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Getting the Hang of Twitter

cross-posted on College English

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.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2009 03:20 pm (UTC)
My husband feels the same way about Twitter versus Facebook.

I sort of enjoy Twitter in a passive way--following others--but I'm stymied by how to post on it. I feel self-conscious posting things about my own day, and yet at the same time I worry that if I merely respond to people, that makes my posts extremely boring (incomprehensible, really) for people who may be following me but not the person I'm responding to.

Maybe one day I'll get the knack. I'll add you.
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
have added you back :-)
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
I just "followed" you!
Sep. 15th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
Yay! Got you back :-) (and nice to see your face)
Sep. 17th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I shall check it out. Time is my issue, really. So little of it, so many yearnings to fulfill.
Sep. 17th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
I hate to admit it, but one of the things I like about Twitter is its brevity. I can get a quick update about people who interest me, with the option to follow up if I want to. I'm finding that as I find more efficient systems, the time aspect is actually more manageable.
Sep. 17th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
I was thinking more about the proliferation of people. I just think about the days when I fritter my time away in ten or twenty-minute chats and leave a lot of substantial things undone or done in a rush . . .
Sep. 17th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yes - good point. I have to consciously limit my time browsing these things - say over breakfast, or after supper or just before bed. I also only read the most current Twitter updates. There's a system whereby you can find replies to yours, and you can go direct to the pages of people that you don't want to miss.
Sep. 19th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
This was interesting. Thank you for writing it. I still worry that Twitter would swallow too much of time, that I wouldn't be good about managing and limiting it. But it's good to know what you're finding useful about it.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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