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VoIP can let you make one-on-one or conference calls from your Mac. But we all know that your Mac can be the hub of your nonverbal communications, too. Whether you’re composing a message in Mail, chatting with a friend on Adium, or writing a blog post in Safari or iWeb, your Mac makes it easy to let your fingers do the talking.
And your Mac can also help you bridge the gap between this online world and your real, offline life. With Web 2.0 “microblogging” services like Twitter, Pownce, and Jaiku, and the vast sphere of complementary apps, widgets, badges, and scripts, you can stay connected to your network of online contacts no matter where you are.
Twitter. At its heart, Twitter is a microblog service that asks you to answer one simple question - What are you doing? - in 140 characters or less. You can choose to limit your posts, called “tweets,” to just your circle of contacts, but if you don’t, every tweet gets added to the Public Timeline, which is constantly updated at Twitter.com.
Every Twitter user also has a home page (ours is at Twitter.com/MacLife), which shows a running list of tweets, and a side column showing that user’s contacts, both “followers” (who is receiving the tweets) and “following” (whose tweets the user is keeping up with). You can choose to receive notification of new tweets via IM (Google Talk, Jabber, and LiveJournal are supported), or via SMS text message to your mobile phone. You can even tweak the notification options for each person you’re following, so the important ones go to your IM or phone, while you’re content to read the others online at Twitter.com/home, which shows a running list (and optional RSS feed) of tweets by you and the people you’re following.
Twitterific lets you read and post tweets from a floating window on your Desktop.
By now you may be wondering, “What’s the point?” And that’s really the beauty of Twitter and services like it: The practical application is left up to you. You could get all your friends to sign up and then use it to organize spontaneous get-togethers. You could keep it running at the office all day, sharing links to interesting news stories or asking your smarty-pants Twitter friends for tech help or buying advice. We use our Twitter account like an online all-points bulletin, to let readers know when we’ve posted new content on our website, or to alert them to breaking news.
Twitter supports posting through its website, via IM (you need a Google Talk, Jabber, or LiveJournal account), or via SMS by texting to 40404. Third-party applications such as Twitterific (free) let you post from your Desktop, and a few Dashboard widgets are available as well. The fan-run Twitter wiki at twitter.pbwiki.com keeps a running tally of what’s available. More apps and features are added all the time, thanks to Twitter’s open API and ActionScript libraries, which let developers come up with their own Twitter apps, hacks, and mashups. Our favorite mashup has to be Twittermap.com, which shows you how to add location info to your Twitter posts, and then maps the Public Timeline using the API from Google Maps. Sure, it’s a time waster, but a fun one - perhaps more addictive than Twitter itself.
Pownce lets you post messages, links, and events for the public, your friends, or individuals, and even send files.
Pownce. Still invite-only (although it’s easy to score an invite by asking on Twitter), Pownce is set up kind of like Twitter: You compile a list of contacts, and your home page (ours is pownce.com/MacLife) is populated with their posts as well as your own. The main differences are that there’s no limit on how long your posts can be, and you can post links, files, and event notices as well as just text. (Twitter lets you post links, too, as long as they don’t put you over the 140-character limit. See “TinyURL to the Rescue” on the next page.) Other users can comment on your Pownce messages, too, giving it a more blog-like interface than Twitter and Jaiku.
And perhaps the biggest difference of all, you can choose who sees each post by making them totally public, restricting them to just your friends, or even sending the posts directly to one or more specific people. File transfers are limited to 10MB with a free account. Upgrading to a Pro account for $20/year increases the limit to 100MB, and eliminates the text-only ad posts that free users see on their Pownce page from time to time.
The Pownce Desktop app lets you read and post messages, links, files, and events. Ads won't show up if you pay $20/year for a Pro account.
Users can post on Pownce via the website, or through the Pownce stand-alone app (free). Unlike the other services covered here, Pownce doesn’t have a host of third-party apps and widgets, because there’s no public API for programmers to use quite yet, although the company recently started the Pownce API Google Group, where interested folks can get status updates and offer suggestions. There’s also a wiki at www.powncers.com.