I guess I’m not one of those people.
For the uninitiated, twitter is a web application which allows its users to publish 140-character messages (tweets). A user can follow other users, and can be followed by others. One of the differences between twitter and other Social Networking sites is the asynchronicity of the relationship. Just because you follow me, doesn’t mean I have to follow you. A user’s twitter homepage shows the timeline of tweets from all the people they’ve chosen to follow.
So that’s it. In a nutshell, you write, you follow, you read.
The twitter lovers will tell you that the micro-blogging format pushes news and interesting links across the web faster than ever before. The haters rebut that it’s mainly incorrect information being propagated so quickly. Some like the idea of being able to keep track of your favorite celebrities, while others think that it’s a gigantic time leech. Maybe it’s the future of publication, or maybe it’s deteriorating formal language.
Frankly, I just don’t care. There are times when it’s useful (live-blogging my first CitiField experience was good, though with the WordPress app, I could have updated a blog post just as easily) and there are times when it’s not (when I go days or weeks without an update). I find the technology at once intriguing (it’s very developer friendly, with a robust API) and infuriating (loads of downtime and I recently lost a month’s worth of tweets). I don’t really know why, but I use it. Perhaps that’s the end result of being in front of a computer all day long (and when I’m not at the computer, those tweets come right to my iPhone via the excellent TwitterFon app) I do see value in a centralized, searchable, conversational timeline of information. For what purpose? I have no clue. I’ll keep you updated (via twitter, obviously) if I come up with something.
The best attempt at a twitter definition I’ve seen is this, from @shanselman (Scott Hanselman, ASP.net guru):
Twitter is a cocktail party where you can jump in on other people’s conversations without being tacky. #definetwitter
Now, I’ll leave you with a real quick tutorial on the anatomy of a tweet.
- @username – That’s a “mention.” Could be a reply to an ongoing conversation, could be a tip o’ the cap or a wag o’ the finger, could be a user recommendation. No matter what, it means I’m talking about another twitter user.
- #keyword – That’s called a hashtag, and it’s an easy way to categorize a tweet. Using twitter’s search, it’s easy to follow a single hashtag topic and discover what people (even those you aren’t expressly following) are saying.
- RT @username – That’s a re-tweet. It means I like what this other person said, I want to pass it along and I’m going to give them credit for it.
- bit.ly, tinyurl, is.gd, etc. – There are many of these URL shortner utilities out there. These services will take a long URL (remember, you’ve only got 140 characters [including spaces] to get your message across) and shrink ’em way down.