Authors: Laura Fitton,Michael Gruen,Leslie Poston
Tags: #Internet, #Computers, #Web Page Design, #General
Where to Go from Here
If you haven’t used Twitter before, mosey on over to Chapter 1 and start reading — we can get you up to speed in no time. If you’ve been using Twitter for a while and understand where everything is, but you want a better idea of how to use the service, head over to Part III, where we shift Twitter into high gear. If Part III is old hat for you, Part IV (particularly Chapters 11, 12, and 13) goes over some interesting businesses, personal, and not-for-profit stories that can help you grow as a Twitter user.
With that, we’ll see you online!
Twitter? Like Birds Do?
In This Part . . .
You may find getting started with Twitter a bit daunting because Twitter.com doesn’t make obvious why you’d want to use Twitter in the first place.
In this part, we cover the basics of why you may want to use Twitter and how to set yourself up with a Twitter profile that you can call your own. Additionally, we show you where to find all the basic stuff you need so that you can get started in no time.
Sharing Your Thoughts, 140 Characters at a Time
In This Chapter
Understanding what Twitter’s all about
Seeing how individuals, organizations, and businesses use Twitter
Discovering what you can do with Twitter
Looking into third-party Twitter applications
You may have heard of Twitter but have no idea what it actually is. Twitter is basically a powerful
social network that enables you to keep up with the people, businesses, and organizations you’re interested in — whether you know them personally or not. It also lets you share what you’re doing with the world — everyone from your family and friends to complete strangers. (You’ll have to bear with us to find out why you would want to do that.) Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee (
) describes Twitter this way: “With Twitter, my friends are never far away.”
itself says that
The New York Times
calls Twitter “one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet.”
magazine says, “Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app,” and
noted that “Suddenly, it seems as though all the world’s a-twitter.” What will you think?
Every day, we see dozens of new ideas and ways to use Twitter. In this chapter, we do our best to introduce the basic ideas and explain how Twitter works and why it’s so powerful.
Figuring Out This Twitter Thing
Twitter is a fast-evolving, surprisingly powerful new way to exchange ideas and information, and stay in touch with people, businesses, and organizations that you care about. It’s a social network — a kind of map of who you know and who you’re interested in (whether you know them personally or not) — that you can access from your computer or your cellphone.
Twitter has one central feature: It lets users instantly post entries of 140 characters or less, known as
site or your cellphone, or by way of the numerous applications that are available for both. (We talk more about the different ways to tweet in Chapters 8 and 9.)
On the most basic level, Twitter is a mobile social network that combines elements of short messaging services (SMS or
), instant-messaging communication tools, such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and blog publishing software, such as Blogger or WordPress. Like blogging, your tweets are generally published to the world at large where anyone can read them on Twitter.com (unless you choose a private account, so that only those you choose can see your tweets). Unlike blogging, you’re limited to just 140 characters. Like instant messaging, you can communicate directly with people (through direct messages), but unlike instant messaging, each message has its own unique resource locator (URL), so each message is actually a Web page. Instant messaging also lacks the social network “following” features of Twitter and basic ideas like “publish-subscribe” and one-to-many broadcasting of messages.
Think you can’t say anything meaningful in 140 characters? Think again. Not only are twitterers innovating clever forms of one-liners, haiku, quotes, and humor, but they’re including links — in 23 percent of all tweets by one measure — and links carry a lot more information and context. Writing 140-character messages seems trivial. But headlines and very short advertising copy are famously hard to do really well — and known to be powerful.
The idea of Twitter sounds simple — even a little too simple. But when you think that millions of people around the world are posting Twitter messages, following other people’s Twitter streams, and responding to one another, you can start to see the significance behind Twitter’s appeal. True, Twitter can look like it’s full of noise. But once you find interesting people and accounts to follow, your Twitter stream shifts from a cascade of disjointed chatter to one of the most versatile, useful online communications tools yet seen — that is, if you take the time to learn to use that tool correctly.
In the beginning was the word: The origins of Twitter
Twitter connects a wildly diverse array of people from all over the world, erasing barriers and boundaries all the way. Some of the media hype has called Twitter nothing short of revolutionary. And because Twitter is so easily customizable and open-ended, it has continued to become more and more popular with people and companies.
But Twitter’s beginnings, like so many other digital innovations, were humble. Twitter was built in 2006 by three technology entrepreneurs — Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Jack Dorsey. All three were then employed by a San Francisco–based Web company called Odeo, which specialized in publishing software for
(audio broadcasting over the Web). Dorsey was the one who came up with the original concept, and the three subsequently built it as an internal tool for Odeo employees. At first, they had no idea that it would catch on the way it did.
A management shakeup led to Twitter and Odeo’s reincorporation under a new company, Obvious Corp., and shortly thereafter, Twitter was released to the public. Already a favorite among Silicon Valley’s geek elite, Twitter had its real coming-out party at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) — an annual confab of tech and media innovators in Austin, Texas — in March 2007 when it was about a year old. Not only did it win the conference’s Web Award honor, but its rapid-fire messages became the de facto coordinating and communicating tool for thousands of SXSWi attendees and the company became the digital world’s new darling.
Shortly after SXSWi 2007, Twitter was spun off once again, becoming its own company separate from Obvious Corp. — Twitter, Inc.
Now, millions of people use Twitter to keep in touch with family and friends, to launch and expand careers, to connect businesses and reach customers, to build a brand, to report the news, and a whole lot more. No two people or businesses use Twitter in exactly the same way, and that fact is part of the secret to Twitter’s success. You might argue there isn’t really a wrong way to use Twitter, (as long as you mind the terms of service and don’t try to actively do harm) so you get to completely tool it to your own needs.
Twitter is a great way for you or your company to connect with large numbers of people quickly and personally, just like you were having a conversation. In tech-speak, Twitter is a microblogging or microsharing tool; however, you can more easily think of Twitter as a giant cocktail party with dozens of conversations you can join (or start) at any moment. Or, if you prefer a work metaphor, Twitter is like the office water cooler where any number of informal (or formal) conversations can take place.
If you’re familiar with blogs, instant messaging, and Web-based journals, you can start to understand what makes Twitter so unique. The Web offers a lot of information. Twitter can turn those long articles, lengthy conversations, and far-reaching connections into easily digestible facts, thoughts, questions, ideas, concepts, and sound bites. In other words, when you have only 140 characters, you have to be succinct.
How Individuals Use Twitter
Tomorrow I begin the archeological dig that is my desk. I will Twitter each item as I process it.
— Author and comedian John Hodgman via Twitter, December 4, 2008 (
Looking at Twitter for the first time, you might be compelled to ask, “But
are all these people, many of whom seem like just random strangers, talking?” At first glance, Twitter seems flooded with disjointed conversations, interactions, and information. You can find news headlines, political debates, observations on the weather, and requests for advice. The idea of Twitter can be a bit confusing for new
(people who use Twitter).
People have many reasons for using Twitter:
Most people start using Twitter to forge connections and be a part of a community. Others just want to be heard. Twitter lets millions of people around the world hear what you have to say; then it lets you connect with the ones who want to hear from or talk to you about your passions, interests, and ideas.
For more on the social side of Twitter, check out Chapter 12.
Some people tweet as a way to take notes on life. They use Twitter at conferences, events, or just walking around and may even jog their own memories later about something that happened or what they’ve discovered. For example, if you’re walking down the street and you notice a new restaurant you want to check out when you have more time, you might tweet about that. Now everyone who follows you knows about this interesting-looking place, and you have a way of remembering to go back there yourself.
Some people use Twitter to share what they think, read, and know. They may tweet links to great articles or interesting items, or they may tweet original thoughts, ideas, hints, and tricks. Some tweet notes from speeches or classes, and others share choice bits of their inner monologue. Even when this information can get pretty obscure, with millions of listeners, someone’s bound to find it informative or interesting.
To stay in touch:
Whole families and groups of long-term friends use Twitter to stay in touch. Twitter can send public or private notes to your friends, and it stores all sent messages, which means that you don’t lose your thoughts when you close your browser (or your desktop application). Connecting to one another on Twitter is a great way to preserve an initial contact, such as at an event or conference, in a way that lets you gradually get to know them more over time.
Twitter is pretty easy to actually use, meaning everyone from your 8-year-old cousin to your 90-year-old great-grandma can figure out how to use Twitter and say hello. Because you can access Twitter by using either a computer or cellphone (or both!), it fits into mobile lifestyles and brings you closer to the everyday thoughts of those you’re interested in.
How Organizations Use Twitter
Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaign in 2008 was perhaps the best example of an organization using Twitter to solicit donations, raise awareness, and call people to action. During the campaign, tens of thousands of Twitter users followed Barack Obama at
, where campaign staff used the service to provide the then-candidate’s whereabouts on the trail and kick off new donation initiatives. (Even though election laws mean the account can no longer be updated, it has hundreds of thousands of followers at the time of this writing.)
The power of Twitter works for much smaller organizations, too. Groups such as churches and local charities can use Twitter to provide an additional way for members to connect, plan, and reach out beyond their immediate community. Preachers tweet about their planned sermons, youth group directors tweet about events, and local soup kitchens tweet when they need help. Whether it’s extra hands for a project, far-reaching assistance with a fundraiser, or some other big idea, Twitter can enable organizations operating on a budget to think on their feet.
New organizations have also sprung up through Twitter. Some people have started their own donation campaigns on Twitter and encouraged other Twitter users to donate and then tweet about it. But Twitter isn’t just for charities. Enthusiasts of just about any interest have banded together on Twitter. For example, you can find organizations for food and wine lovers, sharing recipes and swapping restaurant reviews on Twitter. (You can search for the subjects that interest you on
For example, musicians use Twitter to spread the word about concerts, song releases, charitable efforts, and their daily lives as celebrities. (Even Britney Spears has an official Twitter account:
.) John Mayer (
) live-tweeted from the Grammies. Musicians working hard to make a name have used Twitter to engage thriving, and involved, fan bases.