As you may have noticed by now, I’ve been using Twitter for a while now. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure I remember what made me decide to make an account to begin with, but I’m pretty sure it’s Wil Wheaton’s fault. But, since I’m an old pro now, I thought perhaps it was time to talk about it…
I’m not a huge fan of social media. I avoid MySpace like the plague. In fact, I’m fairly certain MySpace is a plague carrier… I do have a Facebook account, but that’s because my best friend apparently hates me. I’ll show him, though. I refuse to use the Facebook account for anything more than viewing his updates, then I’ll email him comments. There, take that!
Why do I avoid these? Honestly, it has a lot to do with what I believe are poorly designed and implemented interfaces. Seriously, have you ever seen a decent looking MySpace site? Until yesterday I had avoided Facebook, much for the same reason, and while Facebook definitely looks cleaner, I still find it very cluttered and difficult to navigate. I’m probably not giving Facebook much of a chance as I’ve only seen 3 or 4 profiles, but they all look the same…
But then there’s Twitter. Twitter, I find, is quite interesting. What intrigues me the most is the size restriction. Posting via twitter is limited to a max of 140 characters. Generally, this means you need to think before you post. Sure, you can use that insane texting vocabulary [PDF] made popular by phone texting, but I certainly won’t be following you if you do. Twitter also has a pretty open API which has spawned a slew of third-party apps, as can be seen in the Twitterverse image to the right.
Twitter has a lot of features, some readily apparent, some not. When you first start, it can be a little daunting to figure out what’s going on. There are a bunch of getting started guides out there, including a book from O’Reilly. I’ll toss out some information here as well to get you started.
Most people join Twitter to view the updates from other people. With Twitter, you can pick and choose who you follow. Following someone allows you to see their updates on your local Twitter feed. But even if you don’t follow someone, you can go to that user’s Twitter page and view their updates, unless they’ve marked their account private. Private accounts need to approve you as a follower before you can see their page. Wired has a pretty good list of interesting people to follow on Twitter. Me? I’d recommend Wil Wheaton, Warren Ellis, Tim O’Reilly, Felicia Day, Neil Gaiman, and The Onion to start. Oh yeah.. And me too!
So now you’re following some people and you can see their updates on your Twitter feed. Now, perhaps, you’d like to make updates of your own. Perhaps you’d like to send a message to someone. Well, there are two ways to do this. The most common way is via a reply. To send a reply, precede the username of the person you’re replying to with an @ . That’s all there is to it, it looks something like this:
@wilw This twitter thing is pretty slick
Your message will appear in the recipient’s Twitter feed. Of course, if it’s someone as popular as Wil Wheaton, you may never get a response as he tends to get a lot of messages. If you’re one of the few (100 or so) people that Wil follows, you can send him a direct message. Direct messages are only possible between people who follow each other. A direct message is the username preceded by a d. Again, quite simple, like this :
d wilw Wouldn’t it be cool if you actually followed me and this would work?
In a nutshell, that’s enough to get you started with Twitter. If you need more help, Twitter has a pretty decent help site. I recommend using a client to interact with Twitter, perhaps Twitterific for OSX or Twhirl. Twhirl runs via Adobe AIR, so it’s semi-cross platform, running on all the majors. Twitter has a list of a few clients on their site.
There are two other Twitter syntaxes I want to touch on briefly. First, there’s the concept of a Re-Tweet. Simply put, a Re-Tweet is a message that someone receives and passes on to their followers. The accepted method of Re-Tweeting is to merely put RT before the message, like so :
RT @wilw You should all follow @XenoPhage, he’s incredible!
Finally, there are hashtags. Hashtags are a mechanism that can be used to search for topics quickly. Hashtags are added in any message by preceding a word with a #, like so :
This #twitter thing is pretty slick. I’m really getting the hang of it. Time to install #twitterific!
Now, if you head over to hashtags.org, you can follow topics and trends, find new people to follow, and more. It’s an interesting way to add metadata that can be used by others without cluttering up a conversation.
So what about the future of Twitter? Well, the future, as usual, is uncertain. That said, there were rumors in April about Google possibly purchasing Twitter, though those talks apparently broke down. Right now, Twitter continues to grow in features and popularity. There is speculation about the future, but no one really knows what will happen. I’m hoping Twitter sticks around for a while, it’s a fun distraction that has some really good uses.