Why Twitter?

SHELDON

It must be an emergency; everyone at the university knows that I eat my breakfast at 8 and move my bowels at 8:20

LEONARD

Yes, how did we live before Twitter?

- from The Big Bang Theory, S.2, Ep.23,The Monopolar Expedition.

When even the boys of The Big Bang Theory, champions of all things techie and geeky, appear to use Twitter merely to broadcast the minutiae of daily life, it’s no wonder tweeting is generally considered a frivolous procrastination. When I began tweeting I did so with no idea of what it was except that it was another social networking site which my fellow Japan Bloggers were jumping aboard to promote their blogs. I figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to try it out and see if I could give them a hand here and there. Approximately one year and 2,246 tweets later, I’m completely hooked on Twitter as an information resource which I have tailored to my needs and interests.

How Twitter Works

Because there are no stupid questions: a basic run down.

31) People make observations, ask questions, answer questions and broadcast information in the form of  a tweet - a text message which can be no longer than 140 characters.

2) Those observations, questions and information are seen by anyone who is either mentioned in the tweet (by means of their twitter name with an @ symbol in front of it) or anyone who has chosen to ‘follow’ all of the tweets of the person writing.

3)Repeat 1 & 2 on ridiculously huge, entangled scale.

How Twitter Becomes Useful

When we first begin, invariably we all follow the tweets of friends and family who have told us their Twitter name (I’m Danisidhe btw, nice to tweet you. Sorry.) We send them a tweet telling them we are on and they then follow us. At this stage, it is understandable that people think that this is just another Facebook or mySpace but without snappy (?) layout or pictures and, if you never go beyond friends and family, that’s true and you can use it that way but you’re not using Twitter to its full, wonderful extent.

The real key to Twitter is to give in to the curious cat within and risk one of your nine lives. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Note that when you choose to follow someone, you follow all of their tweets. When someone that you are following sends a message or replies to someone that they are following, you will see that message BUT you won’t know what on earth they are replying to. If your friend’s message catches your interest, click on that other person’s name and you will be taken to their page where you will see their last several tweets (possibly including the tweet to which your friend was replying, depending on the time your friend took to respond.) If the tweets on your friend’s friend’s page are of interest to you, you can choose to follow them, too.

Unless they have locked their account for privacy, in which case you won’t see any of their tweets at all, you can follow someone without getting permission like you need to in Facebook etc. If they see that you are following them and they don’t wish you to, they can block you (just as you can block people) but since Twitter is really a public information stream (so no-one should be twittering something they can’t risk strangers seeing) there is no reason that they should need to do that unless you harass or spam them. Note that following them doesn’t mean that they are following you, nor does it create any kind of social contract requiring them to do so.

5And that’s how the tailoring begins.

Through the judicious use of ‘spying’ on people with whom your ‘twitter friends’ are conversing and following those with similar interests, you will soon find your Twitter stream is filled with useful information that you could never have gathered on your own.

It is always worthwhile checking out who is following you because chances are they share your interests and therefore might be worth following but who follows you won’t really matter to you unless you are using twitter as a way to promote something. Promoter tweeters devote their whole twitter-being to writing targeted tweets to attract as many followers as possible but that is only one use of Twitter and one that requires careful execution lest you become so obviously one-eyed that you are boring and people, like me, stop following you.

How I use Twitter

Professional Development & Community

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Most of the people I now follow and who follow me are writers, both budding and jobbing, print and screen, and there is quite a community. We share links to articles or posts from writers or publishing industry types on writing craft, tips on getting published, publishing trends, competitions… you get the picture. My RSS readers has blossomed since joining twitter as I add blogs recommended by my fellow writers or the blogs of those who’s tweets always intrigue. We support each other through the use of #tags like #writegoal – wherein we might tweet: “#writegoal today, 2000 words” then, at the end of the day we will tweet: “Woohoo #writegoal met plus 146 words!” and anyone who happens to be looking at the #writegoal search at the time of your report tweet will send you a ‘”woohoo, well done!” tweet. It might sound silly to some but when you’re sitting at a computer alone (as writers tend to be) just knowing you’ve made the public commitment and getting some positive feedback when you’re done can be great.

Here’s a tweet I received in my stream today from @BookEditorLM:

RT @BookBundlz "The Book Pick" Contest Deadline = 11/16 Enter yr novel, memoir; self-pub ok http://bit.ly/4nUd12 #Authors #Writers #Books”

In that tweet: @BookEditorLM re-tweeted (i.e., copied the original and sent it as her own tweet indicating it with RT) a tweet from @BookBundlz announcing a competition with a link to where you can enter. They also added #tags to the tweet so that any writers who regularly search twitter for any tweets containing those #tags will see it, too. In fact, I saw that tweet because I have a permanent search set up for any tweet containing “#writers” – not because I follow @BookEditorLM (though I do now!).

Now, I’m not actually interested in this particular competition but there are two things I might do with this tweet 1) I can click on @BookBundlz and see if they regularly tweet about competitions and thus might be worth following in case they mention one I am interested in and 2) I can re-tweet it myself so that any writers who follow me will be sure to see it (in case they don’t follow @BookBundlz , @BookEditorLM or any of the #tags.)

I follow #tags by using a desktop (i.e. not in a browser) application called Tweetdeck, which I highly recommend. I set up a search for, for example  #writegoal and Tweetdeck gives me a separate column for it and updates it automatically at whatever interval I tell it to (Twitter traffic permitting.)

Some of the #tags worth following if you are a writer #writers, #writechat (this one has a tweetchat which occurs at 4am Monday morning Japan time, for which I occasionally stay up and is always worth it,) #writegoal. There are heaps of others which I might duck into temporarily if I find out something is happening in it (usually by people adding one of the above #tags to a relevant tweet.) A currently busy one is #nanowrimo for all those participating this year!

Journal/Travel Diary

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Those of you who subscribe to my feed will be vaguely familiar with this use because it is the reason you are hit with a “My Week in Tweets” post every Sunday night, Japan time. I’ve never been much of a journal-er because I’ve always felt there is a kind of wallowing, if not dishonesty, in trying to write down what you remember were your thoughts and/or feelings at the time something happened. With Twitter, you can record your observations as they occur (circumstances permitting, of course) and have a real record of what mattered to you enough to Tweet it at the time, rather than what you think is appropriate to record later.

Using a wordpress plugin by the wonderful Alex King called Twitter Tools, all the tweets from the week (that are not direct replies to other tweets) are published as a post on my blog, giving me a permanent record of my tweets. So, though I also have in mind keeping my friends and family in touch with my activities, it is often this that I am thinking of when I take a low quality photo with my phone and send it via email to Tweetphoto, with a comment in the subject line that becomes the tweet (GOD I LOVE Japanese phone internet lol.)

Using Twitter this way is a little different because it is not really about communicating with others and so isn’t something that Twitter is actually made to do, in fact, I don’t think it can be done without also having a blog with a plugin like Twittertools installed (there may be a way to have all your tweets emailed to you but I haven’t checked that out). Of course you also need a decent mobile internet solution, I don’t know how I’ll do it in Australia :(

Shameless Plug for Friend:

Speaking of travel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my dear friend @ShaneSakata’s tweetchat using the #tag: #japantravel which occurs for an hour from Midday on Fridays, Tokyo time and is a wonderful resource for anyone planning a trip to or already travelling within Japan. You can find details and/or actually follow the tweetchat without an application like Tweetdeck here

/Plug ends :)

Keeping in Touch

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Obviously I do use Twitter to keep in touch with friends in a similar way that one does on Facebook (which I only recently joined and I admit is mostly updated by clicking the ‘facebook’ button on the application I use to handle Twitter and posting to both services at once.)

Twitter does have a Direct Message function which enables you to send a tweet privately to one person (still 140 chars) and I admit to being more quickly contactable that way than by email these days. I check my email once a day (at best) while I check twitter many times a day (hence I have been known to request a virtual slap from my #writegoal friends if I tweet again within a certain time frame!) In fact a recent trip to Tokyo, to meet up with a friend for a two day feast of cookware and ceramics shops on Kappabashi, was planned entirely via Twitter and I even updated her on my travel status from the Shinkansen when I had web access on my phone but could not call or SMS her.

So, that’s why and how I use Twitter. How do you use it? And if you don’t, will you join ussss?

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