Putting TwitteReader to the test

I had a very busy day today. That's good because, as the old saying goes, I'm blessed with work. Plenty of folks aren't right now.

But it's bad too, because I fell way way behind on Twitter. Normally during the day, I have Tweetdeck running on my backup machine, and once an hour or so I find time to skim the most recent tweets, just to see if I'm missing any big news. As much as I enjoy Twitter, I have to admit that the signal-to-noise ratio can be be pretty low, and most 'working hours' tweets can be safely ignored or deferred to my leisure time.

But today didn't offer those breaks. By the time I sat down to read Twitter, I had over 12 hours of content to catch up on. Up until now I've found that the fastest way to skim twitter is going to twitter.com. None of the clients I've found let me scan as swiftly.

But I'd just heard about TwitteReader, a still-in-beta system that turns Twitter into a Google Reader-like experience. Having so much catching up to do, it seemed like the perfect time to test the system. You can download TwitteReader and install it on your own host, or just log into the site with your twitter username and password, and use it there. I did the latter.

As you can see in the screenshot below, the interface is very clean (some would say sparse). It certainly does feel a lot like Google Reader, and supports using the J & K keys for moving up and down. It loads 20 tweets per screen (same as twitter.com) but rather than display the entire tweet, it just shows the first line of each tweet. This makes the display nice and compact, but given how short tweets are, it feels silly having to open each one to get another line of content. The good news is that tweets open automatically when you select them, so there's no additional mouse clicks. Having them closed by default just inhibits fast scanning.

You can mark tweets as favorites and TwitteReader keeps track of what you've read and what you haven't (but there's no way to hide tweets you've read, leaving you only unread tweets to scan). You can mark a tweet as unread if you like. Every tweet has kind of a time stamp (day of the week and month, as of GMT time) but not the "2 hours ago from web" info nor the "nor the "in reply to" link that you'd get on twitter.com.

As an app it's a nice start, but I'd like to see some additional features. First, the option to "expand all" tweets would be very welcome, as would a setting to load more than 20 tweets per page. Being able to fly down a page of open tweets via keystrokes, having them marked as read as I went, would be a very nice user experience, I think. And the "in reply to" information is pretty critical for those of us who use Twitter to carry on conversations with friends. It can often be tough to puzzle out what someone is replying to when each tweet in a conversation can be posted hours apart. Lastly, it'd be nice to be able to hide all read tweets, or to show only Favorite tweets. Basically some way to tag a tweet to "save for later" while you're scanning.

I feel it's important to emphasize again that this is a beta release and the developer seems to be actively working on the app, so don't consider this a review, but rather a first look at a product still in development. As it stands today, TwitteReader feels like the start of something really nice.

This is the entire interface of TwitteReader.

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