On Friday, Oprah Winfrey fumbled her way to her first tweetlive on TV, assisted by humble, lovable Twitter C.E.O. Evan Williams. For Internet hipsters, it was the end of an era. For Twitter, it was only the beginning: Oprah’s co-hosts immediately spotted the service’s potential for neighbors to alert each other to escaped convicts and sexual predators on the block.
But mainstream Twitter fans face a hurdle: Can you use it at work without being caught? The British Web developer Elliott Kember has solved the problem with Spreadtweet, an easy-to-use Twitter client that looks like a boring Excel spreadsheet.
Not only is it a clever way to dodge the boss, but Spreadtweet is also a clean, efficient way to send and receive tweets. I use it at home, because its text-only, small-font interface fits each tweet onto one fake row of Excel. I can scan dozens of tweets more quickly than I could with more graphics-happy tools like Digsby or TweetDeck.
Mr. Kember maintains three versions of Spreadtweet that mimic Office 2003, Office 2007 and, for Apple computers, Office 2008. You can run any version on any PC or Mac, though, because they’re all built with Adobe’s AIR software toolkit that removes the usual software compatibility headaches.
Spreadtweet will install and run itself in under 30 seconds. It prompts for your Twitter username and password, then populates a fake spreadsheet with the latest tweets from Twitterers whom you follow.
Each version of the program displays a fake Excel toolbar atop its window. But those buttons don’t work. The real controls are hiding just below as fake column headers: Home, Replies, Direct Messages, etc. On my Apple desktop, Spreadtweet mimics Excel to the point of placing an Excel icon into my iMac’s Dock, so anyone watching from further away than a cubicle wall will be fooled.
The very existence of Spreadtweet suggests Twitter is headed for the same workplace showdown as Web browsers in 1993, or Facebook in 2006: Is it better to let employees play a bit with the latest Internet fad, or have self-described early adopters found yet another way to goof off on the job? I think the answer is “Yes!”