Even though Twitter forces you to limit your thoughts to tiny 140-character bursts, loyal users of the text messaging network still suffer from information overload: There is too much to read, no matter how you cut it.
But maybe there isn’t too much to see.
Twitter circulates a massive volume of minute texts, but your eyes can only take in one text tweet at a time. Images, however, are a different story. You scan a page of them in seconds — to find updates about Iranian protests, planes in the Hudson River, what the food looks like at a certain restaurant, or, of course, who is having a ham sandwich on their porch.
Several utilities exist for posting images to Twitter from computers and cellphones, including Airme, TwitGoo, Twitpic and Yfrog, and others.
But unless you stumble across a given tweet and click through to the image, you can’t see it — or at least, that used to be the case. Luckily, another set of Twitter image utilities is emerging to let you search and browse these images and offer fresh insight into the world around us faster — and often with more depth — than is normally possible by reading text messages on the network.
“Literally, you can communicate a short burst of information about where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, and what kind of mood you’re in [with an image] — and you can’t say that all in text,” said Mark Levin, CEO and founder of ImageShack’s Yfrog. “Media, for short, quick communication, is very important.”
One of the best utilities is Twitcaps, developed by Jonathan Griggs, who found himself using his own service in a way he never could have predicted after a tornado appeared nearby.
“When we were having tornado warnings in Denver and the warning sirens were going off near my house, my girlfriend and I grabbed the laptop and made way for the basement,” said Griggs in an e-mail. “Once there, I looked up ‘Denver tornado’ on Twitcaps and found images of the funnel cloud moving northeast from Coors field — a good ways to the east of my house. This was far more information than was available from local news sources at the time, and was enough to set us at ease that we were in no immediate danger.”
Following news events in near-real-time is the best use for TwitCaps, he said, followed by the tracking of music, sporting and industry events; finding “aesthetically pleasing” image collections like these sunsets; and watching the image stream on the front of the site. Specifically, he added, people seem to be tweeting an awful lot of pictures of the food they’re eating, as well as, for some reason, spiders.
Scott Mills, who developed another of our favorite Twitter image viewing tools — the recently released Peephole iPhone app ($2 on on iTunes) — says the Iranian protests inspired the creation of his app. Like so many other technologies, this one stemmed from frustration on the part of a software developer.
“I can’t remember where I was that day [of the Iranian protests], but I wasn’t around my Mac, so I was on the iPhone,” recalled Mills, a co-founder of the Arkansas-based ISP IFWorld and TwitCaps developer Memetix Devworx, by phone. “I was going through clicking on individual tweets, and a lot of times I’d get the same photo — it was just a very long, manual process.
“That’s when the idea hit me — that a few of the technologies I was trying to learn and was playing around with to develop iPhone apps would fit together nicely so that you could just see a bunch of thumbnails all at once and decide which photo looks interesting, and then read the message that went with it. I guess it was just my own frustration at not being able to see the photos easily.”
As more smartphones add video-capture, Yfrog’s Levin says, video is increasingly augmenting the image as a way to get across a great deal of information on Twitter.
And soon, location will become a bigger part of the equation. Twitter plans to make an addition to its API that will allow software to geo-stamp photos before they’re uploaded, according to Mills, meaning that Peephole, TwitCaps and similar programs will be able to search and browse tweeted pics by precise location. (For now, they have to rely on users divulging location in their profile or tweets.)
Even as things stand now, there are already lots of easy ways to see what Twitter sees. Without further ado, here are seven ways to search and browse images on Twitter, in alphabetical order (feel free to visit the comments section to add whatever we may have missed).
- Peephole: This smooth, $2 iPhone app — the only mobile app on this list — lets you view Twitter images in a number of ways: trends, public timeline, nearby users, search, Twitter friends, and favorites.
- PicFog: PicFog offers the image hound a near-real-time photo stream, a breaking-news section (which you can follow on Twitter), searching by text, user or location, retweeting, and ranking by popularity (number of retweets). Its developers concur with TwitCaps’ Griggs, describing the most popular subjects followed as breaking news, weather, conferences/meetups, sports and music.
- Pingwire: By monitoring the images posted to Twitpic, Yfrog, and TwitGoo, the relatively bare-bones Pingwire service also includes a near-real-time feed (which, unlike some of the others, it has the decency to call “almost live”) and a trending-photos section. But it lacks search and many other key features offered by the others.
- Twicsy: This one gives you a near-real-time stream, search, most popular recent images, tag browsing, retweeting, a button for reporting NSFW material, retweeting and an embeddable widget that shows the top images in the past hour.
- Twipho: This Twitter search engine looks a bit like Google — spare, and focused on a search box, with trends underneath.
- TwitCaps: The service offers a near-real-time image stream (with “freeze” and “save” features), search, most popular, trends, location-based searching, filtering by language or image host (it links up directly with their APIs in addition to scraping from Twitter), and a built-in translator, as well as tools for retweeting and sharing by e-mail, IM and so on. The developer said he plans to submit an iPhone app version to iTunes in a month or so.
- Twitc: This is actually an image and video uploading and hosting service for Twitter and other networks, but it offers several tools for seeing visual media other users are tweeting: near-real-time stream, most-viewed, highest-rated, random results, and search by tag.