For the longest time, I figured Twitter was little more than a social toy. But after signing up two months ago, I’ve completely changed my view. Here are five lessons I’ve picked up.
1. There are many ways to use it.
Twitter asks the question, “What are you doing?” Some people answer that, and post things like, “eating dinner.” Some people ignore it and post other thoughts. Among the uses I’ve seen:
- Running commentary throughout the day.
- Random thoughts.
- Announcements, particularly bloggers announcing new posts, or news sites announcing new articles.
- Hey, look at this link I found. (The classic linkblogging post.)
- Conversations with other users.
- Even a story told one line at a time.
It can replace a blog, or complement it. Mine started out just as another feed for updates, but I quickly realized I could post small stuff on Twitter and save the blog for the long posts like this one.
I’ve seen some people who post 20 times a day, and others who post once or twice a month.
2. Writing short posts can be liberating.
You don’t need to think of a catchy title. You don’t need to worry about structure. You don’t need to worry about fully developing an idea. And the rapid-fire nature of the site gives you a sense that you’re only worrying about now. No one expects you to be profound. All you have to do is jot down your thought and fire it off.
3. Writing short posts can be frustrating.
One of my high school teachers used to quote this adage: “If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It’s easy to ramble. It’s hard to edit. And it’s really easy to run into that 140-character limit, especially if you’re including a link (even if you use a URL shortening service like tr.im).
Sometimes I think what I want to say is short enough to fit, but I find myself spending several minutes trying to rephrase it, use shorter words, cut out unnecessary phrases, and, if I have to, abbreviate words just to cram it into that tiny space.
On the plus side, the result is usually very concise.
4. You can link it to other services, but expect some awkwardness.
You can link a Twitter account to your Facebook status easily using the Twitter app for Facebook. You can link it to a self-hosted WordPress blog with Twitter Tools. You can link it to LiveJournal and other blogs using LoudTwitter. You can connect it to other micro-blogging services like
pownce, identi.ca, etc. Or you can just send everything through ping.fm.
But all these sites present your message differently.
Take Facebook, for instance. Your Facebook status is presented as a full sentence starting with your name. It even pre-fills the word “is” at the beginning of your status, though you can remove it if you want to. So this blog entry will generate “Kelson New Blog Post: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Twitter” among a sea of “Alice is drinking coffee,” “Bob just got back from Peru,” etc. Plus there’s the fact that Facebook has a mechanism for sharing links, which presents them cleanly as a title and excerpt, so putting that TinyURL in your status just looks weird.
5. Think outside the website. It’s all about the clients.
Sure, the Twitter website is a nice central place to manage your account and catch up on what you’ve missed if you’ve been away…but Twitter becomes much more useful when you can get instant notification of new tweets no matter what you’re doing. That means desktop widgets, mobile clients, and SMS.
On the desktop, I can run Twhirl, Gwibber, or any number of other clients, and get an unobtrusive notification of new posts. I can read them or ignore them without interrupting anything else I’m doing.
As for mobile devices, I’ve wanted to be able to blog from my phone for a long time. On my old RAZR, between limited web and the standard phone keys, that was a serious pain. Enter Twitter: All you have to do is be able to send an SMS text message. And for something that short, even phonespeak isn’t so bad.
Even with the G1, with its full keyboard and web access, it’s easier to just run Twidroid than to mess around with the Twitter website or with full-on blogging. (Plus the ability to instantly tweet a photo is very nice, though I’ve only used it once so far.)