If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em
Everyone from CNN to the White House is tweeting these days. Like it or not, the Twitter microblogging platform is here to stay. Maybe you're over the hype (or never got into it in the first place), or maybe you're somebody who meticulously crafts your 140 characters at a time. No matter if you're a Twitter expert, or if you're just a newbie, we hope that you can find one of these Twitter hacks useful. Don't forget, you can follow us at: twitter.com/tomsguide
Twitter Timer (Reminders)
So we'll start on a few pretty simple hacks -- ok, they're not even really hacks. Just ways to make Twitter a little more useful. First up: Timer! I'm always forgetting stuff. I have reminders on my iPhone set for when I have to do things, and I usually have two reminders to keep it all straight. If you live in Twitter, then you can get Twitter to act as a simple reminder for you. Here's how: Follow user twitter.com/timer. Then, send a direct message to timer, followed by a number in minutes and then a message, like this: "d timer 60 dentist appt". Then, 60 minutes later, you'll get the direct message: "dentist appt".
This Twitter feed is very much in a similar vein as timer, except instead of sending you a reminder of something that you need to do, it sends you automatic updates for package shipment tracking. Again, just follow user twitter.com/trackthis. Then, to get updates on your package (it supports UPS, FedEx, DHL, USPS and others), just send a direct message to trackthis with the tracking number, and then you should receive updates as to where you package is.
Twitter For Skype
One of the problems with Twitter is that it's yet another account to manage. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to integrate Twitter with Facebook, RSS and blogs. But what about Skype? Fortunately there's an easy Skype bot that lets you do just that. Here's how to access it: In Skype, just click the "Add a Contact," and search for the user "twitter4skype." Open a text chat session and type the following in a single message, using shift+return to get to the next line instead of sending only the first line:
Then, if all goes well, the robot should return: twitter4skype Registration complete!
If after using Timer you're still forgetting stuff, maybe you should put it on your calendar, specifically your Google Calendar. (You do use Google Calendar, don't you?) Anyway, Twittercal makes this integration a snap. Simply add gcal as a Twitter friend. Then you need to let this Twitter bot access Google Calendar by typing in your Twitter username and Gmail address at Twittercal.com. Once you've authorized it, you can go ahead and add events with a simple direct message, such as: d gcal meeting with paul tomorrow at 7pm.
Spreadtweet (Fake Spreadsheet)
If you're someone who has a boring desk job with not enough to do -- in this economy, consider yourself lucky. That said, you probably spend your free time reading Twitter and probably have to hide it from your boss. If so, you may want to download Spreadtweet, a Twitter client that's made to LOOK like a spreadsheet. Yep, at a glance it just looks like some spreadsheet with the first column as your Twitter friends, but a closer glance will give you away, so please, use at your own risk. In order to run this small app, you'll also need to download and install Adobe Air (there's a link at the Spreadtweet site), which is basically a tool for running Internet applications as desktop apps: perfect for fake spreadsheets!
TweetBeep -- Buzz Tracking
As the slogan says, it's basically "like Google Alerts for Twitter." Do you want to keep track of all the latest on Twitter on a particular subject, company, or heck, yourself? Sign up for Tweetbeep, and then you'll be able to search Twitter and specify lots of parameters, including keywords, hashtags, language, to/from a Twitter user, near a location, or if there was a positive or negative attitude relating to the message as measured by :) or :(. You can get an email alert, or an RSS feed for your search.
Tweet Later -- Schedule Your Posts
Tweet Later does exactly what it sounds like -- it lets you automate when and how to send a Twitter message. You can schedule posts, and save and reuse drafts for later use. You can also use it to follow or unfollow other users who do the same to you. There's also a paid professional version that adds various other features including Twitter bots and scheduling recurring tweets. To use Tweet Later, you have to create an account login at the Tweet Later site.
Twitter Friends -- Your User Stats
This site can show you various otherwise hidden stats about you and how you use Twitter. When I put in my own Twitter name (cfarivar), it told me all kinds of data, saying that I send about 1.2 tweets per day, and that my average tweet length was 95 characters. Further, I'm ranking 81,104 out of 267,850 (of people who use the site, not out of total Twitter users). I have no idea what to do with all this information, but I suppose it's mildly interesting. If you manage to glean anything particularly important from this myriad of data, do let me know.
Find Music With Blip.fm
Once of Twitter's most powerful uses is its search capabilities. You can use Twitter to find out what people are talking about online in near real-time. But perhaps one of the most enjoyable things to search for on Twitter is links to music that you probably wouldn't otherwise find. There's a myriad of ways to find new tunes on Twitter, but most of them involve searching for various tags or search strings affiliated with music-tweeting programs. One of the most popular is Blip.fm, which allows you to easily tweet and find your new favorite song. Another popular way is to search for the hashtag #musicmonday, a day when many Twitterers use music as a way to brighten up an otherwise depressing beginning of the week. Of course, you can search in Twitter using these and a few other methods simply by typing:
Unclutter The Nest
Nest Unclutterer is a neat site that will help your Twitter account from getting way too overloaded. Once you authorize it to access your account, the site offers to remove the Twitter feeds that are being followed by more than a certain number of people (the default is 750). The idea here is that no one but Twitter bots or large marketing machines could possibly follow that many users in a legitimate way. Further, it will automatically unfollow anyone that hasn't posted in more than 30 days. You can set a whitelist of exceptions for anyone on the list as well. After you click "Clean My Nest," you'll be presented with a list of users to block and unfollow. But then again, maybe you like having that many messages in your Twitter feed.
Connecting Twitter To Real Things
For the last hack, we just wanted to send you off with a few of our favorite examples of integrating Twitter into the real world. We've seen some really fascinating uses of Twitter, including a cat door that takes pics of a couple's RFID-enabled cats (seriously). There's also Twittering washing machine that will tell you when its done washing. Plus, a little plant kit with an electronic moisture sensor that will tell you when to give it water -- via Twitter of course. Finally, the best example is in a London bakery that has a device called BakerTweet, which lets the bakery tell its customers when its freshest products are ready. If you manage to build anything like this, be sure to tell us about it on Twitter.