I’m very interested in the phenomenon of Twitter. In this piece, I want to write about a particular aspect of Twitter and the one that I’m most familiar with, the usage of Twitter at conferences. In fact, I was first turned on to Twitter at South by Southwest Interactive. They had monitors scattered about the conference with a visualization of everyone who was using Twitter at the conference. Thought balloons would float by with the person’s icon, realtime. In fact, here is a screenshot of my ego-twitter:
What I liked about this visualization while I was at the conference was the the realtime commentary that the visualization provided: about sessions (good and bad), about parties (especially unannounced ones), about any ancillary things happening. The other nifty thing about the visualization was the social networking aspect, in that if you saw a twitter that interested you, it was easy to subscribe to that person’s feed right from your cellphone and start getting that person’s twitter feed pushed to you. In fact, the crux of twitter at a conference is the SMS aspect. The ability to interact immediately with the “cloud” right from your cellphone, both to comment and to receive comments, is the power of Twitter at a conference. Not only can the conference organizers push information to attendees, but attendees can create their own web of connections.
I was inspired by the visualization at SxSW and decided to write my own. You can see the first cut here which I called Twitterpated (run it or download source here). Note that you’ll need the .NET Framework 3.0 to run it if you are on XP.
There’s lots of goofy code in there, so please beware! Classic case of having to write an app the first time and fail in order to write it correctly. I went about the animations in the wrong way, trying to animate from off the screen using an itemscontrol. Also, I only fetch the Twitter data once and never implemented a real data model. But I figured I’d post it in case there was something useful for someone.
All of this happened pre-MIX. It was the logical next step to do something similar for MIX. In talking with Beth Goza, I realized there were other social networking aspects being promoted for MIX, including Flickr and Facebook. As such, I wanted my visualization to pull not only Twitter, but these other feeds. It turned out my architecture made this trivial, using WPF (more on the technical details of this in a future post.) I also wanted to bring in a designer to help with the visuals, thus Tim Aidlin’s work on the project. Not only has this immensely improved the look and feel of the app, but also has given me more experience with designer/developer workflow using Expression (more on that in a later post as well.)
The result was Flitterbook. It ended up at two places at MIX. The first place was before the keynotes on the big screen:
It was great to see it up on the big screen and really funny to see people figure out that they could ego twitter realtime. Many people commented on the band, both favorably and unfavorably, which was hilarious (“too much accordion for this early in the morning”).
The other place it was at MIX was as a screensaver on all machines available to attendees for Internet access, similar to SxSW:
One technical note if you are interested in using this code for your conference. For all of this to work, you need to make sure that you create a Twitter account for your conference and then have attendees FOLLOW that account. So, for MIX, we had an account called MIX07. Then, the visualizer pulled a feed of all the followers. To pull this feed, the application had to authenticate to Twitter with the MIX07 credentials. You’d need to do something similar if you wanted to do this for another conference.