Using Twitter from Outlook 2007

Increasingly I hear the request to update Twitter from Office Outlook. A year ago my initial thought was of employees updating their followers on what was served for lunch in the company cafeteria or something. However, companies are using Twitter as a form of micro-blogging and simply want to consolidate the tools to accomplish this task.

A basic tool for sending updates to Twitter through Office Excel and Outlook is available from New York-based VBA Programmer Jimmy Pena. This tool creates a button to open a form which allows you to enter your Twitter account and post an update. This is a basic form and not fully integrated with your Outlook data. It’s also coded for Office Outlook 2003.

There’s an Outlook add-on called TwInbox (formerly known as OutTwit) that fully incorporates Twitter into the Outlook interface. TwInbox is a small add-on that currently installs as version 1.0. The license agreement allows the installer to use the application on any number of computers, personal or corporate, as long as they don’t sell or ‘sub-license’ the application. The full feature list for TwInbox can be found on the developer’s website TechHit.

TwInbox doesn’t require a new Outlook account, but it does use your mailbox, whether on Exchange or in a .pst file. It uses the Outlook interface only as a portal to the Twitter API. It adds a toolbar to Outlook as shown in Figure 1. You can access standard Twitter functionality from this toolbar, such as creating a new tweet (New), re-tweeting a relevant tweet (RT), or direct messaging someone (d). Figure 2 shows the TwInbox New Update form with some tweet text entered. The update form has a unique feature. It can pull image attachments from a highlighted email message. You can upload an image to Twitter from an email downloaded into Outlook without having to save it to the file system first. The options interface is shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4 and is accessed from the TwInbox drop-down menu button shown in Figure 1.

What are the benefits of incorporating Twitter feeds into Outlook? Well, some of the other Outlook functionality you have grown to love is available for that content. You can search the folders where tweets are saved. You can incorporate the tweets as content for consideration for your custom search folders. You can easily identify which tweets you haven’t read just as you can identify unread emails. You can assign categories to the tweets and even apply rules to them. Figure 5 shows a tweet from Brandon Hoff of Microsoft. I used an Outlook rule to assign a category and move it to a specific folder (TwInbox can assign a separate folder for each sender automatically, too). TwInbox also incorporates some statistical presentation of your Twitter usage, including the most prolific tweeters you follow and when they post, as shown in Figure 6. This adds some business intelligence to your Twitter efforts.

And because tweets are limited to 140 characters, tweet posts in Outlook only consume a few kilobytes of space. This is important for companies monitoring mailbox quotas. Tweets are downloaded to the Outlook client, but are subsequently uploaded to the Exchange mailbox when they are assigned to a folder in an Exchange mailbox. TwInbox also includes the Twitter Avatars in the tweets that are downloaded. Interestingly, when you go offline, these jpegs are not always shown (leaving the standard box outline and the little red x in the top left) suggesting they are not stored in Outlook, but are called when you view the tweet.

Outlook 2007 was not intended to be used as a Twitter client; however, Outlook’s extensibility, and the ease of use of the Twitter API, make it possible. TwInbox is easy to learn and effective as a Twitter client for Outlook users. Overall, people are pleased with TwInbox—see for yourself at TwInbox. Follow William on Twitter at MojaveMedia.

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