HOWTO - Getting Started with Twitter

| Tips

Twitter has taken the world by storm. While it's just another means of communication, the first blush reaction by many is that it's a fad or an annoying time waster. In fact, Twitter is fast becoming essential, so learning how to approach it properly is vital. This HOWTO will get you started.

Twitter, when approached properly, can be an important tool for networking and staying in better contact with friends and colleagues than something abstract like LinkedIn. One need not be seduced into thinking that one must use Twitter to reveal personal thoughts or describe in detail your toothache. Rather, think of it as a new, sub-space communication channel, fast, efficient, and vital for those who want to remain networked in a time of fluid employment.

How it Works

Twitter is a server that receives and distributes short messages, called "tweets," between people who elect follow or subscribe to each other. If I elect to follow someone, then every post by him or her is sent to me. The maximum number of characters in a tweet is 140. One can use the Twitter website to see, in time order, the tweets from all the people followed or use a dedicated client.

For Macs, popular Twitter clients are: Twitterrific, Syrinx, TweetDeck (beta) and Twhirl.

Note that Twhirl and TweetDeck require the installation of Adobe AIR, so if you want to keep things simple, Twitterrific and Syrinx are recommended.

There are also Twitter clients for the iPhone: Tweetie, Twitterrific, and Twittelator Pro.

Getting Started

To get started, just go to twitter.com and click on the sign up button. It's free. In addition to your real name, you can select a personal screen name. You'll need to provide an e-mail address so that you can be notified when people elect to follow you. (In your settings, it's typical to allow anyone to follow you. You can block them later if you need to.)

Twitter signup

Twitter Signup

After you create an account, you can customize your Profile by adding information about your interests so that people can decide to follow you based on mutual interests. Be careful here at first. You may want to think about how much personal information you reveal and where you live, and it's best to be conservative.

Once you have an account, select the Twitter client of your choice. My favorite is Syrinx. The first time you run it, it will ask you for your Twitter user name and password. Then you're all set. All you have to do now is decide who to follow and check the client's preferences.

The Art of Following

So who to start following? If you're a Macintosh enthusiast, one strategy is to start here at the Mac Observer and follow your favorite editors. For example, here are our Twitter names:

  • John Braun -> johnfbraun
  • Bryan Chaffin -> tmobryan
  • Jeff Gamet -> jgamet
  • Dave Hamilton -> davehamilton
  • Ted Landau -> tedlandau
  • John Martellaro -> jmartellaro
  • The Mac Observer -> MacObserver (all articles)

To follow someone, sign on to your Twitter account with your browser, click on "Find People" at the top, and, if your find is successful, click on the "Follow" button. From now on, anything that person tweets will show up in your client. Like this:

Syrinx

The Syrinx Twitter Client

Expanding Who You Follow

The next step is to see who we are following. Go through the same process as above, but instead of clicking on the Follow button, click on the person's screen name. You'll be taken to a page that shows 1) who follows that person and 2) who they follow. At the top right of their page, click on "Following". By seeing who we follow, you'll be exposed to more people in the Mac community of writers and developers.

Another thing you can do is invite your friends and colleagues who may not be on Twitter to follow you. Send them an e-mail, link to this HOWTO, and invite them to sign up. Give them your Twitter name, and then you can start following each other. That way, you'll not only follow people with similar interests, but build up your own followers.

Searching

Because every tweet goes through the Twitter server, it's possible to do a search on key words, so-called hashes. If your Tweet includes a "#" followed by a key word, it becomes searchable at search.twitter.com. For example, if you've just written an article about astronomy that relates to the International Year of Astronomy, you could send this tweet:

> Hey, guys, I just published a neat article: http://tinyurl.com/dgcnz8 # IYA2009

All your followers will see this and can click on the URL. But someone who doesn't follow you who does a search at Twitter on the term IYA2009 will find your tweet. This is a powerful social, technical and informational tool.

Twitter Search

Twitter Search Results

By the way, your Twitter client, aware of the 140 character limit, will compress any URLs you post by accessing www.tinyurl.com. and auto convert. However if you need extra room on the 140 character line, you can create the tiny URL yourself, as I did above, to leave room for search hashes.

Don't be a Twit

It will take you some time to develop your own philosophy about the use of Twitter. For example, I turn off the chirp alert sound when I'm concentrating on an article and then catch up later. Make it a resource, not a distraction or time waster.

Ted Landau and I have written articles about our own exploits. "Twittering Your Life Away" and "The Eight Twitter Personality Types."

Also, this HOWTO on managing sounds in your Twitter client may help.

Twitter can be a powerful tool if used correctly, it's huge, and growing by leaps and bounds. Don't be deluded into thinking that it's just for twits.

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