With its real-time search and growing hordes of users, Twitter has become one of the best ways to stay up to date on current events and breaking news (assuming of course, its search function is actually working). But one of the conventions Twitter users have adopted to associate their tweets with a certain event — the hash tag — can be an incredibly inefficient way to spread what’s actually going on. This is because Twitter users have grown accustomed to tagging any tweet somehow related to an event with its corresponding hashtag, even when they aren’t actually attending. This helps spur conversation, but it becomes much harder to weed out the news from the noise, and occasionally leads to propagation of false information. Almost.at, a very slick web application built by freelance iPhone developer David Cann, may be the answer to this problem.
Built on the Cappuccino web framework, the first thing that you’ll notice is that Almost.at is sporting a very polished interface that strongly resembles a native application. The app consists of four main columns. On the far left side you’ll see a handful of different popular topics, which include breaking news stories and events. Clicking on one of these (we’ll use E3 as an example) will fill the three right columns with real-time feeds of recent content: one column for recent tweets that include the #E3 hashtag, another for rich media from Flickr, Twitpic and YouTube, and a third with relevant links that have been sent out in recent tweets.
Every 10 seconds or so, the service will pull in the latest content, so you shouldn’t ever have to manually refresh. You can also use a timeline at the bottom of the page to browse through the history of an event (for example, I could ‘watch’ this weekend’s Maker Faire as it happened, even after the fact). One small caveat though: make sure to scroll to the bottom of a column rather than the top, as Almost.at displays these new items below older ones.
Aside from its snazzy interface and real time updating, Almost.at’s appeal lies in its ability to help users differentiate between people who are at an event, and people who are just talking about it. The system behind this is pretty simple: every tweet has a ‘+’ sign next to it, and if you see a tweet from someone that seems to be actually attending event, you can click it to add them to a special ‘Followees’ list. From then on, their tweets will be displayed with a yellow background in everyone’s feed, and you can optionally choose to watch a feed with tweets that only come from Followees. At this point it’s working very well – I love being able to watch the actual E3 news as it comes in from press at the scene, rather than have to wade through the waves of fanboy spam.
Of course, this system comes with one major problem: any user can add anyone to the Followees list, which means spammers could easily add themselves. At this point there isn’t any kind of communitiy moderation system, though Cann says that one is definitely on the way (for now he’ll have to regulate spam himself). Cann is also hand picking the events that users have to choose from (the servers can only handle a few at a time), though it sounds like he may look for a way to do this automatically in the future.
If you find yourself really enjoying Almost.at, you can download it as its own standalone application. Cann says this is really just a browser window dedicated to the site, but it should allow you to keep it running for hours on end.