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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Twitter - Plain and Simple

Some have said that Twitter could be "the next Facebook." I say, it pretty much is, now. Twitter is all over the news, all kinds of big businesses and famous people are promoting their accounts, and in visits, it grew 131% in March, alone. But it seems like many of the people I talk to haven't checked it out, and it's mainly because they don't see the point.

Truth be told, I had to play with Twitter for a bit before I "got it." And normally, that's what it would take to understand it: time. So I decided to try lay it out for those to whom it doesn't make sense.


What Is Twitter?

140 character messages, called "updates" or "tweets." You write them, you receive them. That's Twitter. Your canvas is as clear as that explanation is simple.

Your home page is just a feed made up of these tweets, with a couple tabs for navigation. Note: you only receive tweets from profiles you choose to follow.

What sets Twitter apart from other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (other than simplicity) is it's one-sided relationships. When you find a Twitter profile of someone whose tweets you'd like to add to your home feed, click "Follow." The profile you've followed doesn't have to like, follow or even know you. That way, everyone's home feed can be tailor-fitted to their own tastes and their own needs.


What's it For?

This is best part: Twitter is for whatever you want it to be. Contrary to what you may have heard (or even seen), Twitter is not just made up of people talking about the mundane happenings of their life. Sure, there are plenty of people on Twitter that tweet about those things (and that's fine, because the people who follow them want to hear it), but Twitter is packed with all kinds of content! National and local news networks, your favorite websites and print magazine, actors, musicians, professionals in various fields - they're all on Twitter.

From CNN Breaking News
to NFL Football, from Lil' Wayne to Governor Schwarzenegger, from The Tyra Banks Show to GameTrailers, from Miley Cyrus to President Obama. You name it, they're on Twitter, or on their way. Twitter is breaking into the mainstream right now, and all the media figures and outlets who didn't think they needed a Twitter profile are realizing that they do.

And while the idea of using Twitter for news may sound crazy, at first, the fact is, when disasters and other big events take place, Twitter's searchable content, made by real people makes for a fast, one-of-a-kind source for all kinds of information. In fact, one of Twitter's claims to fame is that the first decent picture of the Hudson River plane crash made it's way around Twitter before the press could manage to snap one.


What Do I Tweet About?
Whatever you want! Share your thoughts and observations, share knowledge and expertise, promote your website or blog, share your music or artwork, share links and pictures, or just talk about your day. Y
ou can hide your tweets from strangers, if you'd like. Heck, you don't have to tweet at all, if you don't want to. It doesn't matter. I hate to say something as cliche as, "the possibilities are endless," but as for the possibilities, they don't end.

Twitter also makes for easy communication between users by means of "replies." Just place "@yourfriendsname" anywhere in your tweet and not only does it operate as a link for your follower, the indicated user will find your tweet in a special tab for just such messages.

Twitter's creators seem devoted to keeping the platform as simple as possible (according to them, they don't even make money), which would appeal to those frustrated with the changes other social networks have made in the past. But Twitter's "keep it simple" mindset has opened the door for all kinds of outside developers to make tools to enhance your Twitter experience.


Things I've Learned About Twitter

The Motivations for Using Twitter
In my experience, I've found that there are three basic types of Twitter users. There are those who feel like they have something to offer to the twitterverse or just like to know someone's listening. Others that care more about what they read on Twitter than what they write, using Twitter as a tool to find and receive information. And then there are those who use Twitter to communicate, socializing with new people, keeping up with their friends, and networking with professionals.


Who Gets Lots of Followers
Let's face it, regardless of the reason people use Twitter, most of them would like to have a lot of followers. In my experience, I've found that if you want a lot of followers, you have to be one of these three things:

Professionals
I use this term loosely, to describe anyone makes themselves valuable by providing content to their followers. They could be a successful businessperson doling out tips, a media outlet posting update, a comedian who tells jokes, or a political pundit relaying his or her observations. Maybe they're Perez Hilton.

Reciprocal Followers
This is someone who follows others hoping to be followed in return. On Twitter, following strangers is common and appreciated, and a lot of people will follow you back. If you keep at it, there's really no limit to the number of followers you can get.

Celebrities
Oprah Winfrey, Neil Gaiman, Diddy, Ryan Seacrest - anyone who has built up a following outside of Twitter. Celebrities are people who get the following of a professional without necessarily providing professional information. People find value in their tweets because of who they are. These people have the the best of both worlds: they get to speak to huge followings while still keeping a personalized home feed.


Misconceptions About Twitter

"It's like Facebook status"
It's no secret that Facebook's recent update to it's News Feed layout were an attempt to make it more like Twitter, but Twitter's rapid growth over the last month shows that people don't see them the same way. Generally speaking, people who relate Twitter to Facebook's status updates do so in a negative tone, because Facebook's Status updates usually aren't interesting. Do you really care when the guy from your class, three years ago, goes to the gym?

Twitter is structured for communication to people you want to hear and don't necessarily know. Remember, following is a one-way connection. So, if you must relate Twitter to Facebook status updates, think of it as status updates from any and all interesting people. And, like I said, only some people on Twitter are posting updates like, "is glad class is over." There's a welcoming place for that on Twitter, but it's also entirely avoidable.

"I'd have to use my phone"
Now, Twitter can be updated and viewed via texts, mobile web and mobile phone applications, and it often is. And as someone who makes 30% of his updates from his phone, I can't pretend like that's not an awesome way to do it. But it should also be noted that I'm an addict and need help.

Overall, Twitter is primarily accessed by computer, through Twitter.com and third-party applications like desktop clients and Firefox plugins. And, like other social networks, you only have to be as involved at you want. You can duck in and out of Twitter just like you can Facebook or MySpace.

"It's stalkerish"
Twitter is as safe as you make it. If you'd like, you can lock your tweets, so you get to approve each of your followers. And of course, you can simply refrain from posting anything private.


Did you think this post gave you a better idea of what Twitter is and what it's for? Do you think you're more likely to check it out?
If you use Twitter, did this post do a good job explaining the basics?

Leave a comment and let me know. And if you like it, share it!


8 comments:

Trey Benton said...

im sorry chris but you wont see any twits from me

Caf said...

totally agree, it's completely harmless as long as you don't go posting things that you are going to get upset about later! I love that u can just follow people and then unfollow them if they get boring...there are a lot of amusing people on twitter who are well worth tuning in to for a giggle =D

Anonymous said...

so i created a twitter like a week ago, and had no idea what to do, but after reading this realized i could have all the news headlines on it, and thats pretty kickass. so way to go, you recruited one more member. :]

Lacey said...

that anonymous post by the way, was me! i accidently clicked that! :]

Joseph said...

Great post! Very informative and useful!

Btw, I just stumbled and
submitted your blog to Viralogy.com
. Hope it brings you a lot of new readers!

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