I am slightly amazed at how much Twitter has become a part of adult culture. You hear about it everywhere. On the other hand, there are still a lot of people who say they don’t get Twitter. Well, not so long ago I didn’t get Twitter either so how about a Twitter primer? I hesitated to sign up partly because Twitter gives you very little information about what you’re getting into – nothing to help you decided whether or not it’s for you but it’s really very simple.
First of all, I’m sure everyone knows about the question: “What are you doing?” This leads one to imagine a bunch of losers posting all the boring little details of their lives every few minutes all day long. – “Just woke up. Making coffee.” “On my way to work. Traffic sucks.” “In a meeting. I hate meetings.” “Gotta stop by Wal-mart. I hate Wal-mart” – and on and on and on. Well, maybe some people do that but I haven’t seen it. Most people ignore the question and just post what’s on their mind or link to stuff they find on the Web. How boring or interesting it is depends on who you follow.
Because of the 140 character limit I also expected to see people using a lot of abbreviations but I haven’t seen that very much either. What I have seen are some great one-liners. Some people seem inspired to make the most of those 140 characters. We do tend to skimp on punctuation sometimes. (Each space counts against that limit too.)
You don’t have to sign up to be able to read someone’s Twitter page. Here’s mine. (There’s also a link to it in the sidebar) You will see that it looks like a poorly formatted blog with very short posts. The posts are called “tweets”. (Yes, I know. Don’t blame me; they didn’t ask me what I think they should be called, just like no one consulted me about the word “blog”.) You’ll notice that some of the tweets start with “@” followed by a username. These are replies to other people’s tweets. You cannot use HTML on Twitter but you can post links. Twitter automatically shortens URLs.
If you sign up for Twitter, when you go to your Home page you will see not only your own tweets but the tweets of the people you follow. Here’s a screen capture of my Twitter home page as it currently looks to me. How much you get out of Twitter depends on who you follow. Reciprocity is generally not expected. You should only follow people whom you find interesting.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there is Twitter spam. Creepy people and people trying to sell you things will follow you. There are buttons to block people you don’t want following you and to report spam.
A few more little things: If you put a # in front of a word, that identifies it as a Trending Topic. The most popular ones appear in the sidebar. Read them or ignore them as you wish. Your stats – number of people you follow, number following you and total number of tweets – appears at the top of your sidebar. Click on the number of followers to see who is following you. You can also send and receive Direct (i.e. private) messages. You can customize your Twitter page. There are several background options and I think there’s a way to add your own and you can change the colors of your text and sidebar.
That’s about all I can think of. It’s really very simple. I recommend that you sign up and try it for a week or two and if you decide you don’t like it you can always abandon or delete your account.