Getting Twitter 2.0

(I rewrote this entry to be shorter and hopefully more useful.)

I'm on Twitter. I love Twitter—it's a fun way to stay connected, get the latest news, and to share ideas and news of my own.

Some of my friends have signed on to Twitter, tried it for a couple of days, and never returned. I'm going to try and explain how I use Twitter which makes it so fun and useful for me, in the hope that people will try it, or try it again. Because when it comes to Twitter, the more the merrier!

Before I go on, I will quickly explain how Twitter works. You probably already know it's a site where you can post 140 character messages. The messages can be read by anyone who "follows" you.

Your Twitter page also shows your "Twitter feed", which is a display of all the messages ("tweets") posted by people you follow. Note that you don't have to follow the people who follow you, and the people you follow don't have to follow you.

Getting Started

Signing up to Twitter is easy—the hardest part is picking a good username. After you have signed in, fill in your Location and a short Bio, to make it easier for people to find you and decide whether to follow you.

Finding your Tweeps

Once you're in, you need to follow some people. But who, and how many? The real key to making Twitter work for you is balancing the number of people you follow and the frequency with which you check in. If you don't follow enough people, Twitter will be boring and pointless and you'll lose interest. If you follow too many people, your feed will be too busy and you won't be able to keep up.

I'm going to throw out the number 75 as the minimum number of people you should follow to keep things interesting. Of course, it will depend how voluble your followees are, and how often you can check in to Twitter. (I follow 225 people, and check in four or five times a day, and I'm seldom either bored or overwhelmed.)

Finding people to follow is the fun part. There are plenty of ways to find people. You probably already know a few people who are on, so find out what their Twitter usernames are and check out who they are following like this:

  • Go to the person's Twitter page: http://www.twitter.com/username
  • On the right you'll see a number with "following" under it—click on that number to see the list of people your friend follows.
  • Now you can click "follow" to follow anyone you like the look of. If you're not sure, you can click on any username to go to their Twitter page, which will show you all their tweets from latest to oldest.

Follow anyone who looks interesting—it's really easy to unfollow people later. (When you follow someone they get an email notification, but when you unfollow them they don't.)

You can also find people using the "Find People" option, at the top of the Twitter window. There, you can find people who are in your email contacts, or you can search for people by name.

How do you decide who to follow? That's up to you; I look for people who post interesting things about what they are doing, and interesting links. Funny is good too. I avoid people who only seem to @reply to other people, and people who mainly RT (retweet). Interaction is nice but I like to read original thoughts too.

You can also follow institutions and entities you have a relationship with in real life, like @starbucks or @globebooks, and of course a few celebrities are fun. I follow @SlashHudson, @Jeffrey_Donovan, @donttrythis, among others.

Another interesting way to find people is Tweetmondo, a site which lets you find Twitterers who live nearby. I found a couple of people in my neighbourhood, and it's neat to read their tweets about weather and local happenings.

How Often To Twit

Twitter works best for people who are online all the time, but you can still have fun with Twitter if you only get to your computer once or twice a day—you will just have to scroll down a few pages to catch up, or only read the latest couple of pages and your @replies.

I don't think it would work to check Twitter less than once a day, or maybe every couple of days at the very least. Twitter is an of-the-moment medium and the more involved you are, the more you'll get out of it.

About @replies

One of the best things about Twitter is the @reply system. @replies are a way to directly address another Twitter user. You put their username in your tweet, with an @ sign before it. For example, if you want to @reply me, include "@amyrhoda" in your tweet. Your tweet will be specially flagged for me to read when I log on.

You can also reply to a specific tweet by clicking the little curly arrow which appears to the right of the tweet when you mouse over it.

To read your @replies, click on @yourusername on the right-hand column of the Twitter page. If you don't have much time to Twitter, you can always check your @replies page to make sure you read and respond to tweets addressed directly to you.

If you want to send a message to another user, but don't want it to be public, start the message with "d username". This will send them a Direct Message which can only be read by that user. Read your Direct Messages by clicking on the Direct Message link on the right column of your Twitter page.

Following Back

As I mentioned above, you will receive an email message whenever someone follows you. Do you have to follow back everyone who follows you? No. I tend to set the "should I follow" bar a little lower for new followers, but I still won't follow you if you're not a real person, if you don't have any updates, or if you're unspeakably lame. Say.

Have Fun

Some people take Twitter way too seriously. It's not a popularity contest. It's not a major marketing tool. You're not obliged to tweet, to retweet (repeat someone else's tweet to pass it on to your followers), to @reply, to follow certain people, to participate in #followfriday, or anything else.

Use Twitter however you like, however it works for you. It's a great, fun way to connect with people. You just have to find the right set of Tweeters to follow, and figure out the rhythm of Tweeting that works for you.

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