Twitter is a strange mix of real-time features like search and the slow polling mechanism that desktop clients use to grab new messages. As Twitter puts a limit on how many times per hour a client can check for updates, most of the conversations on Twitter are slow and arduous. When Seesmic released its new desktop and web applications last week, however, the company also mentioned that its applications would soon be able to update Twitter streams in real time, including @replies and direct messages. While the Seesmic team was tight-lipped about how exactly they are going to do this (maybe by tapping into Twitter's Streaming API?), we can't help but wonder how this will change the dynamics on the service.In its current state,
Twitter as a Chat Room
Currently, conversations on Twitter are asynchronous and sluggish. If they happened in real-time, however, Twitter would start to look and feel more like an IM client. Even on FriendFeed, which was once seen as a possible Twitter challenger but which never quite got any mainstream traction, conversations now happen in real time. While Twitter is often mentioned as a vehicle for real-time conversations, in reality, conversations on Twitter aren't happening in real time at all.
Once Twitter turns into more of a chatroom, both Twitter's website and third-party clients will also have to improve the way they display these conversations. Seesmic's 'message' view looks like a step in the right direction. The Seesmic web app features a TweetDeck-like column-based view of your Twitter streams and searches, but it also separates 'real' conversations that you participate in from the rest of the application. Other desktop apps like Nambu for the Mac feature rudimentary support for displaying conversation threads, but most clients currently don't do a very good job at highlighting conversations and mostly look at Twitter as a broadcast medium.
Once our streams really start moving on Twitter, we will also need better ways to filter and manage our subscriptions (including better spam filters). Right now, scanning a list of updates is easy, and most clients support search and the ability to create groups, but maybe automatic filtering based on the kind of messages we pay attention to will also help us to manage the information stream.
What Do You Think?
We will have to see how all of this will play out in the next few months once Seesmic (and others, we assume) will release their updated clients, but we think that this could potentially take Twitter into a completely new direction.