UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Getting Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 October 2008

I think Twitter has been the first application I’ve come across where people talk about ‘not getting it’. Such comments don’t reflect a lack of understanding of how the software works or how to use the software but what purpose it services and how it can be beneficial to the user. And as we know Twitter fans can be passionate about the benefits it can bring.

A Google search for “getting twitter” reveals an early example of someone who didn’t get Twitter back in March 2007, with a response from DrewB who commented:

Twitter will be huge. Nobody gets it at first. For sure it seems strange and it won’t be for everyone, but what it allows consumers to do will be re-spun in various ways, and soon having open, cross-platform conversations across instant messenger, SMS, blogs and RSS will make one-dimensional conversations like this message-board style blogging malarky seem really backward.

There are now various resources which provide advice on how to ‘get Twitter’ including one from PC World. Rather than repeating ny of the suggestions given in that article I will make a couple of my own suggestions:

Unless your intended use of Twitter is for communications across a closed group (e.g. keeping in touch with your family) you will need to follow a sufficient number of other Twitterers in order to gain the benefits provided by a sustainable community.

If you only follow one Twitterer you are probably a stalker rather than a member of a community :-) This stuck me when one (female) colleague decided to test Twitter by following me (and only me) and having my tweets delivered via SMS. I hate to think what her husband made of the frequency with which her mobile phone beeped when she received my tweets :-)

Twitter probably doesn’t work for lurkers; effective use of Twitter is likely to be gained by people who are willing to tweet.

You should respond to other people’s queries and comments if you expect people to respond to queries you may send.

You need to understand that @ and D commands and how such messages intended for a particular person (@) and sent only to a particular person (D) will be processed.

You should try and understand the various Twitter clients work and, if you choose to use one, learn how to configure it to suit your particular preferences.  

An example of a Twitter client. Tweetdeck, is shown below which illustrates my Twitter stream, tweets I have brought together in a group I have set up (based on people who live in or near Bath) and the results of a local search (tweets from my Twitter followers containing the string ‘JISC’). I also have a global search for ‘UKOLN’ which contains details of all tweets containing this string, although this isn’t included in the screen shot. 

From this I can see some figures on the popularity of social networks at the University of Leicester (Facebook is very popular, it seems), sympathise with Martin Weller who seems to be somewhat reluctantly reading EU reports and, see Talat request for access to a Fedora test application.  Over in the Bath group, I can see t1mmyb providing a suggestion to pip, see discussions relating to repositories between Talat and PeteJ and eavesdrop of music discussions.  Finally looked at tweets from my followers containing ‘JISC’ I can see further sharing of resources between Talat and PeteJ, an announcement of a repository deposit in Facebook using SWORD (this was news to me), my response to a query from AlisonWildish and, finally,  ostephens sharing his frustrations at the lack of RSS feeds on a Web site discussing the future of libraries.

Does this help you get it? If you still don’t get it, perhaps Dave Flanders post on What is Twitter? might help, with its explanation of the role Twitter can play in the development of an online community:

Twitter is small talk: a way of interfacing with other humans in a way that gives out information that may be meaningless in terms of content (“what the weather is like”, “how the sports teams are playing”, “what the hotel is like” etc) but is valuable in terms of establishing set patterns of trusting and communicating further information with one another. 

For Dave, it’s the building of trust relationships which are an important aspect of Twitter – something I’d not really thought about until I read Dave’s post.

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7 Responses to “Getting Twitter”

  1. Ah, but the key question for me is what consitutes a sensible sized community? I follow about 80 people at the moment and only a few of them use Twitter to any extent so I find it easy to keep up. I think that if use the resource you’ve mentioned I could certainly follow a couple of hundred (which is where my RSS feeds seem to have settled at). I don’t see the point in following thousands though since the SN ratio is going to go off the screen I suspect. I see that you’re still below the 200 point – where’s your limit going to be, do you think?

  2. ajcann said

    @ Phil: Dunbar’s Number: http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/2007/10/dunbars-number.html

  3. Brian, great article, I’ve struggled to understand what Twitter is about and it’s potential uses in Government. I’ll admit I’m no further on with the latter but you’ve given me enough food for thought.

  4. I think twitter’s one of those apps you only really ‘get’ fully by having a go. It doesn’t really make that much sense explained.

    I am personally finding the community size a problem and I do find twitter can be a real time sink. I wonder how you and others manage it with the number of people you follow and amount of tweets you make – maybe you’ve nowt else to do ;). I also find that if you’re not contributing frequently that it can seem quite exclusive and one can easily be ignored.

    Ade

  5. ostephens said

    I’m currently following 96 people, and on past experience it is around this number that I start to feel the need to cut back a bit. I think part of the question is whether you feel you need to ‘catchup’ on missed tweets. I suspect the healthiest approach is to feel it is something you dip in and out of, rather than ‘keep up’ with – after all, you don’t feel the need to know all the conversations your friends have had while you weren’t there do you?

    I have to admit that this is more easily said than done (for me at any rate). Also there is an issue with international communities if you only read Tweets when you are logged in – you won’t tend to see people working in certain timezones – I ended up unfollowing quite a few US based people because they were having conversations overnight that I simply was never going to be part of, and wasn’t bothered enough about to catch up on.

    I can understand what Ade says about it feeling exclusive, but I suspect that is true of any group of people chatting when you don’t join in – you don’t join in because you feel on the edge of the conversation, and you are on the edge because you don’t join in. I’ve actually found that people on twitter generally are inclusive when people take part – if you tweet at them, they tend to tweet back.

  6. I’m glad I’ve not the only one who dosen’t ‘get’ Twitter…

  7. [...] Getting Twitter Useful getting started guide to Twitter written in an accessible way. "If you only follow one Twitterer you are probably a stalker rather than a member of a community This stuck me when one (female) colleague decided to test Twitter by following me (and only me) and having my tweets delivered via SMS. I hate to think what her husband made of the frequency with which her mobile phone beeped when she received my tweets " (tags: web2.0 twitter socialmedia socialnetworking howto) [...]

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