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Why Should You Try Twitter? The Value, As I See It

I just wrote what became a rather long and detailed email in response to a friend and coworker’s question “why should I care about Twitter?” Even though it’s by no means exhaustive (I could come up with a lot more reasons!), this is what I shared “off the top of my head”, and it needs to be blogged. Remember, this is aimed at someone who I assume has no knowledge of what Twitter is or does.

The value of Twitter, to me, comes as a tool to communicate with my chosen network of people. You only ever see “microposts” (limited to 140 chars) from people you explicitly “follow”. So, no spam, ever, and you control the flow.

It’s become TREMENDOUSLY useful for me to quickly, easily communicate with people I know, and communicate to them what I’m up to, or what I’m thinking. I tend to think of what I put on Twitter as “microposts” – stuff I might have otherwise blogged, or might not have. It can be very conversational, and very ephemeral – you go with the flow, and don’t worry about missing something. It’s a river of conversation you can participate in or ignore as you choose.

Watch this video from Common Craft, which does a great job of explaining Twitter in Plain English:


I’m jabancroft on Twitter if you want to see the kinds of things I post (I’m an edge case – I tweet a LOT) or follow me.

I’d suggest starting out with a small network, and ONLY add people you know in Real Life (or know well otherwise). Don’t feel like you have to reciprocally follow back any people who discover and follow you. Feel free to un-follow people you feel are being too noisy. They don’t get notice that you’ve dropped them, and won’t be offended. You have the right to spend your attention as you see fit.

If you want to get an idea of some Intel people that are using Twitter, look at http://twitter.com/pulseofintel/friends and http://twitter.com/pulseofintel/with_friends (part of a little mashup I’m playing with, but haven’t “launched” yet). There’s also PulseofPDX.com (see what people in Portland are tweeting – the “Stream of Portland’s Collective Consciousness”)

You can use Twitter via the web site, IM, SMS, or use a desktop Twitter application like Twitteriffic (my favorite, Mac only), Spaz, Twhirl, or Snitter (all three use Adobe AIR, so Windows or Mac).

Ignore the public timeline, or any tweets/messages from people you don’t know. It’s impossible to see the value of Twitter when you’re looking at messages from strangers about what they had for lunch, or the fact that their cat is taking a nap. :-)

It’s OK if you’re not interested, or if you decide that Twitter’s not for you. It’s hard to explain to someone, but if you give it a fair shot, you might like it. Let me know if you have any questions, and let me know if you sign up, so I can follow you! :-)

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15 thoughts on “Why Should You Try Twitter? The Value, As I See It

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  3. Just trying it is good advice, but maybe not good enough. I tried it, didn’t get it, and stopped for months. I came back later and now enjoy it. (My followers on the other hand…) Managing the number I follow has been my difficulty.

    Here’s another take on Twitter, family style.

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  5. I had the twitter conversation with my parents a couple weeks ago. One one hand, they were horrified that I was putting details of my life on the internet. On the other hand, it meant they didn’t have to analyze what exactly I meant by, “What’s new? Not much.” Now they love it, although now they ask me to explain everything I mention in my tweets. They don’t get rickrolling at all.

    Oh and uh, hi! I’ve been following you on the arslounge feed for a while.

  6. @Jen that’s hilarious. Have you rickrolled your parents? 😉

    I can’t even imagine trying to explain Twitter to my parents, but they’re special cases. I don’t think either of them have ever sent an email or been on the web. They live in Utah, and I don’t have much contact with them, but once in a while, my mom calls me and tells me she tried to email me (from her sister’s house or whatever), and she couldn’t get either of my “email numbers” to work. I asked her what she was using, and she said she tried http://www.gadgetfamily.org, and http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com, but they wouldn’t go through. 😉

    BTW, your blog looks great. Wonderful photography.

  7. I have! It’s not as much fun when the victim thanks you, with much confusion, for the video link. 😉

    Haha, that’s awesome. I have to ask, what do they say when you ask what’s on their desktop? I tried to troubleshoot an error my mom had once, and when I asked her that question, she said, “a few pencils, paper clips, receipts, coffee, books- oh by the way, have you read…”

    Thank you. :) I’m trying to get back into my photography groove.

  8. “Ignore the public timeline, or any tweets/messages from people you don’t know.”

    I agree with that but I’ll add a caveat. And that’s about the “track” feature of Twitter. It is not available on the twitter website or in any Twitter API using desktop clients, and can only be used through IM or SMS, as far as I know. With the track feature you can receive tweets that match keywords you provide in real time, irrespective of who wrote it. It provides you with a subject based stream of conversation interspersed with the people based stream you follow. As such it can open new horizons and make twitter even more useful to you. I have found it useful.

  9. @Jen – I never have to ask what’s on their desktop – neither of them own computers, and probably never will. :-)

    @Sam – That’s definitely a good tip, though I’ve found I never use it, because I get WAY too much tweet volume for SMS (ask me about the $350 phone bill I got one month because I thought my 1500 SMS plan was an Unlimited SMS plan…), and Twitter via IM never works for me – way too unstable.

    However, I usually accomplish the same thing with a search RSS feed from TweetScan.com – there are several topics/names (including variations of my own) that I follow that way, and just get it all in Google Reader with my 500+ other feed subscriptions. :-)

    Perhaps I should do an “Advanced Twitter Kung Fu” post with more expert tips like that, how to follow conversations on Quotably.com, how to use hashtags, cool mashups like tweetpeek.com, etc. I’ll get right on that, in my copious free time. 😉

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