Geek Chic of the Week: Twitter

Sorry this post is so delayed, but I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy on Tuesday, October 7 and he is keeping me very busy! Anyway, I promised in an earlier post from the MIMA Summit that I’d talk about Twitter. Coincidentally, that same week we also got an email from geeky reader Maile in Los Angeles wondering: “Why should I use Twitter?”

Let’s start with Maile’s question: what I think she’s really asking is “Is Twitter relevant to me or is it some piece of crap I should ignore?” I can’t really answer that, but I can tell you everything I know about it and you can decide if it’s relevant to you, or if you want to file it under “stuff those crazy kids are doing on the interweb.”

What is it?

If I had to boil Twitter down into a brief description, it would be that it allows you to give others a brief snapshot into what you are doing, thinking, or looking at right now. It’s faster, easier and more portable than a blog.

Here’s what Twitter says it is: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

Not to keep relying on Common Craft, but damn. Those guys make some awesome videos. Here’s how they explain Twitter:

Here’s how I use it:

I first heard about Twitter in March 2007, on an episode of Future Tense on MPR. It sounded interesting, and my personal blog was in a state of utter neglect; it was time to close the coffin and bury it. So, using Twitter as a sort of “micro-blog” was intriguiging to me. I liked the idea of keeping people updated on what I was up to without the commitment of a full blog post. I posted about Twitter on a Clockwork blog (speaking of neglected…) and a few co-workers signed up. Then I slowly started gathering non-work “Followers.” Some are friends who signed up for Twitter as it started gaining in popularity. Others are people I have never met and I wonder why they care what I’m up to. But, for some reason, they do.

When I signed up for Facebook last year, I saw that there was an app that would sync up your Twitter updates and your Facebook status. How efficient! So, now if I “tweet” something, it also shows up as my Facebook status. Handy.

So, what does one talk about on Twitter? Whatever you want to. In the past week, I’ve tweeted about: a vole in my basement (eek!), my grandma’s death, the presidential debate, the fact that the new macbooks all have glossy screens (boo!), the New Kids on the Block reunion concert and my newborn.

Here’s how you can use it:

1. Sign up at
You can enter your name (for a long time I had just Meghan, but recently added my last name as well. You can enter in whatever you are comfortable with). You’ll also select a username, which other people will see and will use to send messages to you (see #4 below). Mine is irishgirl. Click the “protect my updates” checkbox if you only want people you approve to be able to see your updates.

2. Type in what you are doing in 140 characters or less.

3. Find some people that you want to follow.
If you don’t know anyone on Twitter yet, you can follow me. Or Nancy. When you follow someone on Twitter, they are notified, and may start following you back. If any unsavory characters start following you, you can click the link that says “block” and they won’t be able to see your updates. The most common type of Twitter unsavory is the spammer (yes, they are everywhere). When you visit their Twitter page, you’ll know they’re a spammer because they’ll be following thousands of people and will only have a handful of people following them back. Don’t feel bad about blocking these people.

4. Talk “at” people and send them private messages.
On Twitter, my username is “irishgirl” and Nancy’s is “nylons.” So, if I want to tweet something to Nancy, but I want everyone else to see it, too, I would type it as follows: @nylons let’s have lunch next week. If I want to tweet something to her and I don’t want anyone else to see it, I would type it as D nylons let’s have lunch next week. This sends her a “direct message” that no one else can see.

Ready to get even funkier? I knew it!

5. You can also get Twitter updates on your mobile phone (as text messages), on your desktop, or on your browser.
Frankly, I don’t care enough about what people are doing to want to get a text message about it, but I do use Twitterific on my laptop. Whenever there is a new tweet from someone that I follow, a cute little bird icon on my desktop turns blue. Whenever I feel like it, I can check in on the statuses of those I’m following or post a quick tweet myself. I prefer this to visiting the Twitter web site, and I don’t even mind the little ads that show up. I also use Hahlo on my iPhone for posting mobile tweets and checking in on what others are doing. There are a bajillion other Twitter apps listed on the fan wiki page here.

6. Use Twitter search to see tweets on particular topics.
Want to see what the Twitterverse is saying about Palin? Check Twitter search and type in Palin. Voila!

7. Categorize your tweets with hashtags.
Uh, what? Yeah, this one is super funky. But, it can also be super cool. Here’s an example: I attended the MIMA Summit on October 1. Inside the program, they printed the MIMA Summit hashtag: #mimasum08. Some of the breakout sessions even had their own custom hashtag. This allowed attendees to see — in real-time — what people were saying about the Summit.

8. Post photos from your phone using Twitpic.

Wrapping it up

So, back to Maile’s question: “Why should I use Twitter?” Crap. I still don’t know the answer.

But — just like my earlier posts about RSS — I’d encourage you to try it and see if you like it or not. The only problem I’ve had with it so far is people who overtweet. Like, a million meaningless tweets a million times a day. But, that problem is easily solved by “unfollowing” them.

So give it a try. And as always, I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!