Ginx, the very good Web-based Twitter client I covered earlier this month, has added a very useful new feature: groups. You can now subscribe to curated groups of Twitter users, which is great if you want to make sure you see all the smart things said by people who are experts on a given topic. The groups are managed by other Ginx users.
The groups are person-based, not topic-based. If a person is added to a group of, say, expert horticulturists, but only occasionally Twitters about plants, you'll get all their posts on all their topics if you follow the group. There's as yet no reliable way to create a group based on a topic, aside from following hashtags or using Twitter Search.
Viewing and following groups in the Ginx client is easy and clear. You can find groups on the directory page and follow them as if they were people. Twitters from everyone in that group will then show up in your Twitter timeline on Ginx, unless you de-select the group in the sidebar (useful if the group gets noisy). You can also easily see just what is being said in the group.
However, the groups you're following don't follow you out of Ginx. If you use Twitter.com, or a client like Twhirl, you don't see the messages from the people in your groups. The same is true in other Twitter clients that allow you to create your own private groups, as TweetDeck does: use another method to access Twitter, and you lose your group function.
Setting up a group is a little convoluted. You have to set up a new account in Twitter itself (with a unique e-mail address), follow the people you want to in it, and then go to Ginx to convert the group to one that other Ginx users can follow. You also need a unique invite code, during this private test period, to create a group.
Aside from the roundabout group creation process, this is Twitter groups the way Twitter should have done them. And when Twitter finally does do groups, we don't know what will happen to the utility of Ginx's group function.
Is that all?
Ginx is a really slick Twitter client, but considering the firepower of the company's founder--Pierre Omidyar, who started eBay--one expects a bigger product and a bigger vision. I put this to Omidyar when he pitched the new Ginx groups feature to me.
Ginx's mission is informed by Omidyar's belief, he says, that "people are far more interested in learning about the world if they learn it from people they know. Our larger mission is: How do we help people connect socially so they can be more engaged in the world?" The company is using Twitter as a petri dish. "Twitter is exciting but limited, and it gives us a great laboratory."
That was interesting, if vague and lofty. I asked Omidyar to send me his product road map. There isn't one, he said. "I learn by doing. It's a multiyear vision, and it has to be informed by how people use these tools. The community pulls you in different directions."
Try it yourself
If you are a Ginx users, I created a group of CNET writers you can follow: @CNETWriters. (We had invites to the private test version, but they're gone now, sorry.)