Building an App for Twitter

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On Monday 15th June 2009, Jobsite launched it’s Jobs by Twitter service – a simple but innovative service to help jobseekers find a new job by providing personalised job tweets via Twitter.

The key component of that sentence is the word personalised. The fact that you can specify the jobs you receive makes it different to the majority of the Twitter based job services available today.

Jobs by Twitter has been a bit of a pet project for me over the last couple of months. This is how it came about…

In the beginning

Well, I have to admit I wasn’t much of a fan of Twitter until recently. I couldn’t be bothered to update my Facebook status very often, so didn’t see the point of a service where it appeared you could ONLY update your status and nothing else.

So I certainly wasn’t an early adopter of Twitter but I was definitely Pre-Oprah. Once I started though, it didn’t take me long to get hooked. I wasn’t interested in reading what people had for breakfast, I wanted knowledge and I found that by following the right people I had access to topical and relevant information that would benefit my work.

I was enthralled not just by the sharing of information but the innovations and applications (such as Twitterfall and Twitpic) that began to appear, integrated with the Twitter universe.

Going backwards

The massive growth of Twitter attracted would-be entrepreneurs and eager developers to the API like prospectors in a gold rush. The urgency to get the product to market meant that for every good application launched, there seemed to be a handful of half-baked or bad ideas.

The recruitment industry quickly embraced the Twittersphere as a new frontier to mine untapped passive jobseekers. Many new services sprung up, such as JobAngels and Twitjobs, both embraced by the media for their innovation and/or timeliness in this economic downturn.

Since those early days (January 2009!), a flurry of recruitment services have appeared, the vast majority sharing one common approach – the jobs feed. Essentially, these services tweet a volume of vacancies out to their list of Followers with links back to their websites. There is little targeting involved, beyond perhaps a feed defined by a sector or location (or both), i.e. IT jobs in London.

mahaloWhilst this may generate some applications, I can’t help feel a little frustrated and disappointed with this lost opportunity. The internet is a fantastic place, home to amazing experiences built on incredible technology – surely we can do something a little more targeted and personalised for the individual than a one-size-fits-all feed of jobs?

I carried this thought around for a while until I discovered Mr Tweet and Mahalo Answers. Then the thought became an idea.

Joining the dots

Mahalo Answers describes itself as a ‘knowledge exchange community on the web’. It enables its user base to ask and answer questions. The element of the service that interested me though was its Twitter account @answers. If you’re a Follower of @answers, you can type a question into your tweet box on Twitter and Mahalo will tweet back any answers it receives from its community.

Mr Tweet, meanwhile, cites itself as ‘your personal networking assistant’, enabling you to discover new people of interest by providing recommendations based on the people you currently follow on Twitter.

The two common elements between these services are 1) they are personalised, based on interaction with the individual and 2) they use an off-Twitter website to assist in the personalisation.

Once I connected these two dots together a little light bulb went on above my head and a new product for Jobsite was born.

It’s all about you

Tell us what type of job you want and we’ll send you those that match. You won’t have to waste time sifting through jobs that don’t match your skill set, jobs that aren’t in the location you want to work in or jobs that don’t pay the salary you’re looking for.

That statement was written for the Jobs by Twitter service, but the sentiment can be equally applied to any of the products we build at Jobsite. It’s an approach we try to take with everything – how can we make it super targeted and relevant for the individual so that the process becomes easy and less frustrating?

With that in mind, I couldn’t bring myself to launch a simple jobs feed on Twitter; it had to be a little more special. It had to be based on search criteria relevant to the individual.

Like Mr Tweet I looked to Twitter for information. Each Twitter account has the option to feature a Bio (about the person) and their Location. I thought that this could be a good place to start with personalization. If we could gleam some personal info from this we could make some basic assumptions about the types of job that would interest the user (this logic works perfectly well for someone who states their job title, specialism or interests in their Bio, though we haven’t yet found a solution for the person who described themselves as ‘Eater of Souls’).

The other issue to overcome was that of privacy. You can’t hide the fact that you are following someone on Twitter, but we wanted to at least keep the details of the types of job (and salary) you’re looking for private. We also didn’t want to send out hundreds/thousands of personalised job tweets that would appear in the stream of every user – kind of negates the point of personalised tweets if you have to wade through everyone else’s to find yours.

The answer to both points was Direct Messaging. Communicating directly keeps the content of the message private and stops us spamming our Followers with irrelevant content.

Keeping it brief

One of the benefits of working with talented and creative people is that the ideas come from all directions. Conscious of the need for short URLs I had asked our analysts and developers to integrate with a service such as bit.ly or tinyurl.com. Their response was “why don’t we build our own?” A good question.

Apparently, it’s not that hard, so I took their word for it. I was too busy trying to think of a really cool, relevant – and of course, very short – domain name for it.

It made sense to keep it Jobsite or jobs related. I got hold of a list of all my country level options and began to scour the choices. The problem comes with getting hold of the extension you want. In many cases your business needs to be physically established and registered in the country.

tweetI struck gold with the Bahamas. Their extension is .bs and they allow overseas companies to purchase their domains. So I registered myjo.bs – rather fitting for a personalised job service, I thought.

All systems go

The new service has been live for just over a fortnight and we’ve just broken the 500 mark in Followers. It’s early days yet and we know there is more work to be done to refine the service but we’re optimistic about its future.

Since launch, we have received positive feedback on the service and it is hoped that this, along with increased promotion, will increase our Follower count (and their subsequent job applications) over the coming months.

Aside from its potential for being a good source of new jobseekers, the project was a good opportunity to continue our journey into the world of social media. I anticipate social will play an increasingly important role in recruitment over the next few years, so it’s important to get in there now, to understand the environment and community by listening and participating and to identify our role in this new future.

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About

Gary Robinson is a UK digital marketer, who fell into this tech world by accident and decided to stay and play. That was 1999. He's still here. His current loves are conversion optimisation, mobile and tinkering with new technology. He also has a fondness for coffee.

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