Well, it finally had to happen. Twitter is mainstream.
Twitter, and social media in general, have become mainstream. It gets talked about on international television, reported on in the mainstream media, and the service is enjoying the surge in users that all this attention has brought. But there remains a problem for all these new users…how do you find who to follow and gain followers yourself who are going to tweet about things that interest you? The answers are out there, but being new to the social media scene, many of these new users get disillusioned quickly and end up leaving in frustration. Abandoned Twitter pages abound with 8 tweets, all along the lines of “Hello? Is anyone out there? Is this thing on?”, leaving a ghost-town where new microbloggers could have been.
Always use the right tools for the right job.
There are various tools out there for automatically finding new people to follow and to list yourself. Recently @kevinrose released WeFollow, a user-driven directory of twitterers using hashtags. Another popular tool is Mr. Tweet, which uses various methods for suggesting followers based on their streams. These tools have their place, but I dislike their simplicity and passiveness. I like to browse, and sometimes hashtags, however useful, are just not good categories for finding what you are interested in. Because of all of this I like Twitterpacks a great deal, and wanted to do a little write-up on it because I don’t see it mentioned or discussed very much and it really is a nice little project that deserves some mention and respect.
What Twitterpacks is.
TwitterPacks is a wiki (built on PBWiki) where users can register and add their own link to their Twitter page and a short line about who you are (if you wish). The wiki breaks people up into categories like topics they cover, interests, location, company, and whatever other categories people want to add. Like any wiki, it is what the users make it, and this wiki has a community of users that have built a simple directory that they keep as neat and clean as possible.
By itself, this would be nothing more than a list of links and, while better than just blindly following people, makes the task a chore, especially when you are getting started and want to follow a large group in a particular region or industry. However, TwitterPacks has dealt with that, supplying a script they call Autopack, which allows you to select an entire category and follow them (or unfollow them) all at once. While the script does require your password, it passes it off directly to the Twitter API without creating any kind of account or login on-site. I have used the site for months with no issues and no one has ever said a thing about security problems, so I don’t have a problem recommending the site, but be aware that any application that requires you to use your password can be a security risk. Be careful.
What TwitterPacks is not.
TwitterPacks is not a flashy, pretty, AJAX-driven service where you “set it and forget it”. It takes some work to find all the places you wish to be listed, make the entries, and save the edits for each page. You do have to actually find the topics you are interested in and use the Autopack feature manually. The Autopack script is also limited, as it is being served from a donated server, and can very slow in returning large requests. On very large follow or unfollow commands it can time-out, and if you don’t make sure your own account isn’t somewhere on the list it can produce errors. As a user-driven community, TwitterPacks is funded by donations, and we all know how problematic that can be. All of these things make Twitterpacks a bit of work, and while I highly recommend it, know that it is by no means perfect.
Tools like this are invaluable in building a strong social media presence and personal brand, an ongoing concern for anyone who wants to be able to make it in new media. I mentioned a few of my favorite tools, but I know of dozens I didn’t mention and I am sure there are many more. What are your faves?