Chat Lovers and the Shifting Sands of Twitter

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Twitter birdToday is the day Twitter makes significant changes to its service by retiring version 1 of its API (which, for the non-techies, stands for Application Programming Interface, and is what add-on services use to access tweets). Since its launch almost four years ago, the #solopr Twitter chat – held each Wednesday, 1-2 p.m. Eastern time – has been one of the most popular features of the Solo PR community. So, in recent weeks, as the Twitter universe came to grips with the realization that Twitter was making changes that could possibly kill chats altogether, the #solopr faithful grew concerned. Much of the focus has been on Tweetchat, because they posted a warning notice on their home page, but other services (including popular alternative Tweetgrid) will also be impacted.

After discussing different chat options and Twitter alternatives during the May 8 #solopr chat, the Solo PR community expressed a desire to keep the real-time and easy-to-access nature of our chats on Twitter, if at all possible. Thankfully, it looks like Twitter chats are here to stay – at least for now – you just may have to change your favorite tools (read on for options). Update: read the verdict on the tools, along with a few new options, in Twitter Chat Tool Winners.

But first, what’s everyone so worked up about?

Fail WhaleThere was a time when Twitter had a “more the merrier” attitude toward add-on applications and services. Its API was open, and there’s no doubt this “come one, come all” attitude contributed greatly to its success. Many social networks have come and gone, yet Twitter – despite its notorious instability in the early days (ahoy, fail whale!) – kept growing into the international powerhouse it is today. This is due in large part to many developers and applications that increased the usefulness of the service.

The olden days were a great time for users, but alas, Twitter wasn’t making any money. Its monetization strategy involves advertising, and if you’re looking at tweets on another service that isn’t serving you Twitter’s own ads, they view this as lost revenue. Never mind the fact that Twitter doesn’t have a useful alternative for many of the services it shuts down – from What the Hashtag to TwapperKeeper, many Solo PR favorites no longer exist. The noose has been slowly tightening for years.

Beware of building on Twitter’s shifting sands

While we’re on the topic, last year Twitter announced a new Twitter Certified Products program. The exact process a product goes through to become Twitter Certified is a bit mysterious, but these are clearly favored Twitter partners. The relatively short list includes tools that are popular among Solo PR Pros, such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social, along with many that focus on large enterprise companies.

Some tools that aren’t on this list use Certified products to access the Twitter “firehose.” But for those that don’t, keep in mind Twitter could change the rules on them at any time.

There are many tools I find interesting, but unless and until they can tell me how they’re connected to a Twitter Certified Product, I won’t recommend them to clients or base significant client tactical strategies around them.

What’s a Twitter chat lover to do?

Trying to use Twitter.com to follow a chat can be a very frustrating experience, and exactly how well the different options at our disposal will work once Twitter flips the switch to the new API remains a bit of a mystery. We’ll all need to do some experimentation, but here’s a breakdown of the top contenders:

1. Tweetchat – This popular tool has been acquired by OneQube, and despite earlier news that users would need to switch to their SmartStream service, the company has announced that it will be keeping Tweetchat in its current form. Despite this is switch in strategy, the company confirmed to me on Twitter that Tweetchat should be operational this week. Drawbacks: This is not a Certified product, so that’s something to keep in mind.

2. Hootsuite – Hootsuite offers a free account, and those of us at Solo PR often find the tool’s search capabilities to be superior to those on Twitter itself. You can create a column for a specific search (e.g., #solopr) and watch the tweets there. As a Twitter Certified product, its developers work with Twitter closely and it’s unlikely the service will be greatly impacted by the API changes. Drawbacks: The search columns in Hootsuite do not automatically refresh as quickly as most Twitter chat participants would like.

3. Tweetdeck – Twitter now owns Tweetdeck, which is both good and bad. The good is that it obviously is fully blessed by the Twitter gods; the bad is that the Twitter gods have full control of it now. The most recent example of that downside was seen when the company shut down the mobile versions, but there is now a newly upgraded version of Tweetdeck for the desktop. How well the new Tweetdeck can keep up with fast-moving Twitter chats remains to be seen, but the adventurous among us may want to give it a try.

In a couple weeks, once the Solo PR community has had a chance to test these options, we’ll do a follow-up post crowning a winner (or winners). Update: read the verdict on the tools, along with a few new options, in Twitter Chat Tool WinnersIn the meantime, let us know your experiences in the comments!

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