Twitter Basics: Introduction

It wasn’t long since I was wondering whether or not to stick around on Twitter. I’m still mulling over the purposes, uses, and usefulness of Twitter, the instant short-messaging system that is capturing more and more of the media’s attention and is growing rapidly.

So, if my last post might have put people off, this one, and the next few, are intended to encourage people who’ve joined Twitter, or are thinking of joining, and who are wondering what it’s all about.

I won’t be the first to post tips on how to use Twitter, and the Twitter Fan Wiki is a much better resource than I’ll ever be able to produce.

But my aim is to have some bite-size posts here that I can refer people to when they say “what’s this all about then”.

So, Twitter. Instant short messaging? Micro blogging? Search engine? Cultural phenomenon? Waste of time? What is it?

I imagine many more of you use Facebook and you’re probably aware of the concept of status updates. Short notes that describe what you’re doing, thinking or feeling.

For me, status updates (and photos) are the two most useful parts of Facebook. They are simple hooks into what people are up to that enable a conversation to start. I’m more in touch with what my friends are doing now because of such things.

And there is an element of art in status updates too. There is a skill in crafting short, clever, interesting messages.

Twitter is, in effect, the status updates from Facebook, with everything else stripped out.

But there’s a key difference: Twitter is (mostly) public. Anyone can see your updates. With Facebook only your friends can see your updates.

There is a concept of “Following”. Updates from people who you follow appear in your “Timeline” (on your homepage).  Equally, you can be followed and your updates will appear or be sent to your followers. However, unlike Facebook, you can follow anyone and anyone can follow you.  You don’t need to be mutual friends.

Twitter does allow you to lock down so that your updates are protected, but you miss out on a lot by doing this.

Twitter’s “open” nature means that people can come and scour the messages flying around and process them in useful and interesting ways.  I’ll deal with some of these in a future post, but as a pretty example, take a look at Twistori.

It is this ability to process the messages that gives Twitter its power.  And its this power that I’ll be exploring in subsequent posts.

However, in my opinion, Twitter’s extensions have taken over slightly and people use it for more than just status updates and this has made it more impersonal and less valuable to me as a person.

The other problem with the cultural phenomenon of Twitter is that it’s turned into a words and numbers game.  Can I get hundreds of followers? Can I get my chosen topic mentioned to much that it’s classified as a trend.

Such things have diluted the useful posts with many meaningless ones.

I think Twitter IS still a useful tool, if you don’t get caught up in the numbers game, keep your followings managable, and mostly follow real people that share interests with you.  That’s why I’m still there!

Stick with me for a few days and hopefully you’ll see why.