Google Reader as a Twitter client

Posted on 2009/08/27

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I always have a Google Reader tab open in my browser, and I predict I will spend more time on it now that it’s becoming more similar to FriendFeed; for these reasons I tried to use it as a Twitter client.

In order to see a Twitter timeline feed, I need to authenticate first. I found GTweet, a web utility that handles authentication and returns a link to an RSS feed enriched with user avatars and buttons. I followed the instructions on the site, created a feed URL and subscribed to it on Google Reader.

I noticed a slow refresh rate (hours before the next refresh); I think I’m too used to real-time conversations. Anyway, clicking Refresh inside the Google Reader subscription will pull the data from the feed and keep it updated.

This setup allows to reply and favorite a tweet. One problem is that the title of each entry becomes a right arrow; this implies that if I want to share an entry with Google Reader Shared Items I will share a nameless entry. The same if I wanted to use the new “Send To Twitter” feature of Google Reader. With “Send To” I can create custom recipients, so I tried to understand if I could send the text inside the entry. Unfortunately, the system lets you access the title of the entry (using ${title}), but not of the internal text.

GTweet, with great honesty, links to a similar service (FreeMyFeed) that performs a similar task but does not reformat the Twitter feed, thus preserving the tweet as the title of the entry. Importing the feed created with FreeMyFeed shows instantly that you lose the features of GTweet, but you gain the ability to share and use custom “Send To” commands. In particular, I created the “Reply” and “Retweet” functionalities quite easily:

Name: Reply
URL: http://twitter.com/home?status=@${title}
Icon URL: http://twitter.com/favicon.ico

Name: ReTweet
URL: http://twitter.com/home?status=RT @${title}
Icon URL: http://twitter.com/favicon.ico

Since the title of the feed includes the Twitter username, if I retweet “balau82: hello world!” my status will be “RT @balau82: hello world!”.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Integrated in a page with all the other sources of news.
  • Integrated with Google Reader internal search.
  • With GTweet:
    • Easy reply.
    • You can still identify the users with their avatars.
  • With FreeMyFeeds:
    • Easy reply and retweet with “Send To”.
    • More tweets on screen thanks to List view.
    • Integration with Shared Items

Cons

  • Refresh is not automatic and does not occur when you refresh the browser page.
  • With GTweet:
    • The title becomes an arrow.
    • Each tweet takes more vertical space than tweets on twitter.com
  • With FreeMyFeeds:
    • The best way to display it is List view, but the setting is global and I hate to see Wired feed (or any other except Twitter) in List view. Also, the embedded search defaults to “Search view” and you need to change to List view every time you search.
    • Ugly: no avatars, no background.
    • In order to follow a link, you need to click the entry and then the link inside it.
    • No links on @username or #tag.

I think that Google Reader is a bad Twitter client because it’s a good feed reader:  it’s not real-time and it’s good at displaying rich content. Anyway, if you check Twitter once a day and need to search specific words in your friends’ tweets, it is a nice alternative to twitter.com .

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Posted in: Internet, Working