The problem with Twitter is that it’s disrespected. As in, what can anyone say that is of any meaning when one is limited to 140 characters? Yet while that previous statement may sound derogatory, and indeed it conveys my thoughts prior to having tested the Twitter waters, in retrospect I can say the statement conveys all that is powerful about Twitter, too. Because it’s “anyone” that can tweet, one is not subject to Facebook like daylight robberies of one’s privacy: people can tweet under any name they want, with no Google to enforce the use of “real names”, whatever that concept may be. People can even tweet under multiple names. Moving on, the 140 character limit is not as limiting as it may sound when one can provide links, yet it allows readers to skim through many tweets conveying numerous messages the way a top paid executive would skim through management summaries. In other words, Twitter is a true micro blogging service in the sense of it allowing users to read many posts quickly, but also giving them the option of diving into the depth of things if they wish.
On to the next Twitter misconception, the one about following and followers. If you look at my Twitter profile at the moment this post is written you would see that I follow some 210+ people and that I am being followed by ~140 people. Both figures are misleading. To start with the latter, many of those so called followers of mine are not real people: they include various suspiciously good looking young girls with an unexplained urge to date me, as well as all sorts of companies that seek my reciprocal following in order to build their online street cred. Me, I do reciprocal following when it is clear to me that the follower has something of interest to say to me; given that a lot of my authentic followers come as a result of the likes of Leslie Cannold or Graham Linehan retweeting me, a lot of those do appeal to me by virtue of being like minded.
As for the 200 or so that I am following: the reality is that my day is not long enough for me to read their stuff. Most of my tweet reading is done through a series of lists, each focusing on one specific area of interest; the rest get the occasional skim through the top ten most recent tweets, enough to let me figure out what is going on with the world at any given moment in time.
It really is these lists that I am using that present the bulk of my interest in Twitter. They include things like:
- Friends: People I know or have known on a personal basis. I guess this list makes things feel like Facebook in the sense that the people here are the people that would have been my Facebook friends if I was to have an account there. However, unlike Facebook, there are but a few people I know personally that, as far as I can tell, use Twitter.
- VIPs: People in whose tweets I am so interested I don't want to miss any of them. The list includes the likes of the aforementioned Cannold, but when I look at the other people in there I find myself rather surprised. The list includes various atheists, politicians, IT people, reporters, authors, activists; however, teachers seem to be the most dominant group. One more thing: people that tweet too much are not included in the list; the whole point of this list is to make following a select group of people feasible.
- IT: This is where I follow all (and I allow myself to say "all") respected IT news sources, from The Verge through Gizmodo to The Guardian's tech news. Given the majority acts as not much more than a pipe for media releases there is a lot of repetition, but as mentioned - I can tell what's going on pretty quickly just by skimming through the list's top items.
- Pirates: A list of like minded activists in the piracy/copyright/privacy/open-source arena. The list allows me to keep myself up to date with the scene that probably interests me the most.
My tool of choice for following my lists and my favorite topics is Tweetdeck. Since Twitter took over Tweetdeck the latter lost much of its functionality, but the core is there and it's better. No longer running on the Adobe Air platform, Tweetdeck offers Windows & Mac versions as well as a Chrome browser app that's perfect for Linux. It's quite powerful yet easy to use.
Last, but not least, Twitter offers direct and secure messaging between people who follow one another. Unlike normal tweets, these are not visible to the outside world. That is, with the exception of the USA government, who likes to put its hands on secure communications (but then again, they do not limit themselves to Twitter; Google and Facebook are abused much more often).
If I did my job well enough I might have even convinced you to start using Twitter. If you do, let me know so I can start following you.