Do you fear that Facebook is for fogies? Do you want more value-added to your (cyber)life? Would you like to be "followed" by British actor/writer Stephen Fry? Look no further than Twitter, the social-networking site that allows you to share information, updates, links, photos, and whatnot in 140 characters or less.
Twitter asks users to reply to the question "What are you doing?", but such status updates are only a small part of what goes on. People Twitter to share information, often in link form, about news and topics they’re interested in. They Twitter to ask advice about restaurants or movies or ideas. They Twitter as a marketing tool, to brand themselves online. The actor Stephen Fry has done the latter to astounding effect: As of late March 2009, he had more than 325,000 people following him, many of whom he follows in return. (According to one analysis, everyone on Earth will be following Fry on Twitter by March 2010.) How many of Fry’s followers — who receive a dozen or more of his updates each day — are going to remember to see the next film he puts out, or to buy his next book? A lot. Smart move, Fry.
Twitter, it seems, is what you make of it.
Use Twitter on your computer or mobile device. You don’t need to use the Twitter home page, as there are many downloadable programs with more or less pleasing interfaces. Check out this list of different ways to use Twitter.
Here are some terms and other basics you need to know to get started.
- Following: The list of people whose updates you follow. Most tweeps, as users are known, allow you to follow them without permission; some need to ok your request.
- Followers: The tweeps who follow you and read your updates when you post them.
- Tweet: Each 140-character update that you or someone else posts.
- Retweet (RT): A big part of Twitter; retweeting is how links virally make the rounds online. There is twittiquette that must be followed when you retweet (and when you do other things). You must, for example, cite the person whose link you’re tweeting. Here are some more examples of twitter etiquette.
- Direct Message (DM): An email that can only be read by the person you send it to, as opposed to your tweets, which can be read by anyone. You can only DM people you follow if they’re following you back.
- Hashtags: A godsend to librarians and others who want to rein in tweets. Hashtags are filters that organize posts into subject categories. Make a hashtag by putting a "#" before any word. They create a chat room, of sorts. So, for example, on Monday nights, you can follow #journchat" to have a conversation with bloggers, PR people, and journalists. There’s a regular "#followFriday" hashtag that people use to post their favorite Twitterers. Stephen Fry, who can’t possibly scroll through all the tweets he gets, asks people to use the hashtag "#fryretweet" to get his attention if they want him to retweet their posts. On the Twitter site, you can search hashtags by using the search box or by going to www.search.twitter.com.
- Twitpic: an app that allows users to post pictures to Twitter
- @: This sign is the first part of tweeps’ usernames. For example, @simmonsgslis is the name of the GSLIS profile on Twitter. To find someone by their username, go to http://twitter.com/[username]. Try it out by coming to follow us at: http://twitter.com/simmonsgslis
- Also used as a verb: "@ me for info on my recent restaurant rec"
- If you need more help, here’s one of many how-to videos.
Twitter: value added?
Twitter is a time suck, yes. But people have used it to break news about earthquakes and terrorist attacks, among other things. The US Airways Flight #1549 Hudson River landing was noted for being spotted first by a Twitter user via Twitpic and then picked up by mainstream news outlets. ). See http://twitpic.com/135xa for the picture that sparked thousands and thousands of words. And there is real value in following people who think deeply about the kinds of topics you’re interested in. If you’re concerned about the future of journalism, for example, try @jayrosen_nyu; if you want to know where to get a great cocktail in Boston, try @BostonTweet. The list is endless.
More value added (sort of)
Want to know which of your followers drops you on Twitter and when? How about who isn’t following you back? Want to see how many Tweets you make in a day? There are numerous apps that will help you pass the time – and numerous GSLIS folks who will be joining you out there in Twitterdom. Happy Tweeting!
Some GSLIS Tweeters
- Linda Braun, Adjunct Professor: @lbraun2000
- Jennifer Doyle, Director of Curriculum & Communications: @doylej
- Linnea Johnson, Assistant Manager of Information Technology: @leonnea
- Cheryl Kohen, GSLIS Alum and Career Resource Librarian: @mmko
- John Rodzvilla, GSLIS Student and Simmons College Library staff: @rodzvilla
- Candy Schwartz, Professor: @candyschwartz
- Kelcy Shepherd, Adjunct Professor: @kelcyshepherd