If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written You a Shorter LetterIvan | Sat, 2009-05-30 14:54
This is an introductory post about Twitter, for newbies and beginners, but I hope seasoned Twitterers will also find some interesting points.
Twitter is the typical service which you think is useless until you start using it. Only then will you discover the true potential. It's hard to explain why Twitter is cool, but I'll try. In a few words it's condensed and instant communication, which is increasingly more valuable as we get closer to singularity.
Humans never stop thinking. People think from the time they wake up till they go to sleep all day long. Sometimes you feel like sharing your thoughts and observations. Twitter is a service that allows you to say a few words about anything that's on your mind with a limit of 140 characters at a time. It only allows you to post text and links. You can post these tweets from many different platforms and devices.
The most important feature of Twitter is the ability to subscribe to other people's tweets. If you follow somebody you will be able to read his tweets instantly as he posts them. If people follow you they will read what you post. You don't have to mutually follow each other.
The 3 types of Twitter users
- Up to 100 friends — beginner phase. Because you only follow a few dozen people and friends you are able to read what they are up to. This is fun, stay in this phase as long as you can. This experience feels like you dropped in to your fav bar and get to know all the latest gossips.
- 100-1000 friends — intermediate phase. You follow more people than just close friends. But you still have association with these people based on common interests. You can't really follow everybody's tweets anymore as there are too many, but you still pick up interesting bits here and there. Your twitter account transforms into a tool where you are able to direct traffic to topics of your interest and crowd source information. It feels like a school or office bulletin board to give an off-line example.
- 1000-up friends — advanced phase. You follow more than 1000 people which makes it virtually impossible to read all the tweets. Every link you drop will generate dozens of clicks. At this stage your twittering may become a business. You have to be considerate about what you post. You're talking to a large public with people of different cultures, tastes and beliefs. It feels like you're talking to a crowd of people who are not focused on you, but if you say something interesting they will all turn to you.
Instant flow of information
Many people aren't twittering themselves, but they selectively read other people's tweets. Twitter search allows you to get instant updates on any event that is happening in the world. It's real time and coming from many sources at the same time.
For example if your gmail doesn't load you can search for "gmail" and find out if others have the same issue, and if you're lucky you also get hints for workarounds, or tips on when the service is expected to be back. No other source I know of can compete with the speed of twitter at this moment.
Other example: Few days ago I was in an amusement park and while I was leaving I suddenly saw ambulances and firefighters arriving at the gates. I opened my phone and searched for the place's name on twitter and voila I knew what was going on, with increasing precision by minute. I arrived home 45 minutes later and there were still no updates on traditional news channels about the event.
Twitter has it's own language that you don't have to use, but it's useful to know. Besides the usual smileys you can use this Twitter syntax:
- Public addressing. Example: @creativebitsorg When will you have rating for comments? — including an at sign with a username sends a public message to that specific twitter user. This message will be visible on your account page, and be visible for him, but not publicly. He will know he's been addressed and he can tweet you back the same way.
- Re-tweeting. Example: RT @creativebitsorg Life's short, get your updates on twitter and move on — RT stands for Re-Tweet. You add RT and the name of the source to tell your readers you're reposting somebody's tweet.
- Tagging. Example: #jobs Looking for a talented art director in the SF bay area for a small ad agency — The hash tag is a way to group tweets. It's a good idea to use tags because people will be able to find your relevant tweets easier.
- Tag campaigns. Example: #3wordsaftersex Dammit, a puncture! — There are waves of trends on twitter with a common theme defined by a hash tag that thousands use for a short time. People run games, campaigns, protests, etc. this way.
- Follow Friday tag. Example: #followfriday @creativebitsorg @adsoftheworld @brandsotw — Every Friday, thousands of twitter users suggest users worth following within the event of #followfriday.
Extending Twitter's basic functionality
You can post images, sort your followers, find top tweets and do dozens of other different things with Twitter that are not available on Twitter through third party twitter sites. There are literally hundreds of such services, so let me list just a few to give you an idea, and please do post your favorite Twitter tools.
- TwitIn allows you to mass manage and find followers.
- Tweet Later lets you auto reply with a direct message to those who newly follow you.
- Twitterfeed as you probably guessed posts RSS feed items as tweets automatically.
- Just tweet it helps you find people to follow in specific subjects.
- Twitpic gives you the power to post photos.
- Many more
Primarily you can update your Twitter through the web interface, but most people will find Twitter desktop applications to be easier and more powerful, especially if you have more than one account. For Mac OSX there are at least 3 excellent applications: Tweetdeck, Tweetie and Nambu. There are several Twitter applications for the iPhone. You can also update your Twitter account through IM or SMS.
Twitter is famous for not being as reliable as you would expect from a site of such popularity. It's highly likely importing your friends or setting up the design of your account will take a few tries before it works. When Twitter is down the now famous fail whale is displayed.
SMS brought this phenomena to life at first with it's 160 character limit and Twitter keeps it alive. Twitters not only shorten word like people to ppl, they also shorten long urls that would otherwise take up a considerable amount of the 140 characters. You can use one of the many url shortening services with different features or just rely on the default bit.ly that twitter uses on the web interface.
Some feel this trend of shortened language is destroying the English and other languages because it cripples free expression. I don't think it's the case. I think limits are good for creativity. Being able to express yourself concisely and as clearly takes effort and creativity. Short communication is a value for all readers.
Did you know that the famous twitter bird is a freely available vector graphic you can download for 10USD?
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