How Twitter's competitors do what it doesn't

Is Twitter the bland and boring micro-blog? Don Reisinger takes a look at alternatives that offer features not found in Twitter.

Twitter may be the leader in the micro-blogging space, but it's missing key features--features its competitors offer. Will Twitter pick up on these omissions? We know groups are coming to Twitter, but we're not so sure about some of these other useful features...

Friendfeed: Twitter++

Although some say Friendfeed isn't a direct competitor to Twitter, I think it is. Twitter has one way to deliver content to the service--you type a thought in 140 characters or fewer and post it--but consider the fact that Friendfeed can do that in a flash, as well as import your blog, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Twitter stream, and countless other update types from services across the Web. It becomes apparent that if you're looking to do more than post a few quick comments, Twitter is inept.

Without doing much work at all, your entire life can be put in full view on Friendfeed. Want your friends to know what you just added to you Netflix queue (or see what movies your friends added themselves)? Check out Friendfeed. Want to comment on new photos your father uploaded to Flickr? Friendfeed is waiting. More services are adding Twitter plug-ins to send links to your Twitter profile, but they're mostly useless: a TinyURL doesn't replace the design, interaction, and usability of Friendfeed's service.

Performing just one task is fine for a while, but as our desire to do more takes hold, it's Friendfeed that satisfies that desire. Not Twitter.

Identi.ca: Open Twitter

What's so wrong with autonomy? That's Identi.ca's model. Unfortunately, it's not Twitter's.

Identi.ca is an Open Network Service with its entire code base made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. It uses the OpenMicroBlogging protocol, which allows friends on other services to receive Identi.ca notices. In essence, Identi.ca's main goal is to give power back to the user and allow them to take their data and source code and create their own micro-blogging service if Identi.ca itself doesn't cut it. That's more than can be said for Twitter.

Sure, it may be tough to monetize that business model, but wouldn't it be nice if you could take your Twitter profile and updates and create your own Twitter network after the service sends you a Fail Whale one time too many? If you're a Twitter user, haven't you come across a slew of issues that you would like to improve? If Twitter was an open platform like Identi.ca, you could take a stab at it. Unfortunately, it isn't and you're trapped in a service that suffers from instability issues and other quirks that can only be addressed by its developers. That's a shame.

Present.ly: Twitter Groups

It may be designed for businesses (more on that in the next section), but Present.ly does something that Twitter doesn't (at least not yet ): it allows users to create groups.

Unlike Twitter, Present.ly provides companies with the tools necessary to create their own micro-blogging network on the service and separate all the users into groups. In other words, companies can place management into one group and lower-level employees into others so discussions can be had between members without worry of unwelcome employees joining in.

From a consumer standpoint, adding groups to Twitter seems like a logical move. Friends would be able to form networks around similar interests and, like Facebook groups, Twitter groups would add a whole new level of engagement to the service and create another reason to use it. Get with the program, Twitter.

Yammer: Twitter while you work

Yammer provides the same, basic experience as Twitter, but with one difference: it's for businesses. Much like Present.ly, Yammer provides businesses with the opportunity to create their own, private micro-blog network.

It allows only those with the company's domain name to join an organization's network, which is a sticking point in many businesses employ contractors. But aside from that single issue, Yammer's ability to appeal to businesses highlights a big issue with Twitter: it provides less value to businesses than it could. Granted, Twitter isn't necessarily designed with the business professional in mind, but shouldn't it be? The service has become a hub for individual employees to connect and network with colleagues, but in the process, it has left the companies themselves out of the loop and allowed services like Yammer and Present.ly to pick up the pieces.

As the world's largest micro-blogging tool, it seems only logical to cater to as many customers as possible. With the infrastructure in place already, allowing the enterprise to get in on the Twitter action with access to its huge user base would make the service even more compelling and render Yammer and Present.ly practically irrelevant. The game is Twitter's to lose.

Don Reisinger is a social network addict. Check out his profiles on Twitter, Friendfeed, Identi.ca, Last.fm, and Flickr.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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