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twitterheader.png Over the past couple of months, I have gone from being a passive uninterested Twitter user to an addicted engaged Twitter user. Why the sudden change? Partly because I have seen how the product has evolved for the better and also partly because the number of tools, features and users for Twitter has grown exponentially. All the major news networks and blogs also maintain Twitter feeds.

Here’s a prime example of how Twitter has grown into something useful. Before writing this article, I sent a Twitter message saying that I was writing this and I asked people for opinions and input. In a matter of minutes, I was flooded with private direct messages with website links, ideas, tips and much more to consider for this piece.

Therein lies the beauty of Twitter – it is an instant messaging system on steroids. You can use it to promote blog posts (Make Use Of has one) and you can ask people for help, opinions, referrals, links and much more. I’ve even see people hiring consultants over Twitter so it’s now turning into an online recruitment area.

Here for your reference are the cream of the Twitter crop. Find out how to flag words, track phrases and use automated bots to simplify your life. We will also take a look at some of the third party apps out there that remove the need for you to even use the Twitter website.

THIRD PARTY APPS

Most people use the Twitter website or their mobile phones to update their status. But lots of third party apps are suddenly appearing, one of which I am using exclusively.

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1. Using Twitter via your instant messaging program :

twittergtalk.png If you use Google Talk or Jabber, you can use Twitter on these apps by configuring the Twitter Devices page. Google Talk is a good one to use as your Tweets are instantly archived in your Gmail account.

All you need to do is configure the Devices page then add Twitter to your contact list. Then send it an instant message and your Twitter page is updated seconds later. You will also receive the IM updates of all the people you are following (unless you have this switched off).

Alternatively, you can Tweet using Skype. If you’re more of a Windows Live Messenger or ICQ user, you can Tweet using TwitterIM. Apple iPhone users can use PocketTweets. You can even Tweet from Microsoft Outlook. Or if you’re a mega-geek, you can even Tweet from the Windows Command Line.

I have been unable to find Twitter updating tools for Yahoo Messenger and AIM. If anyone can suggest any, please let us know in the comments.

2. TWhirl (Install Twitter on your desktop) :

TWhirl is my preferred Twitter app which can be installed on your PC as it runs on the [NO LONGER WORKS] Adobe AIR platform. Turquoise in colour, it has a very sleek interface and it only checks for new Tweets every 5 minutes which means you are not overwhelmed with new messages. You can also follow people and perform other Twitter functions.

Check out even more Twitter apps on the Twitter fan wiki.

TWITTER TIPS

3. Flag words with a hash :

If you are writing a message, you can highlight certain words with a # to mark them out as keywords that people can track. So if you write “I went to see #Spiderman last night at the cinema“, anyone tracking the word “Spiderman” will be able to find your post. Very useful for SEO and promoting certain words & phrases, especially that Twitter posts are now being indexed in Google and Technorati.

4. Track words or phrases :

Just as you would with Google Alerts, you can now be notified when a certain word or phrase pops up on Twitter. Just go to your Twitter page and write the word or phrase in your update box preceded by the word “track”. So if you wanted to track MakeUseOf, you would type in your Twitter update box : track makeuseof. You will get a confirmation message and you can stop tracking a word or phrase at any time by typing “untrack” and the word / phrase. So untrack makeuseof

This feature is good for monitoring what people on Twitter are saying about you, your business or any of your interests. As soon as anyone mentions your keywords, you’ll be the next to know about it.

BOTS

Not all the accounts on Twitter belong to real breathing humans. Some of them are useful bots that make Twitter even more useful.

5. Breaking News

twitterbreakingnews.png Get the breaking news headlines. This bot has often scooped CNN and the BBC. In fact I first heard of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and Heath Ledger’s death on Twitter long before it appeared on CNN. Another good news-related person (a real person) is this guy who is a TV cameraman who is often assigned to the White House Press Corps. He tweets relentlessly about what’s going on and where he is.

6. [NO LONGER WORKS] GCal

This really cool bot allows you to update your Google Calendar via Twitter or your mobile phone to Twitter. I use this a lot when I am away from the computer and I need to update my calendar.

7. MakeUseOf – As I have mentioned above, you can follow MakeUseOf on Twitter too. Not only you can follow-up on MUO posts but also directory additions and stuff from Geeky Fun.

Other bots which have been recommended to me (but I haven’t tried them) include:

I have only begun to scratch the surface here so I am tempted to do a part two to this post soon with more that I have found. But if you have any favourite Twitter apps, bots, tips or tricks, please let us know in the comments. Why not also let us know your Twitter name? I am always looking for new people to stalk!

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