Twitter primer Part I

OK, so what is Twitter?

Twitter is a short-form broadcast service. “Short-form” because it’s limited to 140 characters, “broadcast” because it’s you sending a message to the world. All of it – not just your friends like Facebook, but everyone. A point worth remembering. (Here’s a recent example of a tweet ending up in the High Court in London.)

Some people tend to talk of Facebook and Twitter in the same breath, lumping all they know of that trendy term “social media” into the same basket. But it just doesn’t work like that – Twitter is about broadcasting, Facebook is about conversing. Kinda. Twitter is much more like a radio station, while Facebook is like a discussion around a pretty big table. People can ring into the radio station and comment, but there’s much more of a conversation around the table, because the environment suits it better, but you only join in if you feel like it.

Anyway, on to Twitter itself.

On Twitter, you “follow” people, and/or they follow you. “Follow” simply means that you’re interested in what they say, so you “follow” them and their tweets will show up on your twitter page. If you discover that you aren’t interested, just “unfollow” them. Dead easy.

You can set up a personal twitter account (which most people do), and you can have a business/organisation one as well. For example, I am @mickeyjuice while my photography is @juiceimaging and the website/forum I run with @blackshadow is @makingimagesau. As you can see, we’ve got accounts for ourselves, our businesses and the website/forum.

Ok, so there’s a lot of “@” signs there. That’s the twitter way of saying “this isn’t a random word, this is a person/business/organisation”. So any tweet with @juiceimaging in it will prompt twitter to let me know that I’ve been tagged in a tweet. Yeah, it sounds weird but it does make sense – one of the things it does is allow you to ‘tag’ people in a tweet, so that the person knows that you are talking to them (among others). So if someone is replying to me, then ‘@mickeyjuice’ will (generally) be at the start of the message, and I’ll know it’s directed to me.

Also, we can have stuff like #juiceimaging. (“#” is a “hashtag” in twitter speak.) It’s not tagging the person, but the idea, so anyone can join in and follow the hashtag, irrespective of who tweets it, and whether you follow them or not.  A good example is something like #afltigersfreo, which can be used to follow the AFL match between Richmond and Fremantle – anyone posting with that hashtag will show up in a search on it, so you can follow the flow of comments from people watching the Tigers give the Dockers a fair old belting. That’s obviously a pretty short-term one, but longer term would be #gotiges”, which is the “official” hashtag of the Richmond Football Club. (“Official” as in it’s the one they decided to use for themselves, it’s not assigned by anyone as such.)

Hashtags can be really useful to follow – as in when the news was coming out that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces, the following hashtags got a good workout: #osamadead #osamabinladen  #osama #september11  #osamabinladen #waronterror  #alquaeda #osamabinladendead.  Hashtags can be great deal of fun to follow – favourite band, football team, cooking style, whatever. Searching on any of them let you see what anyone using that hashtag was saying. There’s a photo website that’s new to me (and most people – it’s good, so I follow the #500px hashtag to keep up with what’s going on over there, and also to let others following that hashtag know when I’ve posted a new image.

Sometimes, you want to say something to just one person – as long as you are both following each other, you can send a “direct message”. Assuming the twitter servers don’t burp (either immediately or somewhere down the line) then it’s a private message. This is useful for contacting someone, but NOT telling the world about it. (i.e. something like “Mate, got a washer and dryer here in Collingwood if you need to get stuff clean/dry” to a friend whose washing machine has died – no need to pollute the twitterfeed with it, so send it as a DM.


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