27 September 2009

Brizzly – a better Twitter

Dozens or perhaps hundreds of Twitter clients populate the Internet these days and more of them launch every week. Although brizzly is still an invite-only beta product, it stands out in this crowd with the best combination of features and user interface I have seen so far. I discovered it through Google Reader, where Louis Gray mentioned it in one of his articles and offered 150 invites for this new webapp. I used one of the invites and it impressed me so much, it became my twitter client of choice ever since.

I couldn't figure out what the brizzly logo was supposed to represent. I found the solution to this small dilemma in the first article TechCrunch wrote at the launch. According to them, it’s “a bear wearing a dead Twitter bird’s skin”. Quite a suggestive image! The team denies any bird was hurt to make the costume! Maybe this also explain the name of the service, a combination between “bird” and “grizzly”.brizzly - main user interface

The best features of brizzly:

1. Mute users: probably the most innovative feature they introduced, it does wonders for keeping the flood of updates in check, especially if you are following lots of tweeple or very active ones. If you change your mind later and want to bring a user back in your main timeline, you can do that from the settings. Netzwertig.com mentions that you can only mute 5 people, but I found no restriction so far.

2. Groups are currently limited to 5 in the closed beta, and a feature common to many other twitter clients. This view also shows the @-replies to users in the group, something twitter chose to remove from their web interface. Combined with the ability to mute, it creates a great way to prioritize the flow of information. Some compared brizzly to FriendFeed, but this actually reminds me of the filtering and archiving of incoming messages in Gmail. The same limit of 5 applies to the number of twitter accounts you can add to brizzly. brizzly - add to group dialog

brizzly - inline photo and video3. Inline media: twitter users share a lot of links and brizzly brings that content closer to the user: it expands shortened links and displays images and videos inline. Most of the URL-shortening services are supported, not only the big international names, but also country-specific ones: I was pleasantly surprised to see it recognizes the Romanian provider sp2.ro! It’s very comfortable to see the content on the same page and not being forced to open the links/videos in another tab to get the context. I used to open many tabs from the twitter page and some times I couldn't remember which tab belonged to which tweet… For RSS enthusiasts, it’s like going from a partial feed to a full one!

4. Build-in support for images: you no longer need a third-party service to add a picture to your tweet, brizzly offers a button for that under the status box. The pictures are stored on their servers and receive a brizzly.com-URL.

5. Keyboard shortcuts: in addition to the ‘j’ and ‘k’ presented on the main page, the help page and forums mention several other ones like ‘c’ for composing a new update and ‘/’ for search. If these shortcuts sound familiar from Gmail or Google Reader, you shouldn’t be surprised: some members of the brizzly team previously worked at Google. And judging from the twitter client @googlereader is using, they still have some connections there.

6. More space when sharing links: brizzly shortens the links as you paste them and calculates the remaining character count with the shortened link length. When you have only 140 characters, this is a huge improvement. Is it really that hard for Twitter to implement this as well?! I noticed however that the feature doesn’t activate with shorter links, even if they don’t fit the status box. The limit for now is 40 characters.brizzly - update status with link

7. Drafts: another nice Gmail influence, but not necessarily a ground-breaking feature.

The user interface

brizzly - DM notificationBrizzly hasn’t adopted the overwhelming tendency of twitter clients to present information grouped in columns. And that’s a good thing, because I find that approach crowded and distracting. Instead it focuses attention on a single column of updates, flanked by two static columns. The center column contains the status box and a search box at the top. The left side contains a menu with most of the common links found in Twitter, like replies, direct messages, saved searches, plus some brizzly-specific ones: pictures, drafts and groups. Each of them shows a small blue circle next to it when you have new tweets in that section. On the right side you can find the notifications for DM and another brizzly innovation, the explained trends. brizzly - inline reply and retweet

The usual tweet-level actions are complemented by ‘message’, ‘unfollow’, ‘mute’ and ‘add to group’, when you hover and click on a person’s image. A nice touch is that the retweet button is hidden if someone has protected their updates.brizzly - extra actions on a user

The main column uses infinite-scrolling, while the other two are fixed, so you always have access to the menu. I think it would be a good idea to also have the status box fixed somewhere, maybe in the bottom right corner. It would skip the need to scroll back up to the status box, after you scrolled a long way down the timeline. As a workaround, I use the retweet button and replace the text with my own thoughts.

If you are at the top of the timeline, brizzly auto-updates it with new content. Otherwise it just shows the blue notification next to ‘home’ and you must refresh manually. New tweets are highlighted by a subtle yellow glow around the avatar.brizzly - new tweet glow

Bugs and quirks

For a beta application, brizzly is surprisingly stable and error-free. Although they don't officially support neither Chrome, nor Opera, I had no problems using brizzly in these browsers. In Opera, the rounded corners are replaced by squares, but I think this is more a problem with Opera’s rendering, because I have encountered it on other sites as well.

The development goes ahead at a fast pace, as you can see if you follow @brizzly on twitter. In the nearly 4 weeks I have used it, they added more languages to the interface, support for more media-sharing services and the auto-refresh feature, not to mention visible improvements to speed and responsiveness.

A recurrent problem is that the shortened links don’t always expand. But there is visible progress here in the past weeks, and I’m sure by the time they launch it will be solved.

I also encountered a small problem with creating new groups in the first days of use. It was fixes in a matter of days, which shows the dedication of the team to their product.

The draft feature also could use more work. If you save a reply as a draft, it doesn’t remember the original tweet you replied to. Also, Romanian characters are garbled in saved drafts, even though this doesn’t happen when posting directly. I suspect some encoding bug here. brizzly - bud in draft with special characters

Suggestions for future improvements

Although brizzly is a large step forward from twitter, there are still some things I miss, and that would put it at an advantage in the stiff competition on this market:

  • threading the replies in a meaningful conversation view. Twitter doesn’t make it easy to follow discussions, especially it you have more at the same time. There are several requests and suggestions for this feature in the brizzly forum.
  • translating tweets in foreign languages. There are several bookmarklets for it, but it would be awesome to have it integrated in brizzly, like link expansion.
  • a page with statistics about the user and people I follow, with the number of tweets, by time of day, day of week etc.
  • a page where you can manage your followers and people you follow, preferably using checkboxes to apply the same action to more than one at a time. It would be very useful especially for organizing people into groups.
  • integrating search for people you follow in the status box. This is currently available in the search box auto-complete and matches characters you type with the twitter user name and the real name of the person, both from the beginning and from the middle of the words. brizzly - search auto-complete
  • integration with the bit.ly API to track the number of clicks on shortened links for people obsessed with statistics like myself.
  • some tweaks to the user interface: I’m not particularly fond of the dull grey used for the buttons, a soft color would be more in tune with the rest of the theme. I think they should also remove their logo from the message boxes, the one above “Trends and news” is more than enough!

With these great enhancements to the twitter experience, brizzly is without a doubt a service I will be using and promoting in the future. Since the beginning of the week they also allow users to invite others, so if this presentation got your attention, this is the time to try it out for yourselves.


  1. This is a fantastic post. I wish there were more bloggers like you who would take the time and effort that you have to deftly illustrate a service's features in this way. Well thought out and described.

    Glad you love Brizzly. It's fantastic.

  2. That's a really nice summation, George. Thanks very much. I'll look into why Romanian characters are garbled, for starters. (I'll bet you're right - encoding bug, probably.)

  3. Has anyone else noticed auto-refresh not working sometimes as well as favorites not showing after marking it as such ?

  4. Thank you for the kind words, Louis and Chris!
    Brizzly really is a fantastic service, a much needed improvement for twitter.
    Chris, if you ever need to translate it into Romanian, I would be glad to help :)

  5. @Anonymous: I also noticed some small problems with starring, but mostly when removing them. I didn't felt they were big enough to mention them in the article.
    You can report ant bugs you see as well as submit new ideas here: http://getsatisfaction.com/thinglabs/