Monday, May 4, 2009

What the hell is Twitter?

Let me start off by saying that I am, in no way, a Twitter expert. I am just a guy that typed in a very popular URL and started mucking around. I do not have thousands of followers. I do not have any appropriate nerd credentials. I do not have any fancy statistics or charts to woo you with. I have only my own experiences. You might find them useful, or you might not.

Kind of like Twitter itself.

I don't remember why I first came to Twitter. I was probably flitting around the web and happened upon yet another reference to "tweeting" and finally decided to set up an account. Or, more likely, one of my tech savvy friends talked me into it. Who knows for sure. After over 800 posts, I think it's safe to say I'm addicted.

Hold on, let's back up a step.

Q: What the hell is Twitter?

Wikipedia: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets.

That's it, really. Your screen is a constant flow of thoughts, links, jokes, confessions and pictures. You will only see "tweets" from the people you choose to follow, and you have to find them on your own. You start out with nothing, but they do offer a suggested user list if you need some help. I find most of the people on that list to be boring as hell, but that's just me. I have systematically crafted my own "Following" list over time, adding and subtracting people every day.

Q: Isn't it all just Facebook status updates?

There are many people who use Twitter in this way, but I don't follow very many of them. This type of behavior is brought on by the ubiquitous "What are you doing?" that stares you down every time you log in. It's a scary question, and it will freak you out in the beginning. Feel free to ignore it, if you like. I do.

Q: Why do people give a shit what I'm doing?

They probably don't, unless you're Ashton Kutcher. In that case, 1.6 million people want to know EVERYTHING that goes through your head. Indulge them. The internet is free, right? Fill it up.

Q: So, do I have to tweet?

You don't. It's as simple as that. Just like the rest of the internet, you can be a lurker. You can let the wave of news and nerditude wash over you as you bask in the dick and fart jokes. You can walk away from it for days and then jump right back in at random, choosing to catch up or not. It's up to you.

Now, if you want to contribute, there are many ways to go about it. You can try and be funny. You can post links to interesting things you find on the web. You can take pictures of weird stuff and post them for the world to judge. You can Re-Tweet (RT) things that other people posted. You can have semi-private conversations by starting your post with @ and the person's user name. You can do all of this and more, 140 characters at a time. If you're interesting, people will follow you. If you're not, they won't. It's as simple and as heartbreakingly difficult as that.

(A note about privacy. Unless you make your Twitter stream private, anyone can find it and read what you write. It will show up on Google searches. Try not to disparage your boss and lose your job.)

I tried it. I think it's boring.

I hear this a lot and I have two things to say about this:

1. You're following the wrong people. I don't know who the right people are because I'm not you. I follow people who make me smile, feel, think and respond. I follow athletes (Shaq, Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Coco Crisp), writers (Neil Gaiman, Paul Feig, Max Barry, Nicholas Kristof, John August), celebrities (Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, Trent Reznor), Mommy Bloggers (Melissa Summers, Finslippy, Dooce, Dad Gone Mad), my friends and lots and lots of funny people. I find myself checking in hundreds of times a day because I just can't wait to see what @badbanana is tweeting about. It's a lot, which brings me to point number...

2. I get it, okay? It's a constant stream of crap to keep tabs on, and you already have four email addresses, a Facebook page, two MySpace accounts, your friend's blog, a Fantasy Baseball team and your Netflix queue to keep track of. Who has time for Twitter? I'm a busy guy, so I wasn't really a fan until I downloaded one of the Twitter apps for my iPhone (I recommend Tweetie). Suddenly, it was the perfect way to fill in the gaps in the day and it also gave me an immediate outlet for tweeting up a storm. If you don't have an iPhone, you can set up your Blackberry or Treo to do the same thing. You can even post with text messages if that's easier for you. Stuck at your computer all day? Check out TweetDeck or the full version of Tweetie. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

So, where do I start?

Create an account. Let the address book search engine thingy scour your contacts and add the people you know. Go through their pages and click on some of the people they're following, adding those who sound interesting to you. You can always unfollow them later when you can't stand them anymore (I'm looking at you, Ashton Kutcher). That's it.

Again, I am not an internet guru. I do not pretend to understand everything about this cultural phenomenon. I am just another guy trying to change the world 140 characters at a time. Come join me.

I look forward to unfollowing you,


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