Twitter 101

What is Twitter?

It is like a microblog, a place to say your piece, or Tweet, in 140 characters or less.

And it is a place to listen.

Unlike my soapbox of a blog, my Twitter home page is actually a waterfall of other people’s words, blended in a real time river from streams around the world. They are people I have stumbled upon and collected simply by clicking on the button to “follow” them.

Those of my colleagues who already think I’m some kind of weirdo for being on Facebook will probably not be encouraged by the fact that one of my favorite followers on Twitter is a dead guy named Buckminster Fuller. (I’m just saying.)

By Twitter standards, I am a mere amateur, following 150 or so people, a museum and a few news services. (I have not yet made the leap to follow a plant, although it is mighty tempting.) By last night, about 90 or so people including my husband ;-) were following me.

What is Twitter? I think it is giant leap forward in communication and connectivity — and I’m incorporating it in my advanced reporting class at UNLV to help students learn to be better writers, communicators and global netizens.

How, why and when? Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and for that matter, here’s a Wiki started and maintained by Twitter Fans. Laughing Squid posted a nifty little clip and save cheat sheet of commands, and there are more applications born each day.

Thanks to the folks at Strategic Public Relations, here is one of the best tutorials and Twitter hack sheets I’ve seen.

How big is it? Here’s the Swiss Army Knife of stat boxes, Twitstat, real time Twitter analytics. Not to be confused with Twitterholic: Who are these people?

As for where, you can Tweet on your computer or Tweet on your cell phone. But unlike simple phone calls, emails or text messages, Twittering is not ordinarily a one-on-one experience.

A Twitter is a broadcast, tossed out there for everyone to hear.

But that’s just the technical answer.

Twittering, someone else said, is like being in a crowded bar surrounded by people talking on their cellphones. (If someone sends me that link, I would love to give credit.)

Twitter is for parents. “If you can’t let go, just Twitter,” wrote one mom in a delightful New York Times piece.

Twitter can be a lifesaver.

Twitter first got my attention when Chuckumentary got the Twitterverse scoop on the Minneapolis bridge collapse, as is chronicled here in a wonderfully encompassing post in David Erickson’s Internet Marketing Blog.

Last fall, KPBS news in San Diego put up a Twitter headline feed of news on the devastating Southern California Wildfires and massive evacuations. When people are evacuating their homes, putting news on a Web page can be useless if the computer is at home or on the back seat of the car. Sending an email is tantamount to delivering a newspaper to the lawn and hoping they get it. But rushing out a Tweet stream to their cell phone with emergency info is better than gold. As Mark Glaser wrote in his MediaShift column at the time, people quickly learned of the emergency alerts and flocked to the Twitter feeds.

Twitter is news.

I first learned of the death of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto from BreakingNewsOn’s Twitters, and I now subscribe to BBC, TechMeme , the Associated Press, and TheNewYorkTimes, among others, so I don’t miss anything.

Journalist Jim Long, aka, Newmediajim, is using Twitter to give a very real glimpse behind the scenes as he, an NBC cameraman, takes off with the White House press corps on Air Force One to exotic places such as Crawford, Texas or Africa, and then back again, to a perch in the Senate press gallery, or even at home with his girl. (The past few days he seems to be in a super-secret and dangerous location whose initials are Baghdad.)

Other journalists do it differently. Take former Wonkette, AnaMarie Cox, who has fine-tuned her snark to a priceless 140-character Tweet from the campaign trail. She’s worth watching, even though there is sometimes a gap of days between posts.

Twitter is community.

It can be like sitting with your friends on a coast-to-coast couch, eavesdropping on a national conversation.

Take the mashup from the Super Tuesday primary night, that let us all see primary-related Tweets live.

Twitter is a village, says Laura Fitton, known as Pistachio to the Twitterverse.

Twitter is connecting people to raise money for breast cancer, as this piece in Loudoun extra.com showed.

Twitter is crowdsourcing. There was Rex Hammock’s low-tech request for help on using a new table saw. There is a Wiki effort to create “Twitter Packs” of people to follow in various industries. And with a lot of help from his Twitter friends,  Guy Kawasaki has created Alltop.com, which includes a section of so-called Twitterati. (If you have to ask …)

Twitter is about groups that are created, morphed and created anew, as people collect around events and ideas. For the TED conference last week, there was a not-so-secret handshake. Put #TED into your Twitter post, and we can all follow along, thanks to the wonders of a search in Terraminds (the Google of Twitter) and an RSS feed. (Here’s the result.) There are slices of RSS feeds for this week’s SXSW festival in Austin, and there will be more that just grow organically.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson (a big investor in TheStreet.com, where I once worked) calls the “#” slice of Twitter an “event firehose.”

On Twitter things are open and the field is level. You can follow Fred and hear his latest musings, or you can follow Dave Winer, the guy who helped make all of this possible by pioneering and developing RSS, blogs and podcasting too. Or you can follow Howard Rheingold, who foresaw some of these possibilities in his fabulous book, Smart Mobs.

What is Twitter?

It is, says Silicon Alley Insider, a new form of literature, as evidenced by this minute-by-minute account as Ryan K was being laid off from Yahoo!

Written well, a Twitter can broadcast magical poetry of our day-to-day lives, as in this one from Laura Fitton that I quickly “favorited” to share with my students.

Trying to describe Twitter is pointless, Rex Hammock says:

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. ‘Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.’ ‘Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.’ ‘Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.’

Twitter, as Doc Searls says, is a prototype.

Twitter is me and you and everybody else talking, connecting and listening.

It is a live window on the world, in at least three dimensions.

 …

Update: Check out this lovely and inclusive compendium of Twitter Resources from Kathy E. Gill’s WiredPen blog. And bookmark this comprehensive Twitter-pedia from Mahalo.

Update 2: The Twiends, a social media company that helps people connect through Twitter, has a nice guide for how to build your follower list at this link:  http://twiends.com/get-twitter-followers And for the more visual among us, Twiends also has a fun ‘How to Twitter’ infographic with beginner Twitter tips at this link: http://twiends.com/how-to-twitter

Note: As originally published, this piece incorrectly said Guy Kawasaki was with Forrester Research. Kawasaki  is managing director of a venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures, and he writes for Entrepreneur Magazine. 

18 thoughts on “Twitter 101

  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Jason Whitmen

  2. Twitter rocks!

    I tried telling my news director about Twitter. You did a much better job of explaining twitter.

    I understand the frustration though… in the future I am just sending everyone to this page.

    Thanks Mrs. L!

  3. Pingback: rexblog.com: Rex Hammock’s weblog » Blog Archive » links for 2008-03-04

  4. As a teacher, I use twitter to find up to date educational resources. I have also learned new strategies to use in my classroom which I believe will make me a better teacher.

  5. Coincidentally, I found this post from a link posted by chuckumentary on Twitter. I love your explanation. You have inspired me to follow several news outfits that I wasn’t following before, including The BBC (which I love incidentally). Thanks for your great explanation for those who just don’t get it!

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