(This post is pretty out of date and Twitter has changed quite a bit, but this may still help some people, so I’ll leave it up.)
This blog post is going to focus on some of the ins and outs of Twitter. If you’re not on Twitter and even remotely consider yourself a “geek”, remedy the situation by signing up! After that, you can come back and read this post to understand some of the basics. As always, let me know in the comments, by email, IM, or Twitter, anything I can do to improve this or any other posts.
Twitter is a social network based around status updates, “Tweets”, which allow you to tell the world the answer to the question: “What are you doing?”. By doing this you can let family, friends, and co-workers know what you’re up to in your professional, school, and personal life.
Some of you are already sold on the idea and just want to find out how to better use it, but I’m sure there’re a few skeptics reading this post that are asking the question: “Why?”. Well, why do you use Facebook? Why do you use del.ico.us? Why do you use an Instant Messaging (IM) service?
I think the answer to all of these questions is to communicate. Communication is key to every career, every business owner, and every person, young and old. Twitter is just another way to communicate.
Assuming you’re still here, let’s cover some Twitter jargon so we all have the same vocabulary going forward, shall we?
- Timeline: Your timeline will display the Tweets (status updates, remember?) of the people you follow.
- Following: Also referred to as Friends. If you are following a person’s updates, their Tweets will appear alongside your tweets, and you’ll have a timeline of events happening to those people.
- Followers: The list of people that are following you. Some of these may be spammers that will never look at your updates, so ignore them. The people you want to follow will probably not include everyone in your followers list. You will not see these updates in your timeline, unless you’re following the person back. Note: If the idea of a random person following your updates bugs you, you can “protect” your updates in your settings, and people will have to request your permission to follow you.
- @reply: An @reply is a way of responding to someone’s tweet. The @ symbol is prepended to the person’s username. So if you were to @reply me, you would start your message with @mclaughj. Your message will appear in the user’s timeline regardless of whether they follow you or not. This is a great way to respond to interesting Tweets, respond to a user’s question, or ask a user a question. Note: An @reply is not private, and will appear in your timeline. If you want to send a private message, see below.
- Direct Message: Also referred to as a DM. A direct message is a private message sent to only one user that you specify. To send a direct message through a Twitter client, prepend the message with “d username” (remove the quotes, replace username with the correct username). Note: You can only send a direct message to someone that is following you.
- ReTweet: Also seen as RT or (via @username). This is one of the most debated concepts on Twitter. Some people don’t like ReTweets because they are just regurgitating information, others love them, because they allow you to see cool tweets from people that you don’t follow. My advice is to use them sparingly and you’ll probably be OK. If you see a message start with “RT @username” or end with “(via @username)”, that tweet is being rebroadcast from the original user.
To make Twitter worthwhile, you really need to follow some people, preferably people you know, but some Twitterati are ok too. Some people I recommend following:
- @LeoLaporte – Host of the This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast, tech-enthusiast, and ex-Tech-TVshow host
- @KevinRose – Founder of digg.com, Revision3.com, & Pownce.com (acquired by SixApart). Host of the Diggnation podcast.
- @CameronMoll – Great designer and web developer.
- @JSnell – Editor of MacWorld magazine/website
- @gruber – Creator of Markdown, author of daringfireball.net
There are plenty of great people to follow on Twitter, the more you use it, the more you’ll find! Another great tip is to use Twitter search to find people in your area via the advanced search option.
But what’s the point if you only see their Tweets once in a while when you get onto Twitter.com? Twitter is all about what’s happening in their life, right now, not six hours from now. That’s where Twitter clients come in. There’s a great list of Twitter clients for every operating system here. My personal favorites are Tweetie (Mac), Twhirl (Multi-platform), and Twitter (iPhone & iPad).
That about covers it! If your not already on Twitter, I encourage you to get on, follow me (I’m @mclaughj), and send me an @reply introducing yourself! I’m always looking for more geeks to follow!