It's hard to think of Twitter
as anything less than a phenomena... To the uninitiated, the fact that people actually use the tool can seem amazing, but the fact that people actually generate value out of the site often seems baffling.
The idea behind Twitter is that anyone can use the tool to broadcast a 140 characters message (called a "tweet") to anyone who wants to listen. Because each tweet is short, the vast majority of tweets look banal, but as you start to take part in the service, many people find they really enjoy the vast number of people and conversations that they can easily tap into.
If you think you might be ready to start playing with Twitter, then this article will give you some insight into both the twitter terminology as well as the tools you can use to get the most out of twitter. However, if you feel like I missed something critical, or I didn't answer a question of yours, please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!
While you can just dive in and start tweeting, you'll be able to get the most out of twitter the sooner you get a handle on the insider slang. Here are the terms to know: Tweet
. This is a standard update... famously limited to 140 characters.
- Example tweet: "I'm heading over to element coffee in old town camarillo right now"
. When you sign up for an account, the first thing you'll do is create a username. A username will typically be a take on a person's name, business, nickname.
- Some examples: @tyr (my main account), @vcstar (VC Star's main twitter account), @805foodie (journalist Lisa McKinnon)
- It's extremely common to put an "@" symbol before a twitter username.
. One of the best part of twitter is how easy it is to start up a conversation with someone. If you see something you find interesting, then you can "reply" to them by starting your next tweet with their handle preceded by the "@" symbol
Retweet or RT
- Example reply tweet: "@tyr you gonna be at element's long? I'd like to chat about something..."
- Just about any twitter tool you might use to update your status will
make this easy... When viewing a tweet, just look for the "reply"
- All replies are public
. If you see a tweet that starts with "RT" this means the person is retweeting a tweet from someone else. Typically a retweet will include the phrase "RT" followed by the person's username... if you want to make a comment on the tweet, that's normally done in brackets at the end of the tweet.
Direct Message or DM
- Example retweet: "RT @tyr: I'm heading over to element coffee in old town camarillo right now [can I join you?]"
- There's no "right" syntax for a retweet, but rather, this is just what appears to be most common.
- Retweets are extremely important part of twitter because it allows interesting ideas and news items to spread quickly.
: You're allowed to send a private or "direct" messages to another twitter user who is following you. This is very similar to sending them a text message, except, they will be able to receive your DM via SMS, email, the web, or a desktop app depending on how they've configured things. To send a direct message, you only need to add the letter "d" in front of their username.
- Example direct message: "d tyr will you still be at element at 2pm?"
- Be careful what you say in a DM because they are extremely easy to screw up. I once thought I was sending a DM to a friend with my home address, but instead had accidentally "replied" to her so my home address became public! DM mistakes are way too common.
. This is when a simple phrase is proceeded by the pound sign (#). The purpose of a hashtag is to bring a sense of organization to conversations that often span many different twitter users.
- Hashtags are often used during the planning (and attendance) of an event. For example, I recently attended a conference where everyone agreed to use the term #icsf for all their conference related tweets, which made it easy to connect with people at the event.
- Recent news-related hashtags that became extremely popular include #mj (for anything Michael Jackson related) and #iranelection (for anything related to the iran election).
After you sign up for an account, you can always do all your tweeting from the Twitter
website. However, rather than think of Twitter as a "website", it's best to think of twitter as a "communication service"... similar to email. Just as you can access your emails from a browser (Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or Gmail), a mobile device (iPhone, Blackberry or other "smart" phone) or a Desktop App (Outlook or Mac Mail), you can also access and interact with Twitter in many different ways. Browser
For people just starting out with Twitter
, their website can be a great place to tweet. From their website, you can read the updates, send replies and DMs, and do searches. While the website is fully functional, some of the other tools, especially mobile and desktop apps offer many advantages to using twitter from their website. Mobile
- SMS. Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, it's quite easy to send and receive tweets as text messages... and in the early days of Twitter, many people used text messaging to get their updates. However, as your network grows and you start following hundreds (thousands?) of people, using text messaging quickly becomes overwhelming.
- BlackBerry Apps. Ubertwitter is my personal favorite to tweet from my blackberry. The site makes it easy to read tweets, reply, DM, follow people, follow links, perform searches and more from a blackberry.
- iPhone Apps. I don't have an iphone, so I'm not up-to-speed on the best iPhone apps. However, Mashable recently compared 29 different iPhone apps and came away recommending TwitterFon as the best free app, so if you're an iPhone user new to Twitter, I'd recommend starting there.
There are dozens of popular applications that you can install on your computer that can make it easier for you to tweet. The two most popular are:
- Seesmic Desktop. A personal favorite, Seesmic desktop is great for beginners and power users alike. With Seesmic Desktop you can send and receive tweets, organize the people you follow into groups, save twitter searches to easily follow relevant topics, and much more.
- TweetDeck. Very similar to Seesmic in functionality, TweetDeck is another popular way to stay updated with your twitter account(s).
So, hopefully after reading this you've got a least a basic understanding of the lingo and options for using Twitter... Here's how to get started:
- Create an account. it's easy to create an account on their website and will probably take you less than 3 minutes.
- Find some people to follow. Twitter really is a lot better when you have a stream of updates from interesting people. Some tricks to finding people:
Download an appropriate Twitter client. If you're most likely to tweet at your desktop, get yourself a desktop app like Seesmic. If your more likely to tweet from your phone, get yourself a decent mobile client. Have fun. There's no better way to get the feel for twitter than to interact with other people. If you spent just a little bit of time each day tweeting interesting links and replying to people saying interesting things or asking interesting questions, you'd quickly get a feel for the power of Twitter! Did I miss something?
- Use Twitter's built in tools to match people who are already on Twitter based on the email addresses within your contact databases.
- After you find a few people to follow, check out the people they're following. If you see anyone who looks like they might be interesting, follow them as well. Especially if you're friends are interacting with those people (i.e. they're replaying to or retweeting them), then they're likely to be people you might be interested in following as well.
- Run some searching on things that interest you. Are you a surfer? Run a twitter search on "ventura surf" to see updates from people who have a similar interest. Most of the people you'll find in a search like this won't be interesting to you at all, but every once in a while you'll find someone great
Please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!