Let’s talk Twitter

Blair Hanley Frank

I’ll come right out and say it: Twitter is weird. The very idea that you would want to broadcast your life in 140-character bursts appears to be rather absurd. That’s just the thing: Twitter isn’t for everyone. Unlike Facebook and the like, Twitter isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all social network.

So here’s the question: what is Twitter, what can it do and can it fit in with your lifestyle?

In a nutshell, Twitter is a platform for sharing your thoughts, musings, goings-on, and other tidbits about your life in 140-character “tweets.” If you think that Twitter is a lot like Facebook’s status update feature, you’re absolutely right. Twitter came before Facebook started using the status update system. After Facebook noticed Twitter was stealing market share, they implemented features like the live-updating news feed and the status update system.

For most people, Facebook works great. It combines the instant updates of Twitter with all of the photo sharing, networking and fun that you can expect from a traditional social network. But for some of us, we can be well-served by becoming members of the Twitterati.

To assist in deciding whether or not you want to join our ranks, I’ve created a handy five-question quiz:

  1. Do you know friends who are already using Twitter?
  2. Do you want to know what celebrities like Shaquile O’Neal, Ashton Kutcher, MC Hammer, Lance Armstrong, and Ben Folds have to say?
  3. Does the idea of broadcasting your thoughts appeal to you?
  4. Do you obsessively refresh your Facebook page to see if there are new status updates from your friends?
  5. Does the idea of being able to hear about everything, instantaneously, appeal to you?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of those questions, congratulations! You’re a perfect candidate for Twitter.

If you answered “yes” to questions one and three, you’d probably get a lot out of Twitter. If you don’t fit either of those conditions, chances are you already think Twitter is stupid and pointless. You’d have to work really hard to fit Twitter in with your life.

How can you get the most out of Twitter? First things first, get an account. You can’t tweet without an account to do it on. Second, I’d recommend that you get a desktop client. For Mac OS X, I recommend The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific, which comes in both free and paid flavors. For Windows, I’m a fan of Tweetdeck, as well as thirteen23’s Blu.

A desktop client downloads tweets from Twitter, and allows you to view them as they are broadcasted without having to take the time to navigate to the Twitter website, which is really handy when you want to keep track of your friends’ updates.

If you have a smartphone, chances are, there’s also a Twitter app for your phone. On the iPhone/iPod Touch, Twitterrific for iPhone is a good pick, as well as Tweetie from AteBits software. There are comparable apps for Android and Palm’s WebOS as well. For those of you who don’t have smartphones, you can set Twitter up to send and receive tweets from your conventional phone through SMS.

Why set up all of these crazy things? Simple: they’re what make Twitter great. You can follow what’s going on without having to constantly refresh the website, and with a few keystrokes or button presses on your cell, reply to what your friends are saying.

So, if you see yourself ready to make the leap of faith and become one of the many Tweeps out there, be my guest. Take the plunge. It might work out, it might not. Heck, you may even end up in a book.