The Value of Twitter for the Technical Professional

Some highly technical people have a hard time getting their heads around Twitter. At first, Twitter seems like a demand to be entertaining or a social networking phenomenon. These notions don't seem compelling for technical professionals. In fact, Twitter is a powerful tool when used correctly by technical people. All that's necessary is a subtle shift in viewpoint.

I've had the same discussion over and over with highly technical colleagues who are not yet on Twitter. They say to me:

  • "Isn't Twitter for kids?"
  • "I don't do social networking."
  • "It's a waste of time."
  • "I'm a boring person. I can't think of anything to say."


A Technical Timeline

All these notions are derived from a misunderstanding of Twitter combined with misconstruing Twitter's mantra, "What are you doing?"

Here's what Twitter really is. I'll cast the description into technical language for the geeks who have ignored this powerful tool so far.

Twitter is a communications technology that creates a subspace network amongst individuals with common interests. Think of it as a military message with "Flash" level precedence.

Tuning In

The most important thing to know about Twitter is that it's not about you being an entertainer. Your first blush reaction is correct: no one cares that you're gorging yourself with Cheerios cereal while watching a Stargate SG-1 rerun.

Instead, think of Twitter as an information and communication feed from a collection of people, and the quality of that information and network is defined by who you follow. That's because there are many personality types out there, and many of those technical colleagues, some you know and some you're going to get to know, pass around some really useful information.


Some People I Follow

As in the military, you have to learn to follow before you can lead.

"So how do I figure out who to follow?" you may ask. You can start by figuring out what subspace frequency or frequencies you want to be on. For example, it may be novelists or Mac technology writers or Cocoa developers or auto restoration or UNIX or salesmanship. You may already have some friends who are on Twitter. Check to see who they follow. (You can do that at the Twitter Website, after you create a free account, and look people up.) Check to see if your favorite authors in your selected area of interest are on Twitter. Then see who they follow. Finally, go to and search for key technical terms of interest. See who's talking about those topics. You might meet some experts worth following.

Bingo. You're tuned in.

Absorption and Reflection

A powerful feature of Twitter is the identification of tidbits of useful information that relate to the frequency you're on. URLs are often imbedded in a tweet, and you can just click on the URL in your chosen Twitter client to instantly go there in your chosen Web browser. This information might relate to local disasters, traffic jams, weather, national events, computer security alerts and so on. Or they might be simply entertaining YouTube videos or flickr photos that bring a smile to your face.

However, most of the information that's worth passing around will be related to the kind of community you follow. The nice thing is that you can tune your group by unfollowing people who don't prove useful and adding people who are. In my case, I follow a lot of very smart and experienced writers on the Mac Web. It keeps me informed.

You may argue that an RSS feed does the job for you. However, RSS feed blasts everything out from the feeds you subscribe to. That's useful to be sure, but Twitter augments that by having the people you follow pre-filter a lot of information and direct you to the really good stuff.

In time, as friends and colleagues start to follow you, you will learn how to post tweets that conform to your own personality. In some cases, you may simply Retweet. That is, pass along interesting and useful tweets with good information to the people who follow you. Can you see the leverage involved there?

It's useful to watch and learn how people who are experienced post so that you can form your own ideas of how you will tweet -- when you're ready.

Now I will admit that a lot of people use Twitter for other than technical purposes. Some people feel the need to have a large following; it makes them feel good. Some people like to tell you what they're up to. These are the people you may wish to ignore because we're focusing on the technical uses of Twitter for technical professionals


To make Twitter a useful tool, one that doesn't fritter away your time, it must be used like any other tool -- with discipline and a philosophy. For example, I use a client (Syrinx) that allows me to turn off the alert sound so I can write in peace. I don't try to read every tweet in the timeline. I often read tweets based on who it came from, an additional level of visual filtering over and above filters that are available in clients. For example, many clients allow you to show a timeline just from friends -- filtered down from all the people you follow. (Your definition of friend is up to you.)

Another technique I use is to do a search on the string "http:". That winnows down my timeline from all those posted to just those that have imbedded URLs. Again, I scan, based on experience, who might have posted useful URLs by looking at their photos.

I try to get away from my work on the weekends. I miss a lot of tweets, and probably annoy my followers, by not being very active on Twitter on the weekends. So be it. It's a life choice.


Twitter is just another communications tool. The value is derived from how you exploit it. The only limitations are based on preconceived notions or irrational attitude you may have already formed.

Networks are important. We all have our professional networks. It could be professional conferences, e-mail lists, personal e-mail, LinkedIn, phone conversations with colleagues, and technical publications. All of these methods are useful, but Twitter has a fresh sense of immediacy. You're in touch with people in a constant, conversational, immediate fashion.

Twitter is a fabric, a subspace network of people with common interests. If you turn away from it, you're just tuned out, oblivious to the subspace chatter as if you were stranded on a South Pacific island, with no radio, deprived of the radio traffic from search and rescue planes miles above that, nevertheless, permeates your body.


  1. How to Get Started with Twitter
  2. Review: Syrinx is a Capable Twitter Client
  3. The Eight Twitter Personality Types
  4. Twittering Your Life Away (One User's Revelation)

You can follow me on Twitter at: jmartellaro