When it comes to organizing and following my Twitter activity, I have found that SocialScope – currently in a closed beta and only available on BlackBerry – provides the most complete and most satisfying Twitter user experience. A recent interview with Ubiquitous Systems CEO Amit Kumar provided some additional background on how SocialScope evolved and their plans going forward.
Twitter started out as a way to broadcast messages of up to 140 characters via SMS to “approved” followers; however, its popularity has driven it to become a key social media tool whose messages can be followed on a desktop PC, via a web browser or on a mobile device such as smartphones. When one starts following several hundred Twitter users the challenge for the individual has become one of “how can I effectively manage my Twitter activities to my benefit?”. An ecosystem of Twitter clients has evolved in an attempt not only to provide access to Twitter on multiple platforms but also to bring some order and prioritization to one’s Twitter experiences.
Over the past few months I have been experimenting with various Twitter clients on PC’s (TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop), iPhone (Twitterific) and the BlackBerry (TwitterBerry, SocialScope). I came to the conclusion that I wanted a client that:
- allows me to see all my Twitter messages as one viewing option
- with minimum delay after sent
- is available on a mobile platform
- receives messages while using other applications on the platform
- supports multiple Twitter accounts
- supports Facebook status messages
- is capable of organizing my “Following” Twitter contacts into groups
- provides a search capability
- including searches for #hashtags
- has a tabbed UI for accessing:
- all messages, direct messages, @ replies,
- individual Twitter and Facebook account messages
- user-defined groups, search results
- provides a complete Profile of a Twitter User:
- user description and website
- view all the user’s recent messages
- select Twitter accounts on which to follow/unfollow
- search for all Tweets referencing the user
- see who the user is Following
- see who is Following the user (Followers)
- allows easy insertion of pictures (via Twitpic) and URL’s into Status Updates
- quickly moves amongst the various tabs, user profiles and searches
About three weeks ago SocialScope delivered a major upgrade to their beta version that built it out to include all the features described above. While attending a social networking workshop two weeks ago I suddenly found myself using SocialScope on my BlackBerry Bold to track all my Twitter activity as I made new acquaintances, followed the event’s hashtag and did searches on various speakers and related topics. It handled both my Twitter accounts, allowed me to organize those I was following, had a neat Search capability, provided a complete user profile for any Twitter user and eliminated the tediousness of performing key operations on a PC.
I then realized that, considering all the Twitter clients I had trialed, SocialScope provided the most complete, yet user friendly, experience. Social media messages basically have the same “immediacy” as a phone call or an email received on the BlackBerry.The convenience of having it on a a QWERTY-keyboard mobile platform with a vibrant half-VGA display had become a significant factor in coming to this conclusion.
Most importantly, however, recall that Twitter’s original ambition was to drive messages through SMS messaging; thus, the 140 character limit. This had become a huge cost factor for Twitter to the point where, for instance, SMS messaging to Canadian users was cut off until Twitter made special arrangements with at least one local carrier. (And now all Canadian wireless carriers plan to charge for inbound SMS messages.) However, SocialScope provides a much more user friendly user interface than dealing with SMS messages; a major benefit is that it eliminates the need for any SMS subscription (but will make “light” use of your wireless data plan) to access Twitter or FaceBook messaging activity on a BlackBerry.
SocialScope was the evolution of the founders’ goal to provide a client that aggregated, yet organized, a user’s social networking activity. Founder Amit Kumar and his colleagues (today they still only have a team of four plus an intern) saw lots of web-based social networking activity on the web but felt that browsers put too much overhead on the overall Twitter (and Facebook) user experience as well as on mobile device resources.
While their original prototypes were developed for the iPhone, they quickly realized they needed the full background processing capability of the BlackBerry (8xxx or 9xxx) to handle social media messaging seriously. Key to their overall design approach was the recognition that, while they are delivering a dedicated client, Twitter itself is a dynamically evolving web page which requires special handling on mobile platforms. To this end they have developed compression algorithms and are working on battery consumption issues. (More details on “SocialScope: Why BlackBerry”will be the subject of a second post.)
SocialScope alpha launched in December 2007; the Ubiquitous team suddenly found they had to limit their alpha subscribers while they dealt with initial scaling and usability issues. Their most important feedback for user interface design came from looking at usage patterns. The most common feedback they obtained was the need for messages to be delivered “immediately”. In response they dealt not only with scaling issues but also latency and connectivity issues.
At the same time they have been developing deeper links into BlackBerry features such as the address book from which one can view a Contact’s most recent Twitter and Facebook updates. When viewing a web page in the BlackBerry browser, a “Send to SocialScope” command is available to insert the web page’s URL into a Twitter Status Update window.
Currently they are working on improving group management, de-duping messages (such that messages sent to multiple accounts only show up once) and deeper integration with Facebook. They also want to add support for showing Twitter “trends” information.
SocialScope is still in closed beta with, apparently, a very long waiting list. However, the wait should not be too long; they expect to release a publicly available version at some time during the summer.
Bottom line: SocialScope sets the bar for all Twitter clients in terms of feature set and performance. It demonstrates that social media messaging and message management is best handled, from a user experience perspective, on a mobile platform. It also demonstrates the importance of having background processing for messaging activities on a mobile handset (did I say their next platform of choice would probably be Android?).
To follow: SocialScope: Why BlackBerry?
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