Twitter may not be having the best of years so far, but it still runs circles around its rivals in so many ways. One of the reasons Twitter is worth sticking with (or making a start with) are the wealth of plug-ins, add-ons and third-party apps built on top of the platform. Here are our favourite tools for boosting Twitter's usefulness — they're all quick to set up and free to try.
Auto Refresh for Twitter: See new tweets appear on screen magically without resorting to TweetDeck with this Chrome extension (it also works with hashtags and searches as well). If you're more of a Firefox type, then Auto-Refresh Twitter will do the same job.
Blind Twitter Blind Twitter: A simple Chrome extension that presents everyone on Twitter as "Twitter User" and replaces their avatar with a generic bird image. The idea is you read your timeline without any kind of prejudice, and you can quickly toggle the setting on or off.
Buffer: Several tools let you schedule tweets in advance but few manage to blend ease-of-use with optional advanced features quite as well as Buffer. It includes integrated analytics tools as well as sharing options and it can work with your Facebook account too.
Direct Messenger Direct Messenger: Ever wish Twitter had a standalone messenger app like Facebook does? The unofficial Direct Messenger is the slick and feature-packed solution, available on the web, iOS and Android (though it's the iOS app that seems most polished).
Emojitracker: Get a view into real-time emoji use on Twitter with Emojitracker — find out just how popular the "crying with laughte"' icon is (very) and some of the weird and wonderful symbols that pick up traction on the platform (from fish to tractors).
Filta Filta: File under "features Twitter should offer natively." Filta quite simply lets you search through the people you're following on the platform — find people by location, area of expertise, and so on, and it's really straightforward to use (previously on Field Guide).
IFTTT: Connect Twitter up to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress, and plenty of other popular web destinations with IFTTT (If This Then That), enabling you to trigger tweets automatically, pipe them elsewhere, and much more (previously on Field Guide).
Nuzzel Nuzzel: Nuzzel is one of the best third-party tools out there for picking out the best and most relevant stories from the general Twitter deluge — lots of apps attempt to offer some kind of Twitter curation (including Twitter itself) but Nuzzel seems to hit the right balance.
Parrot Read: Another tool for tapping into the Twitter hive mind, this time focused exclusively on book recommendations. Parrot Read will suggest some reading material based on who you're following (and what they're reading) and it works rather well.
Spoiler Shield Spoiler Shield: Out of all the anti-spoiler tools out there, Spoiler Shield is one of the very best, and it works over the web, Android, and iOS. Straightforward toggle switches let you block popular types of content on Twitter, and you can reveal blocked posts if necessary. Don't want to see anything about Game of Thrones? Just switch all mentions of it off.
Twitter Stars: You may remember the brouhaha over Twitter switching from stars to hearts for its favourites. Well, with Twitter Stars for Chrome, you can bring them back. If you want to use a different emoji altogether, then all you need are a few extra lines of code.