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What Everybody Ought to Know About Twitter?

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is a free online service that enables you to broadcast short messages of 140 characters or fewer (aka status updates or tweets) to your friends or followers. People interested in your status updates then subscribe to follow your messages and you can subscribe to follow others. Whenever you start to follow somebody on Twitter you will instantly receive their status updates and you can read all of their messages in one place.

You can use a web browser, instant messaging, your mobile phone or you can choose from a gazillion of third party applications to access Twitter.

Watch the following CommonCraft video, which explains Twitter in Plain English:

How to get started?

The best way to find out what you think about Twitter is to experience it yourself. Go to Twitter.com and sign up for a free account. I recommend using your real name as your user name. In this way your friends will be able to find you easily.

Each user has his own profile page, in the form of Twitter.com/username (Example: my Twitter profile page is Twitter.com/RainerFalle). To customize your profile page write something about yourself, upload a picture and customize the look of your profile page. Your picture will appear next to each status update you send.

Your profile page will show information about you, who you are following and who is following you. It will also display your recent tweets (known as your timeline).

Now that you have a Twitter account, tell your friends about it!

Finding and Following people

Your Twitter experience will be defined by the people you choose to follow. Who you follow is completely up to you. During the sing-up process, Twitter will suggest some people to follow. If you are new to Twitter you can start following some of them to get used to the system.

If you already know people on Twitter you are interested in, start following them. You can use Twitters people search to find people by name. It is a little bit like coming to school for the first time. Nobody will tell you hey here is your list of new friends. Over time you will figure this out on your own.

A good way to find new interesting people is to take a look who your friends are following. Take a look at the pictures in the sidebar on your friends’ pages. Those are the users they are are following. If you click on one of those pictures, you’ll go to that user’s page.

Every time you came across a persons Twitter profile take a look at their recent tweets. If you like what you see click the “Follow” button. Following someone simply means receiving their Twitter updates. When you follow someone, every time they post a new message, it will appear in your Twitter home page. How many people you follow is up to you. Some people follow a small number, others can cope with hundreds if not thousands. Remember you can always stop following people if you are not interested in their updates any more.

When people follow you you shouldn’t feel obliged to follow them back. Just follow who is interesting to you. If you don’t want someone to follow you, e.g. a spammer, than you can easily block that person.

Sending Twitter Messages (Tweets)

There are three types of Twitter messages: status updates, @replies and direct messages.

With status updates you can answer the question “What are you doing?” However many users go beyond this simple question and use status updates to share links to interesting content, photos, videos or music on the web.

An @reply is a public Twitter message directed at a specific person. An @reply is a tweet with @username at the beginning. Your message is understood as being intended for that particular person, although others will be able to see it. However, @replies won’t show up on your followers timeline unless they are the intended recipient.

To send direct messages (DM) enter d username message (e.g. d RainerFalle How are you?) These are private messages that only the named contact will see. Direct messages appear in a special Twitter inbox. You can only send direct messages to people who follow you.

To send Twitter messages you can use the Twitter web site, instant messaging, your mobile phone or a third party applications like SharedMinds Desktop. In all these cases, your "followers" will see your tweets on their own timelines immediately.

Sharing Web Links

Since you have only 140 characters for a Tweet every character counts and nearly everyone on Twitter uses a URL shortening service like http://bit.ly. For example the URL  http://bSix12.com/put-first-things-first/ can be shortened to http://bit.ly/1AX7Pw. Most Twitter clients like SharedMinds Desktop support URL shortening.

Sharing Images

Twitter doesn’t have built-in support to attach images to its 140 character messages. However there is a large number of third-party services to fill that need. Image sharing services like TwitPic and YFrog let you attach a photo and include a shortened link to that photo. Twitter clients like SharedMinds Desktop have integrated support for various image sharing services.


When you see a tweet you really like, you can "retweet" it. Retweeting is when you take the twitter message someone else has posted, and resend that same message to your followers. In this way the message is magnified, and may go viral.

The syntax of your Retweet should start with "RT" or "Retweet" followed by the username of the person who tweeted it and then finish with the content of the actual tweet (e.g. RT @KathySierra: Lovely post on design, simplicity, user experience: http://twurl.nl/61z016)

Originally Retweets where not part of the Twitter’s core features. It was started off as a pure convention between Twitter users. Due to it’s popularity Twitter added native support for Retweets.

Twitter clients like SharedMinds Desktop have a "Retweet" button that allow you to retweet as an orignial “old-school” Retweet or as a new style Twitter Retweet.

Twitter Search

To find out what people are talking about right now you can use Twitter Search. Take a look at the trending topics – the most common phrases appearing in messages right now. They are visible in the right-hand column of your profile page. Click on a trend to see the real-time search results for this trend.

Twitter Search is a very powerful tool to find out what is happening right now. There are many ways you can search and filter Twitter messages: by trending topic, search for #hashtags, keywords, phrases, people, language etc.

Watch the following CommonCraft video, which explains Twitter Search in Plain English:


On Twitter a topic with a hash symbol (”#”) at the beginning is called a #hashtag. For example if you see a tweet like “Having fun at #mix09” then #mix09 is a #hashtag. You can use #hashtags to categorize or tag content so that related tweets can be grouped together. If everyone agrees to append a certain #hashtag to tweets about a certain topic, it becomes easier to find that topic in twitter search. The #hashtag is a favorite tool at conferences and events that allows you to talk about the event in real time and to connect to other people more easily.

Twitter Lists

Twitter Lists are a new way to organize the people on Twitter. It’s a way for you to group together other users on Twitter so that you can get an overview of what they’re up to. Lists can be public or private. Public lists will be visible in your public profile and other users can follow your public lists.

Watch the following video to learn more about Twitter Lists:

Twitter Clients.

Although many people use the Twitter web page to write and receive their tweets, there are other more convenient ways to do this. For instance, you could use a Twitter desktop client like SharedMinds Desktop, TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop. Those clients make it easy to organize, view, reply and retweet Twitter messages and to share links and photos. They all come with integrated Twitter search and support a lot of advanced features like multiple Twitter accounts.

Further Reading

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein

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