UPDATE: Sean pointed this video out to me which is very helpful for someone new trying to understand twitter. Check it out:
One of my favorite uses for my blog is to help people use technology better. Sure you can all email and whatnot, but the internet is becoming full of new ways to communicate. I’m quite sure that anyone reading this right now has at least heard of twitter, and I’d like to outline some details about what it is and how to use it.
what is it?
One of the most common words thrown around when describing twitter is “micro-blogging,” which is a fairly accurate term. Basically it’s a place on the web to send short snippets of text (limited to 140 characters) that get posted on your page. But along with this there is a social networking aspect which is one area that twitter starts to become a little more unique.
followers, not friends
Twitter is setup to let you connect with other people, but there is a strong distinction between what twitter calls followers and the ‘friends’ of most social networking sites. The friends of MySpace or facebook are always mutual between users. If you’re my friend that means I’m your friend too, with no exceptions. On twitter, you are open to follow anyone who posts (provided they don’t have protected updates), and inversely, anyone can follow you. If you want to hear what Britney Spears is posting on twitter (for some strange reason) go right ahead and follow her.
what is it for?
This question doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. Actually ‘whatever you want’ seems to be the most appropriate response. People tend to use it most for posting links to interesting things on the web, like an article they’re reading or a video they just watched, and leaving updates on the here-and-now of their life. For those of you familiar with facebook it’s generally used as a hybrid between status updates and posted links. But one of the reasons why twitter shines is that people don’t put it in a box. Businesses post updates about new products, services, and sales. Politicians use it to let the public know about new developments with policies and legislation. Famous people use it to sponsor their products. Like I said, whatever you want.
Quite possibly one of the main reasons that twitter has proliferated so well is that you can use it from any cellphone with SMS text messaging. Aside from the website and many available applications that give you access to twitter, you can send and receive posts via text message. You might want to think twice about setting up twitter on your phone if you don’t have unlimited texting, but it’s an easy way to post status updates from anywhere you are whether there is a computer handy or not.
If you are new to twitter there are a number of things you will see that you may not recognize. Here is a list of some of the main ones you’re sure to come across:
- @somebody: The @ tag lets you specify that a tweet (a twitter post) is directed at, or related to, another twitter user (where ‘somebody’ is replaced with the user’s id). What’s coolest about this is even people who don’t follow you will likely see a post you write @ them, and it’s even quite possible to get a conversation going with someone famous.
- #hashtag: The # tag is used in front of tag words to help categorize a post. For instance: “I just bought a new MacBook at the Apple store. #apple #macbook.” This is very similar to tagging in other social media like flickr and vimeo.
- RT: This stands for re-tweet. It is used when you think a post from someone else would be relevant to your followers, and you want to re-post it. It’s proper twitter etiquette to include an @ tag to reference the user who initially made the post.
- OH: This one is just a short-hand for overheard. When you’re limited to 140 characters short-hand can be necessary. Use this to fill your followers in on the ridiculous things you hear people say.
You already have a lot more info than I had when I started using twitter. If it sounds like something you might find useful you should check it out. You can follow me at http://twitter.com/skoda if you would like. If you do hop on board, it might be slow at first getting followers. Just keep posting, and joining the conversation with people you follow. People are most likely to follow you when they see that you are an active user, and when they feel what you have to say is relevant to them.