Twitter For Dummies

The simplest things can prove to be exceptionally complex for some, just like Twitter. Yes, it can be a bit intimidating at first but once you get a hang of it, Twitter is very addictive.For folks who have progressed from Orkut to Facebook, the concept of the 140 character status update is quite puzzling. Through this post, I intend to share a few reasons why I believe Twitter is a cut above the rest and why everyone should use it.Before I delve into ‘What makes Twitter Different’, let me give you a gist of ‘How to Use Twitter’.

The first step would obviously be to sign in to Twitter, create an account for yourself (if you can’t manage to do that without instructions, this would be a safe point for return), upload a picture of yourself and fill-out your bio. Remember, the name you choose for your Twitter handle (account name; e.g. @XYZ) could be the difference between you being a regular user or a power user. Yes, it’s that important. If you’re using Twitter for networking, it’s advisable that you have your name (as close as possible) in the handle. If you’re using Twitter for socializing, try and come up with a witty/clever handle name.Also, make sure to add an appealing DP (if you know what I mean) and bio to your profile. You can upload your own background or choose from the range of default options, but it’s not that important. You’re now all set to let Twitterverse (Twitter Universe) know that you’ve arrived.

Fun Fact: The Twitter logo is that of a bird. The first time you log on to Twitter (without uploading a DP), your default DP would be that of an egg which denotes a newborn baby bird/chick. The Home button is modeled like a bird’s nest which implies that the user is a bird coming home to its nest.

The Twitter home page basically has the following links:

  • Following: This is a list of all the people you ‘follow’. You can visit any user’s profile on Twitter and click on the follow button to start seeing their tweets (the 140 character status updates) on your TL (short for timeline; this is what you see on your Twitter home page). Unlike Facebook and Google Plus, there are no restrictions on following any user except if they’ve chosen to protect their tweets, which means that the user will have to approve your request before you can start seeing their tweets on your TL.
  • Followers: This is a list of all the users following your tweets. You can block certain users (by visiting their profile and clicking on the block button) if you do not want them to see your tweets.
  • Connect:This is where you’ll find all your mentions (when a user mentions your twitter handle in their tweet) and retweets (when a user re-tweets your tweet to their followers).
  • Compose Tweet:This is where you can enter your status update and broadcast it to all your followers. Apart from the regular retweet option (the reverse arrows symbol) mentioned above, you can also choose to quote somebody’s tweet before broadcasting it to your followers, provided that the character count is 140 or less. For example, XYZ has tweeted “It’s been an insane day. All I want now is to hit the sack!” You can add your comment to this tweet before retweeting it and this is how it’ll appear to your followers – “Tell me about it! I want a beer! RT@XYZ:It’s been an insane day. All I want now is to hit the sack!”

You can also upload pictures into your tweet (choosing from any one of the twitter photograph uploading clients in the settings menu; I recommend twitpic which also happens to be the default) and share links to videos, articles etc. Twitter auto-shortens your links for you, so that the character wastage is limited. Pictures are visible within the post for both, the web and mobile. Videos can be watched in embedded view while using the web. For all other links, the user will be led to the respective external site.

  • Discover: Clicking on this link will direct users to a page that displays all the latest stories/news being discussed on Twitter and it also suggests a few handles (mostly celebrities with a huge follower count) that you should follow.
  • Trends: This is a list that appears on the left hand side panel along with the ‘Following’, ‘Followers’, ‘Discover’ and ‘Connect’ links. At any given point of time, there would be close to ten trending topics and this could be in the form of hash tags (e.g. #India) or a string of words. Twitter trends vary according to the region and you can choose which trends you want to be displayed on your home page. Although the trends are primarily categorized by country, in some cases there’s an option to select trends by city/state as well. For example, you’ve sub-trends for regions under India like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad.

Twitter automatically picks trending topics from a bunch of hash tags    and keywords for each region, based on the volume and frequency (maximum appearances at any given point of time) with which it appears in tweets sent by users in that region. For example, if maximum users in India are talking about the earth quake at a given time and they mention the words ‘Earth Quake’ in their tweets, twitter picks ‘Earth Quake’ as a trending topic.

If Twitter users (tweeple) insert a hash tag into their tweet, it makes it easier for the twitter search bots to pull-up all the tweets with that hash tag and display it in its search results. For example, if I were from an organization called XYZ and I insert the hash tag #XYZ in all the tweets that I send from my company twitter handle, the next time somebody searches for #XYZ or clicks on it, they will see a list of all the tweets with that hash tag. This list will contain tweets from every user who has mentioned #XYZ in their tweets, and not just the ones sent from my company account.

  • Direct Message (DM): The direct message option is denoted by an envelope icon. DMs are private tweets between two individual users, unlike regular tweets where all your followers can see your tweets. DMs can only be sent to users who follow you, meaning, you cannot send me a DM unless I follow you. 
  • Lists:Suppose there are a few users who you would like to follow for networking reasons but don’t want their tweets to show up on your TL, you could choose to add those users to a list. For example, I create a list called ‘Gadget Mania’ and add a few gadget/technology enthusiasts  to that list, their tweets won’t show-up on my TL but when I want to view their tweets, all I need to do is open the list. Once you create a list after clicking on the ‘List’ button on the home page, you can then proceed to the users’ profiles and click on the ‘Add to List’ option to add them to the list you just created. You can create as many lists as you want and add the same people in multiple lists. You can also subscribe to lists created by other users provided it’s a public (you can choose to make your list private, where only you can see it) list. Lists also come in handy for use with third-party applications like paper.li

Now that you’ve a grip on how Twitter works, let me give you a few reasons as to why I think Twitter is the best socializing site today.

I’m on Twitter (meaning: logged in) all the time, either from a computer or on my phone. I check my mentions, listen to what others are tweeting and see what’s trending, whenever I can find some free time – while I’m taking a dump, during a coffee/smoke break, while I’m in transit, when I’m bored etc. I do have a blog but I don’t always have the time to elaborate on every passing thought that I have. I jot down my thoughts and tweet them instead. Now you know why Twitter is referred to as a micro-blogging site! It’s like my personal diary (of course, it’s not so personal when I decide to share it with the world). I find it amusing to look through my older tweets; it paints a picture for me of my mood fluxes in-between tweets. I don’t care whether or not if anybody is reading my tweet. All that matters is that I have a channel where I can talk and vent (it’s far better than seeming stupid talking, to myself).The 140 character limitation has annoyed me plenty of times but when I look back, I realize that I’ve gradually learned how to communicate more crisply and using shorter sentences, because of this. There are numerous instances where I’ve read breaking news on Twitter before it appeared on the news channels. Even if I don’t read the papers or watch the news, I get my daily dose of all the news stories that matter, via Twitter. What makes Twitter even more interesting is that it’s a source where you get different views and perspectives on stories, from all walks of life and age groups. Most importantly, Twitter is one place where you can be yourself without actually having to reveal your name (there’s an irony in there somewhere). Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus, on Twitter you don’t have to ‘actually’ know someone to start interacting with them. Before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of good friends whom you have never met and probably never will (There is a growing trend of users organizing a tweet-up, short for twitter meet-up, where tweeple hangout in ‘real’ life). You’ll even get all sorts of advice, product information, movie ratings etc. if you ask for it. Sympathy towards social causes and philanthropy is also high among Twitter users; hence you can be rest assured that if you’ve a need, there’ll always be people to help you out.

That was everything you needed to know about Twitter, to get started. If there’s anything else that I could be of help with, please feel free to ask. I tweet at @PurpleSuave

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