IWantSandy+Twitter=?

About a month ago, I discovered I Want Sandy, which is a virtual Personal
Assistant (PA) service. Not that I necassarily need a PA (though one would be
nice), but that this was a service I could use to jot notes down, track my ideas
and – most importantly – use it through my existing networking channels,
principally, Twitter. Sandy was great, you could send her a message such as “Remind to pick up the shopping at 6” and “she” would create an appointment for you and remind you when the time came. “She” can be asked to do things using email (including replying to emails and copying her in – she would read it and pick up the paragraphs relevant to her), Twitter and her web site. Then, she would remind you using the same media, web-site, email and Twitter. US
users could also be SMSed their reminders.

Modern web services seem to be going simple – really simple. Sandy was simple
at the core, it was just an appointment book. Twitter is just a glorified SMS
broadcasting system. Such simple components can then be used in mash-ups, to
create new applications.

It’s hard to believe that from a difficult start with Twitter 6 months ago
that it has come to be such an important part of my digital life. Random
thoughts and comments coming in to me from those I follow and going out to those who follow me do occasionally have gems in them that can inspire me to look
further into an area of interest, follow current events as they happen and
(hopefully) contribute the same to others. Most importantly, unlike reading
people’s blogs, it requires low commitment on the part of the subscriber.

Unfortunately, Sandy looks like she is joining the increasing number of
redundancies as of 15th December, but this time you won’t need to bail her out
as you have had to do with the banks and possibly (and probably) America’s
[ignorant] car industry. “She” has been acquired by Twitter. As “Sandy’s Helpers” say in their sad news about the end of Sandy’s service, this does raise some interesting ideas of what possible applications could be made with
such a direct integration of the two services. While Sandy’s helpers are giving
nothing away, it’s still exciting to think what could be:

Delayed Twittering, already done by some sites (sorry, couldn’t re-find them)
but why not combine it within the core Twitter service. This delayed Twittering
could be easily wrapped up in a “reminder” metaphor. The number of services that
have ballooned around the Twitter service is incredible, many of them offering
very simple services which I struggle to see as economically viable in terms of
paying for the hosting. From pictures with TwitPic to Grading by Grader. Maybe
it’s time for Twitter to reap the benefits of what services have been successful
and wrap them within their core product?

Twitter interacting with your inbox: Sandy could be instructed to create
reminders, jot notes, etc. by just copying her email address into a standard
email. This was very neat, and did not detract from the conversation in hand –
the recipient had no need to understand who (or what) she was. No complicated
code sequences, just straight plain English. Combining Twitter with your inbox
in a similar way could be used to generate Twitter content at the same time. For
example, as an extra channel for bulk e-Marketing. Send an enewsletter out and
have the enews “activate” a Twitter feed linking to the enews page on a web
site.

It doesn’t look like any changes will come soon, as with anything
Twitter-ish, feature roll out is very slow and often very unreliable as demand
often outstrips capability. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait.

Why I might just be a Twitter Quitter

So I’ve tried Twitter for about a month, now. So, what do I think of
it?

It’s now about a month since I said I’d try the Twitter phenomenon out, after seeing a few Facebook friends use it for intriguing purposes.

For example, I love the way you can drop down what you are doing, or a random
thought that you think someone else might be interested in. Believe it or not, I
often have moments when I want to express 140 characters in concise form. I’ve
seen users use it to provide status, thoughts, ask questions and highlight
recent blogging entries. It is for this reason I thought I’d join in with the
Twittering.

Initially, I thought it would be a great way to crank up some interest in
the TT-related project I was working on. This project was challenging, and quite
stressful at times and is the focus of the iomtt.com site, allowing users from
around the world to be able to access times, data, webcams and radio broadcasts
for the bike racing that takes place at this time every year on The Isle of Man.
Maybe I could even get some sales from it? Then, I also used it to highlight
random thoughts and when I posted a blog entry. (No doubt I’ll do the same again
to highlight this post).

It seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, it is full of “noise”. Noise that I
find can be completely meaningless unless you know the people Twittering,
personally. Half the messages are also written in some form of code, in order to
get messages within the 140 character limit. You thought text messages were bad,
having to limit to 255 characters – you want to try Twittering and reading other
peoples’ twitters/tweets/whatever. So, assuming you can apply a bit of noise
reduction by occasionally reducing the number of “followers” you have, I can
limit updates to just those people I know and am actually interested in.
(Incidentally, I have had a number of people following me, who I have never met,
so how come? Do they randomly select me, or have I been recommended?)

I have a big gripe with the service, however. It is unreliable – really
unreliable. Think of the technology behind the scenes – you have 1x web form,
which takes a single line of text and updates a database somewhere, which is
used to output the change to somewhere else. Really simple, yes? Apparently not.
I have lost count of the times the service fails to update my Facebook page,
faisl to update even its own status … or just outright fails. It has worse
reliability than Facebook for errors. At least Facebook is never “down”.

Twitter is far too complex. It uses AJAX, which takes forever, the whole
point of AJAX is to make the user feel that a web application is responsive.
Twitter just sits there with a spinning thing spinning away for 30 seconds or so
while it updates itself. I’d rather a conventional POST, to be honest, at least
I’d feel like something was happening.

Obviously, this service is very popular, and clearly needs some degree of
load balancing. I wonder how this has been implemented, if at all. The site has
recently come out of a particularly poor period of unreliability which saw
various services being turned off, the site being down and a database crash. I
mean, a database crash? How often does that happen? Maybe they should be using
some Microsoft tech instead of this open source gubbins they seem to be using.
I’ve never had a SQL Server database fail on me.

I have learned a lot, and have actually found some Twitterers enlightening,
as it has opened my eyes to other professions which I always like. The idea is a
sound one, though I do have misgivings about egotistical natterings that have no
real purpose. If I post something, I hope people find it interesting,
particularly when talking about the TT project I was involved with, whether it
resulted in any sales I don’t know and probably doubt. It is also great for an
asynchronous chat. People can ask you questions and when you update your feed,
you can reply. Finally, it’s a great way of letting people know you’ve just
written something enlightening and insightful, much like this post? No?

So, I think my initial reluctance to use the service has been overcome.
Though if I were to continue using it, I would hope that the service reliability
improves significantly in terms of uptime, speed and suitability for purpose. It
is such a simple concept, it would be a shame to see it fail. It would also be
good if there was some way I could select Twitterers that were interesting to
me, for example, e-Marketing twitterers would be good at the moment! Anyone?

Thanks must go to the following Twitteroo’s: sherrilynne, OwenC and dunkjmcd who very kindly left feedback for me about my new web site – via Twitter.