What is Twitter and how do I use it?

December 31, 2008

in Internet,mobile computing,social networking

By Tina Gasperson

If you spend any time at all on the Internet, you’ve probably been exposed to the term “social networking.” You may be familiar with sites like Myspace andFacebook are common examples of social networking Web sites, where users are connected to each other via friend lists. When you sign up for an account on one of these sites, you can find your friends, family, and acquaintances, put them on your friend list, and get notified whenever one of them updates their information or posts new photos.

Twitter is another example of a social network, but with a few differences that make it a little less intuitive for new users. The most important feature of Twitter is the status update, sometimes called a “tweet”. Users send frequent tweets of 140 characters or less that let their network of followers know what they’re doing right now. Veteran Twitter users swear by the service, saying it keeps them connected to other people in their network. Twitter provides business networking opportunities along with purely social “gab,” say fans of the service, that make it an invaluable part of their online life.
So how do you use Twitter? Like other social networking sites, you need to register and select a username and password. Then you start searching for people to “follow.” This is much the same as “friending” someone on Facebook or Myspace. The difference is that on Twitter, you can follow anyone and receive their updates without them following you back, and vice versa. A good place to start finding people to follow on Twitter is your email contact list. If you use a Web mail service, Twitter can search your contacts to see if any of them are already Twitter users, then present you with a list that makes it easy to select people to follow. Those people will receive a notice that you’ve started to follow them, and they’ll have the option to follow you back – or not.

Remember that with Twitter, it’s all about the updates. When you visit your Twitter page, you will see that it is a running tabulation of all the latest status updates from people those whom you are following, and a text entry box where you can enter a tweet of your own. Connect your Twitter account with your mobile device, and you can send tweets from the street, or Starbucks, or your favorite dress shop, to let your followers know what’s going on in your life. It may sound a little strange now, but give it a try. Millions of Twitter-ers can’t be wrong, right?

Tina Gasperson (tinahdee@gmail.com), affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.