Authors: Laura Fitton,Michael Gruen,Leslie Poston
Tags: #Internet, #Computers, #Web Page Design, #General
Some Twitter users have reported becoming better salespeople offline, or better writers, because Twitter’s mandated brevity forces you to focus your thoughts into concise, direct sound bites. Because Twitter’s communication format encourages brief but engaging ideas, Twitter sparks conversations faster than almost any other Internet conversation format.
Where the name Twitter comes from
We want to get this out of the way: Yes, Twitter is a silly name. It calls to mind images of birds chirping, or the all-night gab-fests at junior high sleepovers. But to be fair, a whole lot of Web services have silly names — in an industry peppered with companies that have names such as Meebo and Veoh, a company called Twitter doesn’t stand out as having a particularly odd moniker. And co-founder Jack Dorsey has argued from the start that Twitter is a fitting name for the service. In an early interview with Jack, Ev, and Biz, (when Twitter was still owned by Obvious, Inc.), the founders answered a question about where the name came from. Jack said, “If you look it up in the dictionary, it’s actually just [a] short burst of activity, and it’s something that birds do. It’s just like chirping.” In this case, the name Twitter reflects the short bursts of “noise” (or tweets) that Twitter users make when they conduct their digital banter. (If you haven’t made the connection already, this definition explains why Twitter’s logo is a cartoon bird. To watch a video of the interview in its entirety, go to
Branching Out with Third-Party Applications
At the risk of sounding like a Twitter cheerleader, don’t ask “What
you do with Twitter?” Instead, ask yourself, “What
you do with Twitter?” From its inception, Twitter has had a very open
application programming interface
(API), which is the geek-speak term for code that lets external developers and programmers weave the Twitter service and functions into other applications and services on the Web. The open nature of the Twitter API has led some people to come up with very interesting uses for Twitter.
The most popular Twitter applications are downloadable client programs that let you manage and update your Twitter feed from your desktop; vying for most popular are TweetDeck (
) and Twhirl (
), but people access Twitter dozens of ways, including (about half of average use) Twitter.com.
More than a thousand already exist. Some are silly (such as HereBeforeOprah [
]), some are annoying (such as Magpie [
]), and some are incredibly useful (such as TwitPic [
] and HootSuite [
]). (We cover these tools in Chapter 9.) The beauty of Twitter means that even the silly ideas have a chance to succeed, if the Twitter community responds to them. Because Twitter can do so much, so simply, the array of third-party applications offers a nice balance of work and play.
If you want to stick with using Twitter just as a status update service, that’s fine. In fact, many people do. But if you want to really maximize your use of Twitter, you may want to check out all the neat ways you can use it — for example, to track expenses, request restaurant reviews, follow gas prices, read the news, find out the weather in your area, give hurricane relief to people in need, fundraise, drive cancer awareness, and a whole lot more. This diversity of use makes Twitter a vibrant community that you can tap into both for fun and for business.
Hello, Twitter World!
In This Chapter
Getting your Twitter party started
Coming up with a good Twitter name
Mixing it up: Making friends and saying hi
Standing out with a unique Twitter profile
Getting SMS tweets on your cellphone (or not)
Twitter is a deceptively simple, yet powerful conversation tool that enables users to broadcast short messages to the world and to connect more closely with people they care about. Intrigued about why this “stupid”-looking tool is so well-loved and popular? Then this chapter is the place to get your feet wet. It usually takes a while of using Twitter to get what about it could be really interesting and valuable to your life. Luckily, Twitter is not only easy to use, but it’s also quick to set up and a piece of cake to get going.
In this chapter, we go over the very basics of Twitter: getting a username, beautifying your profile, finding people to communicate with, and getting yourself situated and ready to start tweeting like a pro in no time.
For many Web services, signing up is the easiest part of an otherwise complicated process. With Twitter, using the site is just as easy as signing up.
To sign up for a Twitter account, follow these steps:
1. Use your Web browser to navigate to the Twitter Web site at
The Twitter splash page appears, as shown in Figure 2-1.
2. Click the large green Get Started — Join! button.
The signup page appears, as shown in Figure 2-2.
The Twitter splash page.
The very short and simple Twitter signup page.
3. Enter your desired username and basic information in the appropriate text boxes.
The only information Twitter requires from you is a username, a password of your choice, and a unique e-mail address where Twitter can contact you for notifications. (You’ll probably take longer to decide on a username than to actually sign up. We cover how to choose a good Twitter name in the following section.)
4. Type the CAPTCHA code in the Type the Words Above text box.
This step is a standard Web tactic to prove that you’re a human and not a spam program. (For more information on this code, see the sidebar “What’s up with the CAPTCHA?”)
5. Click the Create My Account button.
By clicking the Create My Account button, you’re agreeing to Twitter’s Terms of Service. You see a link at the bottom of the page where you can read those Terms of Service if you like, or you can go to
to read them.
You’re taken to your newly created Twitter account (see Figure 2-3).
A Twitter blank slate.
What’s up with the CAPTCHA?
A CAPTCHA is a quick check to make sure that an actual person, rather than a computer program, is using the Web site. Web applications use CAPTCHA (which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) as a standard defense against spam and automatically generated user accounts.
You may find the CAPTCHA a bit tricky to read, but that’s largely the point. Computers have a hard time reading text that’s distorted in any way, but humans can adjust rather quickly.
Sometimes, you may run into a hard-to-read or ambiguous CAPTCHA. If you’re having trouble reading the CAPTCHA, Twitter uses the popular reCAPTCHA tool, which can easily generate another CAPTCHA for you: Just click the Get Two New Words link to get another CAPTCHA. There is an audio version of the CAPTCHA on Twitter, but it really doesn’t seem to work well.
If you can’t read a CAPTCHA after a few tries, you may be a computer. If you think that you may, in fact, be non-human, please consult your doctor or trusted medical professional.
Did you know you can register for Twitter entirely by text from any cellphone? Get a friend started while you’re away from a computer
you can create a new Twitter account from any cellphone at any time. Just send an SMS text message with the word “join” to 40404 and follow the directions that are texted back to you to choose a username. Later, go to Twitter.com and look for the button labeled Already Using Twitter from Your Phone? Click Here. (To find out more about using Twitter on your cellphone, check out section “Adjusting Your Text-Messaging Settings,” later in this chapter.)
If you already have a Twitter account,
text “join” to 40404 or you will lock your phone into a separate new account. You will not be able to add your phone to your original account until you delete the new one. See instructions on how to set up your phone to work with your existing Twitter account below.
Picking a Name
On Twitter, your username is your identity. Laura’s Twitter name, or
, and it has become the way that many people know her. She’s met thousands of people in real life after initially connecting with them through Twitter, and it’s not unusual for her to hear, “Hey, Pistachio!” from across the street or across the room at a party.
has, in effect, become her nickname. If you want a quick glimpse at the search engine “optimization” (SEO) value of Twitter, just run a Google search for the word pistachio and you’ll find her Twitter account is one of the very first search results. Crazy.
Many people have asked where the username
came from. Simply, Laura’s first office was painted an unfortunate green color — that precise, indescribably ugly shade of Grandma’s favorite ice cream on summer nights at Friendly’s by the rotary in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Laura first adopted the color as a company name in 1997, and over the years it has become part of her identity. Thus, she now is
When we refer to Twitter usernames in this book, we follow the convention of putting an at sign (@) before the name, because that’s how you refer to other users on Twitter. (For example, if you want to say that you’re reading Laura’s book, you might say, “Reading
’s book.” That way, people who follow you on Twitter can easily click over to Laura’s Twitter profile, in case they want to follow her, too!) But when you’re actually choosing a username, the @ isn’t part of it. The only characters you can use are uppercase and lowercase letters, and the underscore character (_).
That story emphasizes that you should think about how you want to be perceived both on and off Twitter and how your username fits into that perception. Twitter is a far-reaching service, and if you get really involved in the culture of Twitter, like the rest of the social Web, it undoubtedly spills over into real life. The days of choosing anonymous handles such as sexybabe44, like you may have when you used instant-message programs or chat rooms in years past, are long gone.
If you can sign up for Twitter by using your name or a variation of it as your username (assuming somebody else isn’t already using it), we recommend doing so. It makes your experience with Twitter much easier when the line between online and offline blurs.