You likely have already heard of Twitter. But this blog post is designed to ultimately answer the question: “What is Twitter?” and also “What is it good for?”
Twitter is what some call a microblogging service built around the concept of reporting what you’re up to, telling the world what you are doing at the moment, reporting what you’ve just discovered, or perhaps, what you’re asking others for help with… When you post to Twitter, what you write is called a “tweet.” Posting becomes tweeting. People who use Twitter might be called twitterers or tweeters. Folks who use Twitter might organize themselves into groups called a Twibe. Too geeky yet?
You can post, er, tweet to Twitter using their website or by using a client application. My favorites now for both Mac OS X and for the iPhone is Tweetie.
Twitter builds-in the concept of blog subscription into the service. While you can blog yourself away on a lonely island, Twitter is constantly trying to make the microblogging process more social. You can follow others’ tweets, and they can follow you. You can lock your “stream of consciousness” only to friends and colleagues, or decide that you will allow anyone to view what you’re writing.
There are about three or four special conventions in tweets that also extend how what you write works. First, you can direct a tweet to a particular person. You do this by using their username after the at symbol: @hendron. It’s like saying “Hey Hendron!” before your message. Others will see these.
You can also do a direct message. Only the recipient can view these. You write these like this: d hendron This is a message only you can read.
You can also use tags in your tweets to make them easier to group and find. Use the pound sign to make a hashtag: I can’t wait until #NECC09 this year in Washington, D.C. (Anyone interested in the National Educational Computing Conference will be able to see this, through the use of search tools.)
And finally, there is an unofficial convention in “retweeting” something. You’ll see a lot of tweets marked with “RT.” Let’s say I write something that you think is worth repeating, because the folks who follow you may not be the same ones following me. So, you re-tweet.
I love the concept behind Twitter. It’s far more like conversation than blogs are, but the interesting thing is the “micro” portion of the service. Twitter constricts your messages to 140 characters. That’s right! You won’t necessarily use something like Twitter to write your most profound thoughts. But connecting to the Twitterverse is like dipping an ear into the bits and bytes representing the collective thoughts of people from around the world, for as long as you want to listen.
I start my morning now looking through about 12-hours of the latest tweets by folks I follow. Some of these folks I know by name and have met them; others are simply personalities I have come to appreciate through their blogs, articles, and online personas.
If you’re thinking of giving Twitter a try, visit the site online, and sign-up for a free account. And if you’re looking for uses in schools, check out these sites centerd around Twitter for Teachers.