s overall online influence on Twitter. Of course, this is nothing that you can go around and tell everyone, since no one really knows how relevant the Klout Score in the end actually is. But for all users active on Twitter it could be interesting to see how much influence Klout thinks they actually have, and how they compare to their peers.

TweetStats
You want to know if you used Twitter more heavily half a year ago? Or which day of the week you publish most tweets? Or what time of the day you are most likely not to tweet? Then you should check out TweetStats, because this tool tells you all this, and even a little bit more, visualized in useful and easy to understand graphs. It’s a lot of fun and might tell you some surprising background about your personal Twitter behaviour.

Twingly Live
At Twingly we are very humble, which is why we mention our own Twingly Live service only in the end of this list. Imagine there is some specific event or keyword you would like to monitor and to see what people are saying about it on Twitter. But you don’t want to refresh the Twitter search all the time, you want to see the results in real time, AND you want to embed this as a widget into any blog or website. Twingly Live let’s you do exactly this. Click here, create your Twingly Live channel for a specific keyword or hashtag, and you are set. It’s really easy.

Google Reader (or any other RSS feed)
You are probably wondering how Google Reader (or any other RSS reader you are using) has made it onto this list. Yes, it is no real Twitter tool. And still, any RSS reader can help you to improve your Twitter experience and to help you monitor what’s being said on Twitter. It’s easy and very efficient: Go the the Twitter search and enter your Twitter username. On the result page, get the RSS feed URL and subscribe to it in Google Reader. For some reason, most Twitter clients don’t show you all the replies and retweets you are getting. Why is unclear, but a useful work around is to subscribe to the feed with your username in Google Reader or other RSS readers. By doing that you will get all the @replies and retweets for your username, and you can be sure to not miss anything anymore. Of course you can subscribe to any other keyword or phrase you would like to monitor in the RSS reader of your choice.

/Martin Weigert

From Stockholm to Berlin: Interview with SoundCloud CEO Alexander Ljung

As you already might know, here at Twingly we like to support our fellow Swedish startups and Internet founders. And not only those with a great taste for colours. Even those who decide to leave Sweden and to start a web company somewhere else in the world, like Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss who created Berlin-based SoundCloud.

SoundCloud is a platform for DJs, artists and producers who like to connect with colleagues and friends and to present and discuss their latest tracks and releases. Founded in 2007, SoundCloud is now very close to one million registered users and has become a significant player in the digital music business.

At last week’s Next Conference in Berlin, I had the chance to talk to Alexander about why they left Stockholm to start SoundCloud, about the differences between Swedish and German web culture and about why it can be pretty difficult to be productive in a city like Berlin.

Hi Alexander. Spotify, one of the most talked-about music start-ups in the world, is based in Stockholm. How come you didn’t choose the Swedish capital for starting SoundCloud?
Since SoundCloud was part music platform and part social network, we didn’t want to launch the site only with our Swedish friends as the first registered members. So we thought it might be good to move to another city and to leverage the contacts we make there for creating an international platform from start. We had several cities in mind but in the end we chose Berlin, mainly because of the good music and club scene, but also since it was and still is affordable to live and work there.

How long did it take you and your co-founder Eric Wahlforss to plan the move to Berlin?
Actually less than a week. Everything went pretty quickly. In the beginning we stayed at and worked from friends apartments or cafes. It was really helpful that we already had some people in Berlin we knew, and a lawyer supported us with the administrative work.

What was the biggest challenge after you had started the company?
There was a lot of paper work and bureaucracy involved in starting the business, and in the beginning we had some trouble with our broadband operator – which can be a huge problem when you are running a web start-up. But otherwise, most things worked out fine. Berlin was a great choice, since we were so close to our main target group – DJs, producers, artists. We went out clubbing almost every weekend, tried to increase the size of our network and asked people on the dance floor to start using SoundCloud. That was fun.

What are the differences between the Swedish and German start-up scene?
I think everything is less centralized in Germany, since there are several big cities with strong web companies. This might also be the main disadvantage for the German market from a global perspective – what’s missing is a central hub where resources, talents and knowledge is concentrated. Another difference is that here in Germany there is much more secretiveness surrounding the web business. People don’t want to talk about what they are working on. And of course (corporate) people are a little bit formal. Something that a Swede has to get used to 🙂

Even after many years, Berlin is still extremely popular among young urban people from all over the world. Why is that?
The atmosphere and culture in Berlin is very unique. Since the costs for living are still low, people can afford to only work a few hours per week, and do the stuff they want the rest of the time. Some folks are like professional club goers. And the consequence is that people in the creative, media and Internet world are much more understanding and tolerant when someone comes to a meeting a little bit later, and with a hangover. Nevertheless, if you want to create a company, you have to work hard, which means that you need a lot of discipline here not to get tempted too often to enjoy the Berlin nightlife.

Still, some people say Berlin needs to become Europe’s Silicon Valley
It is definitely cheaper to start a company here than in most other cities. And recently many web start-ups are either moving to Berlin or launching here. So maybe one day Berlin will become an important European hub for Internet companies…

/Martin Weigert

Photo: Jyri Engeström

t-online.de connects with bloggers!

The biggest German general interest portal t-online.de started to reach out to bloggers!

Since a couple of days there is a little Twingly-box with linking blog posts to the down-right hand side of each news article.

And there are a lot of top news to link to – from the smallest electrical driven car to name dramas and the latest gossip around the German football team in the World Championship to come.

So take the opportunity and be part of one of Germany’s largest websites – we hope you get lots of new readers by linking to t-online.de!

As for us, we are just very proud to support t-online.de’s social media strategy and look forward to a strong and successful partnership.

The evolution of social networks

Social networks have been around for about 10 years. Yes, there were communities, forums and chat services before, but that’s not what people have in mind when they speak about social networks.

If you follow the evolution of network sites and the progress that today’s big players like Facebook, Google or Twitter are making, you can clearly see three different phases that the social networking world went through until today.

Let’s have a closer look at those three evolutionary steps of social networks:

Step 1: Walled Gardens
This first evolutionary step lasted pretty long, let’s say from the beginning of the new century until 2006/2007. In this phase many services evolved and started to woo users. It was during this period that many of the social sites appeared that later became huge, like Friendster (started in 2002), MySpace (started in 2003), Netlog (started in 2003), Hi5 (started in 2003) or Bebo (started in 2005). Even Facebook was founded during that first period, though it was open only to students of Harvard University students in the beginning.

The first evolutionary step was characterized by so called “Walled Gardens”, that means destinations which were totally separated from the outside web, with no interaction between the service and external websites. The competing sites aimed at getting as many registered users as possible to reach a critical mass. That was important to leverage “network effects”, which are necessary to reach exponential growth.

Even here in Sweden, a bunch of social networks launched during this first period which actually was initiated earlier than in most other countries. One reason for that was that Internet access became common in Sweden very early. Sites like LunarStorm or Playahead launched under different names already during the late 90s and became huge gathering places for mainly young Swedes around the turn of the millennium. Another big Swedish community, Bilddagboken, started a bit later, in 2004.

Step 2: Platforms
In May 2007 Facebook presented its developer platform. The social network which at that time had about 25 million users encouraged external services to become part of Facebook by launching applications within the platform. This led to something like a “gold rush” since each and every web service wanted to be present on Facebook.

The launch of the Facebook platform can be seen as the beginning of the second evolutionary step of social networks. Now every relevant site wanted to become a platform and to open up to external developers. That doesn’t mean that Walled Gardens had become history. No, they still existed, but at least they made it easier than before for others to leverage the user’s social graph. Thanks to an increasing number of API’s, it was even possible to export some of the content posted within a social network, like status updates which you c0uld access through external tools.

During this phase, every big player tried to open up and to embrace developers. Google launched its own platform initiative called OpenSocial, which aimed at standardizing applications so that a developer could push the same app into several participating social networks.

In 2006, there was a late comer to the social networking party: Twitter. Certainly you can argue if Twitter actually is a social network, and there obviously are some differences between Twitter and the rest of the sites mentioned in this article. But I don’t think the service should be absent from this analysis anyway.

Unlike most other sites which needed at least a few years to evolve into platforms, Twitter made this step almost instantly, in fall 2006. In fact even earlier than Facebook. As of that moment, developers were able to connect to the Twitter API and to create apps using the company’s infrastructure. Unlike Facebook, MySpace and other sites, Twitter’s approach was to provide only basic functionality and to let external apps do the rest – a strategy that seems to change a bit considering the recent acquisition of the popular iPhone app Tweetie and the launch of official apps for BlackBerry and Android.

While Swedish social networks were among the first ever, they struggled in competing with the increasingly popular and advanced international sites, losing their users to cooler, more international services, primarily to Facebook. LunarStorm has lost many of its active users, as well as Playahead that was closed down a few weeks ago. Still remaining on the Swedish market and pretty successful is Bilddagboken, which focuses on photos as its differentiation point. Bilddagboken is owned by the same company as LunarStorm.

Step 3: Embracing the web
The third evolutionary step is one that only a few dominating players were able to make. And it’s progressing at full speed right in front of our eyes. While the second phase was characterized by platforms on top of destinations that tried to appeal to as many external developers as possible, now the social networks want to encourage other websites to become a part of the platform outside of the networks own destination.

Again it was Facebook which initiated the third phase by launching Facebook Connect in late 2008. Facebook Connect made it possible for external sites to add basic Facebook features so that visitors could carry their Facebook social graph and Facebook identity around even when they were not on facebook.com.

Google’s answer was “Google Friend Connect“, which did more or less the same thing, but with the main difference that Google haven’t had the same success with the whole social networking thing. Still, thanks to Gmail and Google Talk, many people have lots of Google contacts, so it nevertheless fulfilled some people’s needs.

Another approach of several social networks with Google involved is XAuth, which also aims at giving users the option to log in to external websites with their identity of participating social networks.

Even Twitter is working on becoming more present around the web with its @anywhere platform. The new feature provides website owners with easier tools to integrate Twitter streams and Twitter functionality into their sites.

Conclusion
The third evolutionary step of social networks would not have been possible if those services wouldn’t have become a mass phenomenon, gathering hundreds of millions of people, making it almost impossible for content sites and other destinations not to connect with this audience. That’s the reason why they are now willing to integrate the social network’s features and to help it gather information about user behaviour and preferences on “foreign territory” – something that especially in the case of Facebook recently has led to a lot of criticism among open web advocates, Internet journalists and bloggers who see the risk that Facebook is pushing the boundaries too far. A conflict between the user’s and the social network’s interest is coming up and right now it’s impossible to anticipate how it will be solved.

(Foto: stock.xchng)

/Martin Weigert

Lärarnas Nyheter new partner in Sweden

Today Lärarnas Nyheter launched a new site and they’ve chosen to integrate Twingly Blogstream to link back to blogs. It is a news site by 15 different magazines and newspapers for teachers in Sweden.

We think it looks really good, so don’t forget to check it out and to blog about their articles too! You can also follow Lärarnas Nyheter on Twitter.

Lotta Holmström at Lärarnas Nyheter says:

“For us it is only natural to invite contributions and debate on our web site. Twingly blog links is a great way to encourage bloggers to write about us, while at the same time giving web traffic back to them. We also highlight a selection of really great teacher bloggers by publishing their picture and quote when they write something particularly interesting.”

We are very happy to add Lärarnas Nyheter to the list of websites using Twingly to link back to blogs.

5 strategies to make money by blogging

Among the Twingly users a rather big number of people runs a blog. The total population of bloggers around the world is estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 200 million. How many of them are dreaming of earning money by blogging?

We don’t know, but for sure it is more than a minority. Most users (hopefully) know that they won’t become rich by blogging, but it’s definitely possible to earn some cash to go to a nice restaurant or to buy a new gadget from time to time. A few bloggers even manage to make blogging pay all their bills. In the end, it’s up to each and every person’s talent and determination.

There are several ways for a you as a blogger to create a revenue stream. Here are five strategies to make money by blogging.

1. Ads (pay per click, pay per impression)
This is the most boring and probably least effective way of monetizing your blog, but it is the one that costs you very little time. By signing up for an advertising program like Google AdSense, you can integrate ads (text or display) into your site, based on what content you are generating. Each time an ad is clicked or viewed, you earn a few cents, depending on the program.

While almost every site can join, the outcome is usually pretty low, especially if your blog doesn’t have many visitors. Furthermore, despite different targeting techniques, those ads are not always properly matched with your content, and often they don’t look that nice either. Still, it might be worth a try.

2. Affiliate
Affiliate is another category of online advertising, where you are not getting paid for impressions or clicks, but for actions, like when somebody buys a product or signs up for a service. At a first glance that might sound unattractive to you, but for some sites, affiliate marketing works out pretty well.

The potential of affiliate is dependent on your blog’s content. Do you write about things that are being sold, like for example books or cameras? Then you could sign-up for an affiliate program and use affiliate links in your blog posts to get a commission every time a visitor from your site buys something after following a link.

3. Sponsoring
Let’s say you blog about a very specific niche topic where you are a real expert in. Even though you maybe don’t have many visitors, the people that are coming to your site are highly passionate about your content and engaged in comment discussions etc. Instead of putting ugly irrelevant ads on your page that no one pays attention to, you could try to get sponsored by a company that is interested in reaching out to your highly specific target group. Even though you only have a few hundred visitors per month, the sponsor knows that each of those is part of the target group and therefore potentially interested in the company’s product/service.

This approach will cost some time since you need to get in touch with companies and offer them a sponsorship of your blog. But if you find a company willing to pay you a monthly amount for in return getting their logo on your site, it could help you earn some money and will make your blog look really professional.

4. Syndication
If you are a good writer and an expert in your area, there might be other content/news sites that would benefit from getting your articles on their site. This is called syndication and not that common yet among blogs. But since newspapers are faced with declining ad revenues and have to deal with budget cuts, it’s not unlikely that more of them will try to get affordable content from bloggers in the future. Keep your eyes open for possibilities!

5. Consulting
This is an indirect way of monetizing your blog. Instead of getting paid for what you publish at your blog, you get hired for external consulting in the field where you have proven that you have smart things to say. This approach is very long term oriented and requires a lot of patience and persistence, since you first have to build a reputation. When you feel that you are ready to take your blogging career to the next level, watch out for consulting opportunities and make it easy for your readers to get in touch with you. You could also write a blog post informing your readers that you are available for consulting or speeches in your specific area of expertise.

Conclusion
As you see there are different ways of earning money with your blog. All of them have in common that you need to be good. You need to be quality-focused and you should be passionate about the things you write about. This will increase your chances of success tremendously.

Do you want to share your experience of monetizing your blog?

/martinweigert

photo credit: stock.xchng