Monday, August 10, 2009

Twitter for beginners - Part One: The Follow

Like most people that resisted joining Twitter, I did my fair share of mocking it. I looked at a few indecipherable pages of other people's twitter feeds and didn't get the attraction. I told myself I didn't need another social media forum. I only recently joined Facebook and it was already sucking up enough of my time. But as more of my friends signed up, I struggled with a growing sense that I was missing out on something good. And eventually my curiousity prevailed and I signed up.

I told myself, I wasn't going to tweet. That I just was going to register so I could access more of the pages. That was what, a couple of weeks ago? Now, some 600+ tweets later, I'm a total convert and have figured a few things out that seem worth passing on. So let me start by telling you that Twitter is what you make of it. Whether you use it as another social forum or as a tool depends on how you set it up.

The first thing you want to do when you sign up is to follow people. If you already have friends there and know their usernames, you'll, of course, start with them. If all you want to do is socialize, then you're done. Chances are they will follow you back and you're ready to chat. However, if you want to use Twitter as a link aggregator, then you have to figure out not only who else to follow, but how many you're willing to add.

When people told me they were following hundreds of people, I thought that was crazy. But it's not uncommon to see users who follow 1000s. I started with about 25, but I'm already up to 90. I expect I'll add more but intend to keep it within 200-300, which isn't as overwhelming as it sounds. The trick is to structure your follow list to enough people who are talking to each other that the conversations make sense, but to avoid adding too many prolific updaters so your tweet stream doesn't get out of control.

I had to do some tweaking to avoid too much repetition of the same links. For instance I was following several newswires and dropped most of them because there were too many tweets. The one problem with Twitter is everyone uses tiny links so you don't know where you're going when you click out. However the advantage over Facebook is that the links open directly into a new window and when you close out you don't lose your place in the stream.

I'm happy enough with my current list. I have all the personal friends I could find so far. Many of them barely tweet at all. A few of them tweet all day long and post links I'm interested in, which is why I dropped the newswires. I don't follow any celebrities, nor do I follow some of the more popular and prolific tweeters like AnaMarieCox, Kos, Shoq or pourmecoffee. If they say anything particularly noteworthy, it gets retweeted.

For strangers, I started out following mostly media people and usually only one from any source. Jamison Foser of Media Matters. Chris Hayes of The Nation. Adam Serwer of The Prospect. Jake Tapper of ABC. Rick Sanchez of CNN. Greg Mitchell of E&P. Taegan Goddard of PR Wire. And of course, my pretend boyfriend Mark Knoller of CBS. I also follow Jay Rosen, who may be the most prolific tweeter ever and whose tweets are often more like a journalism lecture than a conversation, but I like that. You learn a lot from him. I also have Karl Rove and John McCain for entertainment value.

Anyway, your follow list is going to define your experience. Starting slow and letting it build organically worked for me. It's a good way to jump in without drowning in the tweet stream. [graphic]

[More posts daily at The Detroit News]


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Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

It's hard to respect something with such an intentionally infantile name and as much as some may use it seriously, it's given a voice -- or at least the ability to make more noise -- to a new and even lower order of people with even less of value to say.

Sorry, but it's my duty as Internet Ayatollah, to pronounce Fatwah on the whole silly thing.

9:09:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Too late for me Fogg. I've been indoctrinated and found some value in it.

1:36:00 PM  

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