Figuring out Twitter

OK, so I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Facebook seems like an utter waste of time, and Twitter always struck me as kind of ridiculous. But while Facebook, with over half a billion members, has a pretty huge penetration…

…it’s a huge waste of time, as I just realized after wasting 20 minutes looking it over (specifically, scanning through all the “People You May Know”, which includes a surprising number of people I haven’t thought about in 30 years as well as others who I do know but don’t necessarily want to get in touch with, and many many more who simply know people that I’ve already friended).

But Twitter seems like a very interesting, yet still very simple concept: inject messages of no more than 140 characters into the internet. Sort of like a huge list with zillions of items in it that zoom by in massive succession. So, Twitter is (IMO, and that’s the only O that counts) relevant to my interest in lists.

There’s more, but how much is simply related to interesting implementations and “chrome”, and how much is true added functionality? I’ve decided to spend a few hours today to figure it out, as much as possible.

I’m specifically interested in Twitter today because, according to this article from SFGate, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWITTER: Half Of Twitter Users Never Listen To A Word Anyone Else Says, despite Twitter’s apparent popularity, only 8% of US adults use it, and only half of those actually do anything other than tweet–they don’t read anyone else’s tweets, and a substantial portion of all tweets are actually just pointing to news stories or re-tweets of other people’s tweets.

What that means to me is that Twitter has a hard-core base of users who get real value from the service, but there is still a ton of room for the market to grow. In other words, there’s a lot of potential still for anyone who wants to learn something new about an exciting new tool and then leverage that knowledge.

I spotted a book about using Twitter, All a Twitter: A Personal and Professional Guide to Social Networking with Twitter, at the library. After I checked it out, it sat quietly and patiently on my desk for a couple of weeks. I started to pick it up, but realized that a book first printed in July 2009 would likely not be my most up-to-date source. So, I shifted directly to THE source:

I found some helpful resources on Twitter, right off the bat, including the Twitter Help Center which mixes “support” with “help for newbies”. From there, I found Twitter Basics, where you go for all the information: lots of links to lots of articles on lots of topics, all related to using Twitter.

But other links popped up, too. While reading on the topic of hash-tags (that octothorpe that appears before words in tweets) they mention, as a place to find out what’s hot on Twitter.

Interestingly, through, I found another Twitter-spinoff site, Trendistic, which plots out Twitter trends similarly to the way Google Trends works for Google searches.

And a pointer to a very complete article about hash-tags, titled Hashtags, at Twitter Fan Wiki (with many more good and in-depth articles about Twitter–at first glance, it looks epically awesome, actually).

So, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but the bottom line is that Twitter is a medium for publishing very short messages, which can be seen by anyone. To start with, you just find the people you want to follow, or find the topics you want to find out about, and you “get information” about them through Twitter. When you’re ready, you can send your own tweets.

The special symbols that pop up all the time are the octothorpe or hash-tag (“#”) symbol that indicates the word that follows as a keyword tag, to help identify that your tweet relates to that term. The “at sign” (“@”) indicates that the text following is a Twitter username, which you can use to “call out” to that username in your tweets.

Want to reply to a twitterer? Start you tweet with @twitterer (using the Twitter username you’re replying to instead of “twitterer”, of course). Or you can just use the @name to call out to someone who tweets, in your tweets.

How hard can it be? I just signed up, which took a couple of minutes, and have already located a small handful of Twitterers who I want to follow.

The next step is to get the rest of my account authenticated/authorized and figure out what else I can do with Twitter.

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