The Thinker

Of tweets and pipes

A short announcement for those of you with mobile devices. Occam’s Razor is now mobile device friendly. I do not have a mobile device to test it, but I have installed the WordPress MobilePress plug in which is supposed to serve my blog in a mobile friendly way.

Internet technologies come and go. It is hard to tell whether one technology will develop legs or not. RSS took long enough to take off and is now well established, if something of a mystery to most casual users on the web. Recently, curiosity led me to experiment with two new Internet services: Twitter and Yahoo! Pipes.

Maybe you have been using Twitter for the year or so it has been around, but I only recently learned of it. Twitter is a way to keep in contact with your friends asynchronously during the day. That in itself holds little appeal to me, since as I have mentioned I don’t need a social network and what I actually do everyday would be of little interest to my friends. However, from time to time there may be unique events I need to track over the course of the day. If so subscribing to the associated Twitter might be useful.

The key limitation of Twitter and what makes it unique is the 140-character limitation built into text messages. By limiting messages to this size, you can send messages from your cell phone to a Twitter text message box and they will appear on other people’s cell phone, or they can be read on the web. The 140-character limitation seems arbitrary, but it is the text-messaging standard and there seems to be no way to increase it. 140 characters does not allow for a whole lot of words, which means if you send a tweet (a new message sent to Twitter) you darn well better be succinct. Indeed, with only 140 characters, sending brief one or two sentences messages is Twitter’s only practical use.

Twitter adds an asynchronous short message social networking component to text messages and to the Internet. Generally, when you send a text message via a cell phone you send it only to one person. Twitter allows you to distribute it to a small or large dynamic group of friends or interested parties. If a friend gets tired of seeing your messages during the day, they can easily unsubscribe through the site.

Twitter can have some important societal uses. While police departments tend to already have the means of sending out text messages to cops on the beat, they could also use a service like Twitter to send out bulletins to cops’ cell phones. If I ran a police department, I would not depend on Twitter. With the billions of tweets that Twitter gets, it is having severe growing pains, so the service tends to be spotty on a regular basis. As long as timeliness is not essential, if you need to broadcast to concerned groups of citizens, Twitter has a lot going for it. I can also see neighborhood associations using Twitter to send out messages about community events. While text message rates might apply, they may not have to. Twitter allows you to send tweets from their web site at no charge, and people can elect to receive their tweets via the web or as text messages on their cell phone. Twitter is rapidly being integrated into all sorts of other Internet technologies. The Firefox web browser, for example, has a number of Twitter plugins.

If you read my blog through the web site, you will notice a “Recent Tweets” section in the rightmost column. My intent is to see if I can use Twitter to add another dimension to my blog. It allows me to post a short thought or concern (providing it is 140 characters or less) when they come to me without the overhead of a blog post. You might want to also subscribe to my Twitter. (The account name is occams_razor, with an underscore, not a dash). So far, I have been just playing around but I will try to make future tweets short snippets of hopefully insightful thoughts as I think them.

My employer is blocking This is one decision I suspect will be revisited in time since after all many members of Congress are using Twitter to keep in touch with their constituents. However, I found a surreptitious way to send tweets from work if I need to through my own Twitter proxy. It turns out that Twitter publishes an Application Programming Interface (API). With about an hour of work I created this PHP script. (It is published here as a text file. Change the variables at the top of the file. Save it with a .php extension if you use it.) All you need is your own web space with PHP enabled, this script and a copy of the MyTwitter class developed Artux Scheffer in the same folder as this script on your web server.

I have also been playing with Yahoo Pipes. Since RSS is now institutionalized, many of us are seeing far more items in our feeds than we actually want to read. Yahoo Pipes allows the aggregating and filtering of RSS content. Using an online graphical user interface, you can describe the feeds that interest you and apply filters to them so that you see only relevant content from a number of feeds in one feed. While Yahoo put a lot of…

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