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Ginx describes itself as a tool for sharing news through Twitter. But it’s not just that, it’s also a better interface for using core Twitter features than Twitter itself. I’ve been playing around with the service, which is still in private testing mode — already, it’s helping me to better see what’s worth reading on Twitter, and who might be interesting to follow.
Let’s say somebody tweets a link to a news article. Ginx shows me the logo of the publication, the headline of the story, and a thumbnailed image if available. That way I know what I’m clicking on before I click it. Twitter itself just shows me the URL — and usually one has to manually use a URL-shortening service like bit.ly to fit the link into Twitter’s 140-character message-size limit. Desktop Twitter clients like twhirl provide their own integration with URL shorteners. Which brings me to the next cool thing that Ginx, a web service, does. It automatically shortens any URL — you just type your tweet and paste in the full URL to the messaging box, and Ginx will calculate the number of characters in the shortened URL and tell you how many characters you still have left for your message. See the screenshot immediately below.
When you or a friend clicks on a link, Ginx also includes a window with the option to reshare that link with friends through a tweet or direct message. Facebook has a similar window that appears above a story that you click on from within its site — the feature is a good way to keep users coming back to your service even when they go on to other sites.Twitter doesn’t do anything like this.
Ginx isn’t just about links, though. You can also sort the tweets from people you follow by conversation streams. When somebody you follow responds to a friend on Twitter by using the @username feature, you can use Ginx to see what they were replying to, and where their particular reply fits into the larger conversation. Assuming you care about the conversation topic, this tool is a new way to discover people who you might want to start following. Twitter offers only a very simple way to find new people, and no way to sort tweets into conversations.
You can also view any conversation by hashtags, the community-created protocol for organizing any topic like so: #technews. Just click on the hashtag in a tweet and you can see all tweets with that hashtag. Twitter also doesn’t do this.
I asked cofounder Randy Ching whether or not he was worried about competition from Twitter itself, as the company continues making its own interface easier to use (it has openly recognized usability issues — although so far it has been content to let third parties improve its interface through their own applications). Ching replied that he sees the whole area of social messaging evolving quickly, and he’s also interested to see what companies like Facebook do. Facebook has begun making it easier for developers to integrate its Twitter-like status updates within other sites, which may make Facebook more of a Twitter competitor. Ginx, for example, could one day integrate both tweets and Facebook status updates within a single interface.
For those of you who pay attention to funding news, you may also remember from last month that Ginx is the stealthy company backed with $2 million from the Omidyar Network and cofounded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. To be clear, the company does business as “Peer News” — Ginx is just the product name.
[Update: As Marshall Kirkpatrick points out over on ReadWriteWeb, you can use Greasemonkey scripts to get many of the same features as what Ginx offers (although I’m not sure how many users would prefer doing that).]
You can find me on Twitter here along with fellow VentureBeatniks MG Siegler, Dean Takahashi, Anthony Ha, Chris Morrison, Tam Vo, Camille Ricketts, Dan Kaplan and Matt Marshall. We have a VentureBeat account (for our posts) as well.
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