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July 18, 2009

What is this Twitter thing?

(Facebook friends have seen this, but nobody else has)

When I first got the invite to join Twitter back in the summer of 2008 (I think it was from my brother, but I'm not 100% sure), I didn't really know what to make of it. I was on Facebook, and Twitter just seemed to be a place to put status updates. "Heading to the gym!" or "I'm going to bed now" or even "Having a peanut butter sandwich." This is back when Facebook's "updates" were more along those lines ("David is wondering what this Twitter thing is" and stuff like that). I posted once about "not really knowing what to do with this Twitter thing" and ignored it after that.

Then, one of my students found me on Twitter (Hi, Bernadette!) over Christmas and I looked into it a bit more. And what I found piqued my interest. People are actually *talking* in Twitter! They're passing along information! So I read a few of Bernadette's followers, did a search on some interesting people, and fell into a world that I haven't left since, 969 posts later (note to self: make 1000th post especially interesting). I'm following 181 people and have 160 followers myself. I also started a MET program Twitter feed for work, posting updates about the program and other e-learning stuff and it's been pretty popular.

So, just what is Twitter? What are you missing out on? Twitter is a social media phenomenon where you post "Tweets" that are a maximum of 140 characters long. That doesn't seem like much, does it? But it's amazing what you can say in that amount of space, especially with Internet shortcuts like "b4" instead of "before." Some people use it for extremely banal reasons, like "I'm eating ice cream!", but those people hardly have any followers and nobody really cares about them. There are so many other users out there who are interesting. If you're interested in something, most likely somebody's tweeting about it. Interested in "Days of Our Lives?" There's a twitter feed for it where you can get information on schedule preemptions ("NOTICE:The Tues. (Jul. 7) episode of DAYS will be preempted due to Michael Jackson funeral coverage. The episode will now air Wed. (Jul. 8)") or even information on what some of the actors are doing ("Stars Nadia Bjorlin + Eric Martsolf to sing at Dodger Stadium this Saturday, June 6! Details here: http://tinyurl.com/o78qbw "). And people are talking about it if you do a search on that string (make sure you put the quotes in, like this: "Days of Our Lives").

What about politics? That's one of the major areas of Twitter that I follow. Pundits like Karl Rove and Alan Colmes are on there, giving their thoughts on politics and also promoting their activities, of course. Even the president has a twitter feed, though of course he doesn't contribute to it himself, I'm sure. Some politicians do their own feeds (being from Iowa, I love Chuck Grassley's feed) and others have theirs done for them (the infamous Mark Sanford, for instance). Twitter really made a name for itself during the recent Iranian unrest, which is still going on (as is the Tweeting about it!). It allowed protestors on the street to get around the official blackout of the web and other social media services. It allowed videos of the atrocities to reach the outside world. It was amazing, and I did as much as I could to forward these tweets along.

But it's not all politics. Celebrities post (Ashton Kutcher famously had a contest to see who would reach 1 million followers first, him or CNN). Sports figures post (Shaq posted from the locker room at halftime once). Even reporters (the best is Jake Tapper, of ABC News: ). I follow Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, and he's actually a pretty interesting tweeter, to name one example. People like you and me post. As long as you're posting more than your daily routine ("Heading out to Outback Steakhouse for a nice, juicy steak!" posts are fine occasionally, but if that's all you post, who cares?), then you'll pick up some readers. What are you thinking about? What are you doing that somebody might be interested in? If you're in business, promote yourself a little bit. Pass along an interesting article that you think everybody should read.

What would I suggest? Sign up for a Twitter account (URL posted above) and then do a search on some topics you might be interested in ("scrapbooking" got a lot of hits) and see what people are saying. Or click on "Find People" and type in what you're interested in. You may find some people in that field who really know what they're talking about ("scrapbooking" got a lot of hits here, too). Go to their profile and see what they're talking about! Maybe you might want to join the conversation too.

This is in danger of going on too long ("it already is!" yells the Peanut Gallery), so I'll stop for now. My profile is here, and feel free to take a look at mine as well. I'm not vain enough to hold myself as a shining example of how to Tweet, but I like to think I'm pretty good. If there's enough interest, I may post more thoughts on Twitter. Let me know!

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