Twitter not real time enough? Try adding Bonfire chat

You know the usual litany of complaints about Twitter: it’s full of inane ramblings; it’s stuffed with unverified information — or it’s just too much information for our poor brains to cope with.

But not everybody thinks that Twitter is too much. In fact, U.K.-service wants to turn up the heat — by adding a chat interface on top of Twitter itself.

Bonfire, which has just gone live, is a browser extension that uses some smart code and clever techniques to add an instant messaging layer into the Twitter website. If another user you follow is currently on Twitter and using Bonfire, they’ll have a little green light next to their name — just click on their button and you can start up a chat session right there, without ever leaving the page.

Founder Josh Russell describes it as “Facebook chat for Twitter”, which gives you a good idea of what it feels like to use — and to some degree what it looks like, too. But it’s also more than that: it brings the idea of presence to the site too, which in many ways could end up being as important to the service as the ability to talk. After all, it’s one thing to read people’s messages; it’s quite another to be able to see that they’re looking directly at Twitter right at that moment.

If used properly Bonfire could not only be a godsend for IM and Twitter addicts — but for all the people who follow them, too. After all, think of all those times you’ve been barraged with two people chatting away publicly to each other and wanted to tell them to take it off Twitter… well, now they can do it really easily.

Of course, Twitter already has a way for people to have private conversations, through direct messaging — but it’s got an entirely different interface, it’s a long, long way from real-time and it suffers from a few interface problems. Bonfire could prove to be a smart way for — whether it’s individuals, groups of friends, or companies who use Twitter for customer service.

It’s not going to be for everyone, but with 100 million active users globally Twitter is a broad church. Russell suggests there may be a significant audience for what he’s offering — particularly for those who are already heavy IM or BlackBerry Messaging users, for example.

“Twitter is a big place,” he says. “It’s hard to nail down a typical Twitter user. But we think it’s likely that we’ll see both the BBM generation and people who get their news from Twitter being big groups of initial users.”

It’s still very early days — the team has been working on the service for just a few months, with some small seed investment — and the feature set is fairly limited right now. But ultimately, says Russell, Bonfire may consider developing further features or adding other platforms, too — but he says it’s important to avoid mission creep for what is already a potentially overwhelming product.

“We’re building Bonfire to service as many people as possible, and we have that in mind when considering every feature,” he says.

Still, for anyone who thinks that adding instant messaging is just too much to cope with for Twitter users, there’s a one-word answer: Tweetdeck. The power users’ client of choice, also based in London, is utterly overwhelming to anyone new to Twitter… and yet it was so well-used that it ended up being bought by the service itself in a deal estimated at $40 million last year.