Trying to come up with cool ideas for Twitter annotations - what do you wish a tweet could do?
After my last blog post on Twitter annotations was very well received, I’ve been thinking about how they might be used in practical applications.
One of the immediate parallels to explore is attachments to emails. Multimedia, like MP3 files, video and pictures are obvious and I’m sure that many, many developers are exploring those avenues. Other forms of email attachment offer some less crowded domains to play around in.
Sharing Microsoft Word or Powerpoint documents is pretty redundant over twitter: lots of tweets link to documents (in HTML) so uploading a document to share it has been done to death. Sharing privately via a public-private key exchange would be very useful though and has similarities with attaching your PGP public key to emails (hat-tip to Ed Borasky for the original idea).
Another common use of email attachments is to exchange contact details and it’s a common pattern in twitter backgrounds (like mine). This thinking lead me to tweet an idea:
@dacort I want to send a vCard (or hCard) with a tweet and easily add it to my email & phone contacts.
Rich twitter clients for smart phones could make great use of this, but for desktop or web-based clients we’d need a standard API for contact management.
Commenting Via Twitter
Another interesting application for Twitter annotations would be to allow users to attach a comment to any URI. Just like blog comments, but remember that in the time of the semantic web anything can be identified by a URI.
Many systems like Disqus and Intense Debate already pick out URL mentions from the Twitter public stream but they are treated much like trackbacks rather than adding to the conversation. Twitter clients (and/or blog plugins) could use metadata with technologies like PubSubHubbub or Salmon to tightly integrate with the conversation back into the blog post and twitterers could enhance their comments with tags, star ratings and more.
Just having one hundred and forty characters would severely restrict blog comments though - the average length of non-spam comments on this blog (HTML stripped) is 281 characters. Many are much longer. Mobile friendly blogs and tumblogs are likely to benefit more from Twitter comment integration.
How about the ability to pull up a stream of tweets about a product you’re thinking of buying, identified by its barcode? Or a restaurant you are stood outside? Hotels, movies, travel destinations and more could really benefit from the realtime semantic web.
Here is a great presentation by Joshua Shinavier on the power of semantic twitter annotations.
Searching Twitter Annotations
A hugely important step in unleashing the full potential of twitter annotations will be the need for powerful and comprehensive search.
Remember how annotations are specified by namespace, key and value? They need to be searchable on those foields too but in a sensible manner.
Search must be available on namespace alone or namespace, key and value. I cannot think of any practical application of searching on namespace and key (no value), if you can please leave a comment!
Examples of searching on namespace alone are searching for all tweets annotated with RDF, or all tweets with video.
Whilst search against namespace, key and value could return all tweets with reviews of the Twilight Movie or tweets where people checked into a particular restaurant.
There has been no mention from Twitter as to how annotations will be handled in their Search API, but I am confident that it will be available soon after the full launch of annotations. If twitter don’t provide it themselves, rest assured that someone else will step up.
Annotations Are For Humans
One of the really heartening aspects to emerge from the Annotations Hackfest and the developer documentation is that annotations are being used to enhance the user experience - not simply feed hungry bots.
Twitter have recommended that common attributes for annotations might include a title, URL and image. That means they want users to interact with the meta-data and that’s a good thing!
One of the Hackfest projects even put together a "Rich Tweet Format" including Twitter Style Sheets - CSS for tweets. This might be an awful thing - how long before your twitter stream is as ugly as a teenager’s MySpace page? - but it shows how developers are working to create and share standards that bring more functionality to the user.