A number of friends (who don’t work in technology) have recently asked me to explain how to user Twitter to them. Thus below is a brief introduction to Twitter. While I’ve called this blog entry "Beginner’s Introduction to Twitter." If you’re currently a casual Twitter user, you may find the later parts useful too.
Twitter: What are you doing in 140 characters
The basic premise of Twitter is that you post brief statements about what you’re doing; and other people can "follow" your updates. If you’re already a Facebook or Windows Live Messenger user, you’re likely familiar with status updates. Twitter’s primary content type is similarly a short text update.
Twitter’s value: TXT
While Twitter has a website (http://twitter.com), a mobile website (http://m.twitter.com), and tons of client applications like TwitterBerry for BlackBerry, in my opinion, a big part of the value of Twitter is the real-time conversations that take place. And while some people may want to get a special application for their mobile device, I describe all of the examples below using the TXT/SMS commands that nearly everyone can send from their mobile phones.
1. Getting Started: Follow
Take out your mobile phone and TXT "follow robdolin" to 40404. You will get a TXT back asking you to choose a username. Reply with a username without spaces (ex: JohnSmith.) Unlike many social networks like Facebook and MySpace where you invite someone to be a friend and then they must accept your request; Twitter’s model is one-way. Thus, you can "follow" anyone like Ashton Kutcher or Shaquille O’Neal without them needing to accept your friend request or reciprocate the follow. You can encourage your friends to follow you by TXT’ing "follow username" to 40404 where "username" is the username you chose.
2. Your First Tweet
OK, now let’s post your first Tweet (or Twitter status update.) TXT a message of your choice to 40404. (Make sure to keep it under 140 characters.) Now, if you want to see your Tweet, point a web browser to http://twitter.com/username or a mobile web browser to http://m.twitter.com/username (where "username" is the username you chose in step 1.)
3. Finding people to follow
If you don’t already have friends on Twitter, I’d recommend following CNN Breaking News (TXT "follow cnnbrk" to 40404.) It’s a great example of how having real-time status can be really interesting or useful. You might also visit http://search.twitter.com/ and search for "#FollowFriday" to see recommendations from people of who they’re following. You can also look at who one of the people you like is following (ex: http://twitter.com/friends)
A convention has developed on Twitter where you can publicly reply to another user. You do this by starting a message with @username where "username" is the username of the person you’re replying to. This @reply (pronounced "at reply") will only fan-out to people who are mutual followers of you and the people you replies to. To send an @reply, try TXT’ing "@robdolin Thanks for the blog entry about Twitter" to 40404. Note that you can use @username anywhere in a message, but only @username at the front has the special semantics of only fanning-out to your mutual followers.
5. Direct Messages
An alternative to the public @reply is a direct message (sometimes called a DM.) Direct messages are messages between two users that are not public. You send a direct message: TXT "d username message" to 40404 where "username" is the username of the person you want to send a message to and "message" is the text of your message. Note that you can only send direct messages to people who are following you.
Finally, if you find someone else’s tweet to be really insightful (or funny) and want to share it, you can re-tweet (or RT) it. For example, try TXT’ing "RT @robdolin Beginner’s Introduction to Twitter posted at http://blog.robdolin.com/" to 40404.
If someone you’re following is getting too chatty (or you’re running out of TXT’s in your service plan), you can TXT "leave username" to 40404 and you will stop following that person.
Hopefully this blog entry has helped you understand the basics (and beyond) of how to user Twitter. If you have questions, suggestions, or feedback for a later blog entry, please leave a comment (or @reply.) Take care–