Getting the Hang of Twitter

I have to confess that I thought Twitter was a bit silly when I first signed up for it (I can’t remember exactly when that was, though it seems a while ago now). In the first year or so, I hardly used it at all. While I could see the point for people with equally computer savvy friends and family to keep in touch with each other, I still thought that “real” blogs were a much better way to connect and communicate online.

While I don’t think 140 character tweets will necessarily replace the long, thoughtful, blog post, I am liking it more and more as a kind of “command central” for other social software networks, and as an information gathering device. I wish that all my Facebook friends and relations were on it, as I find it a much cleaner and more efficient interface – all the benefits of the Facebook update without the “Mafia Wars,” “Gifts” and intrusive advertising (though Twitter’s new terms of service include the announcement of ads).

People complain about the banality of Demi Moore’s or Ashton Kucher’s posts, or the opportunism of Ellen Degeneres or Oprah. Well, you don’t have to follow them! If I discover that someone (that is, some celebrity type person) is only using Twitter to announce upcoming appearances or publications, I fairly quickly “unfollow.” And, unlike in Facebook or other social software systems, you can quietly “unfollow” without drama or offense. I prefer Neil Gaiman’s blog to his “tweets,” which mostly link to his blog or repeat much of the same content. On the other hand, I like Stephen Fry’s tweets better than his blog. I follow Margaret Atwood, who does announce book launches and appearances, but also links to other things that interest her; and I have to confess to rather enjoying reading about her visits to places in England.

I find it useful for keeping track of people whose blogs I read but who use a system I’m not immediately linked to; I am on LiveJournal primarily, and it’s easy there to see when my friends have posted. When others are on an assortment of platforms, I can collect them on Bloglines or Google Reader, but it’s one more place to look – I really like it when someone whose posts I enjoy reading is on Twitter and tweets “new blog post”!

I am getting into the habit now of linking my favourite Flickr uploads, my Blip.fm activity, and my Goodreads updates to Twitter. I feel that I’m connecting them to a wider cross-section of my online network (and isn’t that what it’s all about?). Of course, that requires that all or many of my online friends are on Twitter – I wish they were! – but at least the connections are building. The more popular and all-pervasive one of these systems becomes, the more effective it can be.

Here’s a recent example of the power of Twitter: I follow Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief, who approaches Twitter as a writer. Her quick observations of her own life are always cogent and interesting. She is developing a syllabus for a course in non-fiction writing that she is going to be teaching; yesterday, or the day before, she put out a call for everyone’s choices of best writers of non-fiction. Now, through the magic of hashtags, you can find a wonderful reading list.

My own tweets tend to run to the posting of links, or of updates to my other social software activity rather than personal updates. My interest in personal updates of other people tends to diminish in relation to how well I know that person. I really enjoyed reading the tweets posted when a friend of mine recently spent some time in Washington DC, but I have less interest in some abstract person’s updates about their children or their recent purchases, and feel somewhat diffident about posting such things myself. As for those compilations of recent tweets on LJ or elsewhere? Sorry, but I don’t read them.

Something that greatly pleases me in Twitter’s new terms of service is a requirement for attribution – acknowledge the source of your material, or risk having your account suspended. This is an extremely positive step towards what I think will become the “new” global model of information gathering and sharing, and the ethical use of information.

By the way, if you are interested in following me, I’m @debbieg.

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One Response

  1. I liked your fresh and honest thoughts on Twitter. Looks like you are really starting to understand what Twitter is all about. I will follow you on Twitter.

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