Q: Is there an easy way to integrate Twitter with Microsoft Outlook 2010?

A: Many of us depend on Outlook as our personal information manager (PIM), well beyond simple email. Meanwhile, Twitter has continued its impressive growth both on personal and business levels. Nearly three years ago, I wrote about a third-party Outlook add-in called TwInbox that brought Twitter into your Outlook 2007 client. TwInbox also works well in Outlook 2010.

Twitter often updates its API, so Twitter clients are sometimes left scrambling to adjust to any changes. TwInbox has continued supporting its Outlook add-in, and the product continues to provide excellent Outlook integration with Outlook 2010. TwInbox is still a 32-bit application, but it works well on both 32-bit and 64-bit Outlook installations.

Like most Outlook add-ins, Outlook should be closed prior to installation. After TwInbox is installed, it loads with Outlook at the next restart. TwInbox is added to the Ribbon on both the Home tab, as Figure 1 shows, and the Add-Ins tab.

Figure 1: TwInbox options on the Outlook 2010 Ribbon

Obviously, before TwInbox can pull and render your Twitter timeline, you have to configure it to do so. From the TwInbox pane of the Home tab of the Ribbon, select Options, Options to launch the TwInbox configuration wizard. However, the wizard appears only if no accounts have been set up yet. The wizard prompts you to sign in to Twitter with a standard OAuth request using your Twitter username and password. Next, you choose a folder where tweets will be stored, as Figure 2 shows.

Figure 2: Choosing a folder where TwInbox will store tweets

After your Twitter account has been verified, you're ready to tweet. Figure 3 shows the folder hierarchy for TwInbox within the folder selected in the configuration wizard. It also shows the dialog box that opens when you select RT with a tweet highlighted in Outlook.

Figure 3: Using TwInbox in Outlook 2010 (Click image for larger view)

All the standard tweet options are available from the main Outlook interface, including direct messages (DM), retweets (RT) and favorites. When you upload an image, TwInbox offers the choice of three image hosting services (independent of TwInbox and Twitter). TwInbox also employs bit.ly as a URL shortener to help users meet the 140-character limit.

In a corporate environment, you might have designated tweeters for specific Twitter accounts, or you might have an individual responsible for multiple Twitter accounts. TwInbox allows multiple Twitter accounts through the Outlook add-in, as Figure 4 shows.

Figure 4: Setting up multiple Twitter accounts in the TwInbox Outlook add-in

By default, a new parent folder for each account is created under the folder you selected in the configuration wizard. Additional accounts and preferences are set up from the Options button in the TwInbox pane of the Ribbon. You can set preferences that affect TwInbox as a whole, as Figure 5 shows, and preferences specific to each Twitter account, as Figure 6 shows. When you have multiple Twitter accounts configured, you select an account from a drop-down menu when you compose a new tweet to determine which account the tweet is sent from.

Figure 5: Setting preferences for TwInbox

Figure 6: Setting preferences for individual Twitter accounts in TwInbox

If you're following a lot of people on Twitter, I recommend not using the TwInbox account option to Create individual folders for each sender. This option creates individual subfolders as each unique account in your timeline sends tweets. If you follow thousands of people or accounts, it could result in thousands of separate folders in Outlook. Using Outlook as a Twitter client, however, allows offline searches of your timeline indexed within Outlook. You can also easily archive tweets you send when you configure TwInbox to save messages you send. This setting isn't the default, but you configure it in Account Settings by simply selecting check box.

A couple of features aren't configurable when TwInbox is installed on Outlook 2010. TwInbox shows most recent inbound tweets in the Add-Ins tab in Outlook 2010, as Figure 7 shows. In Outlook 2007, there were options to have buttons in the toolbar to launch the Tweet dialog box. With the more complete Ribbon in Outlook 2010, this option is no longer available.

Figure 7: TwInbox showing the latest inbound tweet in the Add-Ins tab in Outlook 2010

If maintaining social media accounts is your entire job, TwInbox might not be the best tool for Twitter, considering the available dedicated desktop clients, such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, and Seesmic. However, if you're trying to maintain Outlook as your sole dashboard for communication, TwInbox can handily provide the Twitter client component.