Twitter 101

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned to someone – “if you followed me on Twitter…” Often, I get either a blank stare or some short statement about not using Twitter. I thought I would take a little time and explain why I use Twitter. Short answer – it helps me professionally. I tend to think of Twitter as an online version of meeting around a water cooler. Of course, you get to choose the individuals you want to exchange information with. Ok, how does this help me professionally?

First, I follow a number of people I know and those who are influential with the technologies I have interest in. I never cease to be amazed at the insights one can obtain in a mere 140 characters.  One can be almost overwhelmed by the speed of change in web technologies. Frankly, it is faster and more pervasive than any other area of computer technology I am familiar with.  Those who know me, know that I am familiar with many aspects of computer technology. It is no longer possible to keep up with all the changes by reading articles and books. Most are outdated by the time they are published. Side note – depending on the people you follow, you can also keep yourself well informed of global news. For example, I knew Steve Jobs was dead before it was reported on any news network (and was able to share that information with others before the start of a session at AdobeMAX (no one else in the room had checked their Twitter feeds before me)). Similarly, I knew of the recent earthquake in San Francisco as it was happening. Twitter helps me keep up to date with what is happening in web technology as it happens. No other service comes close.

Second, I routinely use it myself (tweet). Originally, I published at least one new thing I learned every day. Now, I tend to post a number of tweets on various aspects of technology (ranging from articles I have read/ written) to questions about certain technologies. When I am participating in a conference, I tend to tweet more often (and employ an appropriate hashtag – for terms, see below). Many individuals at these conferences (myself included) review Twitter streams for that particular hashtag. This has allowed me to meet a number of individuals who I never would have met at these conferences. Often, we find we share very similar interests. This happened repeatedly at the recent AdobeMAX conference I participated in. For example, I posted a photo of the speaker as a session was about to start and was immediately mentioned in a tweet. The tweet told me to turn around because that individual was sitting two rows behind me in the session. They figured out my location from the photo I had just posted (and I am rather obvious in a crowd). Additionally, there is a #FF (follow Friday) tradition where individuals tell their followers that they should also follow certain individuals. This is typically done on Fridays. Twitter helps me connect with people who have similar interests.

Third – I often use it as a short chat session with individuals I know. This is done with DM (direct messages). These are private in that both you and the other individual must follow each other. These posts do not appear in your public timeline. This is one of the fastest ways to obtain an answer from a respected authority. Obviously, one doesn’t want to over use it. For example, a student in one of my network security classes identified a bogus gMail certificate. I tweeted a screen capture of this to several security experts and received nearly immediate feedback from a number of individuals who provided significant insights into this particular certificate error. Twitter helps me get needed information incredibly quickly.

Now that you know why I use Twitter, let’s focus a bit on the interface itself. First (and most importantly), I almost never use the Twitter website itself. It is simply too clunky. I use TweetDeck (now owned by Twitter) and TweetCaster Pro for most of my interactions. The latter tool can be found in the Android Market. One can set up lists to follow specific people or hashtags. One can set these to display notifications when there is  new tweet or you are mentioned by someone else. Yes, these can be just as annoying as the email notifications we have all turned off by now. I find these two tools to be very helpful in managing the amount of information generated by those I follow on Twitter (for example some tweet over one hundred times per day, others tweet once a month or less).

I also use tools to analyze who is following me. These include TwitSprout and SocialBro. Oh, yeah, I found out about these tools through… you guessed it… Twitter. Here is a little “behind the scenes” information. From TwitSprout, one can see overall trends (losing a few followers since I haven’t tweeted much in past few days). Just click on the image to see a larger view.

TwitSprout overview

Using SocialBro, I can tell where my followers are located, what their interests are, and when the best time for me to tweet is to reach the greatest number of individual followers. For those who are curious, I provide maps to the locations of my followers around the world as well as those in North America.

Worldwide view of followers

North Amrican followers

Those reading this should now have a better understanding what I mean when I say “if you followed me on Twitter…”

Terms (these are some of the commonly encountered terms associated with Twitter that I have used above).

  • Direct Message (DM) – In Twitter interface, one uses d followed by the Twitter user name to privately communicate with someone. Both you and the other individual must follow each other on Twitter in order to take advantage of this capability. These notes do not appear in the public timeline.
  • Hashtag – One must begin with a # immediately followed by a short phrase. For example #AdobeMAX. If  number of people assign the same tag (perhaps during a large conference), one can follow posts by others participating in the conference.
  • Mention – When someone else includes your Twitter username in their tweet. For example, @Mark_DuBois posted a blog entry on Twitter fundamentals.
  • Tweet – This is the individual short message (140 characters or less) posted by someone on Twitter. For those who are verbose, there are services like TwitLonger (which allow you to use more than 140 characters).

8 thoughts on “Twitter 101”

  1. I have dropped many email newsletter subscriptions and now get my information from these sources via Twitter. Instead of having to wade through paragraphs of information that may not interest or pertain to me specifically in an email newsletter,

    I now get an article summary in less than 140 characters. If it looks pertinent, then it gets read, otherwise it gets ignored. Using Twitter, I find it much more efficient to separate the wheat from the chaff. Instead of getting updates weekly or monthly, I can now get updates daily via Twitter. I can scan through all the headlines for an entire day (usually over 100 posts) and quickly mark those articles I want to read later in just a few minutes.

    Also, I follow several authors via Twitter. I am able to stay on top of their work. I am often able to follow their research as they prepare for their next project (book, conference, etc.). Because I follow them on Twitter, I am often among the first to know when their next book will be released and what it will be about (because I’ve been following some of their research and notes on Twitter!).

  2. I’m addicted to Twitter, for all the reasons you mentioned. I communicate with my peers in web development as well as follow the people who are experts in different facets of the field.

  3. Thanks for reaffirming to me many of reasons why Twitter has become an invaluable source of information and communication. I appreciate the links to the analysis tools. They are new to me and look very useful.
    I’ve found lists to be very helpful in organizing the many tweets I see daily. Now, if I could only get TweetDeck to support tabs so I wouldn’t have to scroll horizontally to see all my lists!

  4. Dave – Thanks for the comments. I am most appreciative. Please check back on Thursday after 8 a.m. CT as there will be a following post with a number of helpful tools in the Twitter ecosystem.


  5. I wasnt aware of twitterdeck. I like to read twitter from time to time, but the site was just meh and id leave in a few minutes. Wonder if there is a way to have twitter notify you of updates from just one individual.

  6. Kevin – please return to the site tomorrow. I have a follow on article with a number of tools that may help.


  7. Thanks so much for letting me know about your blog and sharing the information you have about twitter. I don’t tweet yet, but who knows…I’m open. I love the plant pictures. What diverse areas of interest and expertise you have! That’s great.

  8. Mark, thank you for the post it was very helpful to read about the advantages to using twitter. I also liked the “Terms” section, it is helpful to us newbies.


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