Cut Through The Twitter Crap with Filttr: A Quick Review

app-shotJust today I was bemoaning the lack of any capacity to filter Tweets from people I want to follow… but don’t want to hear that much from. There are plenty of people I follow because they’re occasionally interesting and I like to keep a peripheral awareness of things in their communities… but some of these people tend to tweet a LOT. Facebook offers you a way to customize your feeds, both by specifying which individuals you want to hear more or less from, and which types of updates you want to hear about.

The problem with following these people is that, while they keep things interesting, they sometimes drone out the people I care most about.

Enter Filttr. Filttr is a clever tool that grabs your twitter timeline (as your home page is called) and applies some algorithmic magic (the best sort of magic, we always say) to show you tweets it thinks you’ll be more interested in.

Filttr offers you the ability to add whitelist and blacklist keywords, which I don’t find particularly useful, since “blacklisting” any particular word or phrase is a bit strange to me (since, without context, how do you know if you’re really not interested, unless you just want to “mute” a particular topic for a bit) but it also offers the ability to rank individuals. So I’ve gone ahead and put a few of my friends on “less” and a couple others on “more” and Filtrr’s timeline is showing me a compressed version of the regular timeline, without all the crap. You can still view hidden tweets, but they’re compressed and cleaned up.

I’ve already suggested that they do a better job aggregating filtered tweets, since they still take up one “row” worth of space, but they’re on the right track here. Further, Filttr threads replies when a friend is replying to someone who had tweeted at them. This is a REALLY nice feature because it gives you context right there. I don’t particularly mind following through an interesting looking reply to see the other side of a conversation, but this is just a nice feature.

You can also establish groups of friends, much like you can do on Facebook, to only see a timeline of a certain subset of the users you follow. This is another useful feature that I’m glad someone else has bolted on to Twitter.

Filttr also offers a free Adobe AIR application to show the feed on your desktop. The app is new and a bit buggy: Scrolling is slow and can spike CPU usage, the app can’t be properly minimized to the system tray, and there are absolutely no options which they say was related to their effort to keep things as lightweight as possible. The app is lightweight, but I’d like to be able to configure a few things, and the lack of even a minimize button is a little strange to me.

When someone builds what is, to me, such an obvious feature for Twitter, it always piques my interest. There’s essentially nothing stopping Twitter from offering the exact same featureset. In fact, I’d expect them to add at least a few of these features. This brings about the argument of the platform versus the provider—many people wondered what would happen with Facebook’s third-party developers, since Facebook’s applications sometimes had direct competition in third-party apps. Thus far, they’ve been able to co-exist, but a third-party app will always be at a disadvantage if the platform decides to start delivering the same applications that the provider is offering. I’ll save the rest of my arguments on that for another post.

For now, try Filttr. It requires you to change the way you do things a bit, but there are some compelling reasons to give it a shot. What do you think?

Filttr (Blog Post) via Techcrunch

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Reviews

Lunascape Multi-Rendering-Engine Browser Review: Verdict—Three Trick Pony

lunascape Lunascape is a new browser that allows you to switch rendering engines on-the-fly. Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome/Apple Safari all use different rendering engines and JavaScript engines to display your pretty web pages to you. This is the root cause of browser incompatibility issues—different engines interpret things (like web “standards”) differently and so you see pages display differently. This is the bane of a lot of developers, as we have to fight the many, many quirks that abound when we use certain parts of the DOM or certain JavaScript or CSS tricks. For a lot more on these issues, QuirksMode is a great resource.

Lunascape presents an interesting product, though one that’s only in the Alpha stage, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of things evolve from them. As a developer, I have Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome all installed and at the ready. It’s pretty simple, though a bit annoying, to boot up IE to make sure a page renders properly, even though we develop under Firefox.  (There are FF extensions that make this a simple right-click affair, however.) Lunascape simplifies the process a bit by allowing you to switch a tab’s rendering engine just with a right-click. And it works, for sure.

But I begin to question the utility of a browser that lets me switch rendering engines, but provides me with very few debugging tools or console access. We develop under Firefox because of things like the Web Developer extension and Firebug. These superb debugging tools let us delve into the DOM and help us identify our many AJAX transgressions. Without these tools, though, the workflow isn’t improved enough to justify a switch from just running the browsers separately.

Now, Lunascape currently supports IE extensions, so perhaps Firefox extension support is on the horizon… but this seems like something that could be very difficult to accomplish, given that XUL (which powers Firefox and the window chrome surrounding it) is a part of Gecko that exists a bit existentially to the site being rendered: Though, if Lunascape itself is XUL-powered, then that would help considerably.

Even still, the appeal just isn’t there for me. Lunascape clearly is betting on its three-trick-pony concept, but that only appeals to developers who know what a rendering engine is. Firefox is a considerably better browsing option for regular end users, so they’re left needing to improve the value proposition for developers and to give us a reason to switch. And they haven’t done that yet. One way they could start is by offering advanced debugging tools, better if they’re rendering engine-specific. Another might be to allow for regression testing in IE: Allowing us to render in older IE engines, like how IETester works.

For now, I plan on leaving this in the Alpha bin it came in and working with FF 3, Chrome/Safari and IE, side-by-side.

See also: TechCrunch & Lifehacker‘s coverage. (The latter, whose screenshot we borrowed.)

Posted in: Development, Reviews

The Problem With Rating Systems

Recently, we needed to implement a rating system for a client’s application.  The decision came after the client agreed that the results would effectively be useless due to the potential for manipulation by users but the end goal of giving warm fuzzies to visitors is what was more important.  Unfortunately, since transactions aren’t processed or recorded through the site, we can’t limit who posts the feedback to actual, relevant purchasers. (Imagine if Craigslist provided user feedback profiles.)

The unfortunate “solution” we landed on involved having registered users fire an email to their customers.  Their customers would follow a link with a unique hash that allowed them to leave feedback about their transaction with the user.  Clearly, this has plenty of room for abuse.  Savvy users would simply create several throw-away email addresses and send themselves links.  Less savvy users would email their friends and have them give glowing reviews.  Either way, it would take an honest user to send to actual clients and even then, no user is going to send a review request to someone they just pissed off. And again, since the transaction isn’t completed on our side, we can’t simply trigger a feedback request. So you’re looking at about a 0% usefulness factor, either way you slice it. We’ll get into some of the pitfalls with ratings systems and a great piece on this by Boxes and Arrows, after the jump.

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Posted in: Design, Development

Book Review: php|architect’s Guide to Programming Magento

Guide to Programming with MagentoToday, I’ll be reviewing php|architect’s Guide to Programming Magento by Mark Kimsal. Magento is a relatively new open-source e-commerce application written in PHP with a MySQL back. All in all, the Magento package is an impressive application with great administrative features and a flashy user interface. But under the hood, Magento is a complicated piece of machinery. At the very least, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. So in order to navigate this maze of XML layout files, multiple template and style directories and the EAV database schema, we purchased Mark Kimsal’s Magento programming book. Find out what we thought of it, after the jump.

At first glance of the index, I got warm fuzzies all over. File hierarchy layout, EAV schema and custom module development…who wouldn’t feel a little happy? However, I’m not really the type of person to give accolades unless something is absolutely stellar. As such, this post will primarily be about the shortcomings of the book.

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Posted in: Development, Reviews