Twitter – WTF?

A friend has recently had his Twitter hymen torn asunder, but is still unsure about the whole thing, so I’m putting a few Twitter-related thoughts together as a haphazard guide. The Guardian does a better job of it, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

 

First off, what is Twitter:

  • Twitter is micro-blogging, restricted to 140 characters per post. Some find 140 characters limiting, I actually find it useful in focussing thoughts, particularly those random snippets too short for an actual blog post. But it is a blog, so unlike Facebook you can’t restrict your messages to your nearest and dearest. But it also means your words are disseminated wider, which is useful if you want to use Twitter as…

  • A community builder, if you want it to be and if you let it. Not appropriate to me, but then I don’t have a webcomic/novel/band/live act/political career.

 

What Twitter isn’t:

  • Advertising. It’s all very well interspersing your tweets with “I’m performing at…” or what-have-you. But a stream of nothing but that would become tedious. This will not stop people trying to advertise to you of course

  • Sandwich blog. I’m sure some people are so desperate to tweet and so uninspired that “I’m eating a sandwich” is the sum of their contribution to the world, but there is a special layer of hell reserved just for them. Top tip: Don’t follow anyone whose updates put you in a coma with their sheer inanity. Disclaimer: I reserve the right to tell everyone in the world that I am drinking/drunk/hungover. I do this in person, why shouldn’t I spread the love over the interwebs?

  • A popularity contest. Some people need the affirmation of having a billion followers and go about this by following a gazillion random people in the hope that a proportion of those will return the favour. Follow those people whose updates you actually want to read. People who are interesting/funny/famous/inherently popular will accumulate followers quite naturally.

 

So what else are people using Twitter for?

  • Novels. 140 characters at a time. Not something I’m following, but interesting concept

  • Poetry. But then, who’d be interested in that?

  • News trending. The Trending Topics are the popular themes that people are tweeting about at this exact moment, whether it be the Sri Lankan cricketers or recently when Gmail went down for me and I was able to discover the extent of the problem way before it hit the news wires.

 

So how best to use Twitter? You can, of course, just browse to the Twitter.com webpage every time you’re curious as to what’s going on or want to tweet, but it kind of misses the point. Try this:

  • If you want to use it mainly from a computer, I recommend Tweetdeck, which makes the whole process much less painful

  • Twitter is basically made for the mobile internet, so see if you have any data allocation on your mobile contract. Unfortunately you can’t currently tweet by text message in the UK, but hopefully that will be sorted at some point

  • If you have an iPhone there are great free apps like Twitterfon

  • If you read webfeeds, either in standalone software or using something like Google Reader and just want to follow people rather than tweet yourself, you can just link to your friends’ feeds.