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Introducing Twitter

This chapter is from the book

What Twitter Is Not

Twitter, I believe, is the Swiss Army Knife of Social Media, considering all its capabilities and possibilities; but where Twitter fails is when new users believe it is something that it is not.

Twitter Is Not a Chat Application

Some are confused and upset when they discover that Twitter is not an Instant Messenger (or IM) or try to use it as an IM application with one wicked delay!

In some ways Twitter does resemble an application like Skype, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), iChat, or the various chat add-ons you might find in MySpace or Facebook, but it was never meant to be a chat application. Replies in a chat application are usually private and kept between one person or a group of invited individuals. Your tweet exchange on Twitter is automatically shared across a network. In other words, this is not a private conversation you are having. Everyone is invited. You can use DMs to have private conversations, but this is another reason why Twitter shouldn't be considered a true chat application or used as such: There is usually a long delay before you get an answer.

The most obvious reason Twitter fails as an IM application is its strongest feature: the 140-character limitation. This safeguard is there to keep your communication to the basics. If you cannot keep a single statement within one (or two) tweets, it's time to move the talk to Skype, iChat, or Facebook Chat.

Twitter Is Not a Blog

Although I do consider Twitter as "a test drive for potential bloggers," Twitter is not a blog. True, Twitter does use RSS feeds to enable your tweets for the day to appear as a blogpost. True, Twitter asks you what you are doing at that very moment. True, people follow you much in the same way that people subscribe to your blog.

Twitter can do all this, just like a blog—but it's not a blog.

Blogs usually follow a theme or (if they are of a more personal nature) a variety of subjects. Twitter covers everything including the kitchen sink and depending on the person tweeting, things you would never want to do in, on, or anywhere near the kitchen sink! Following a single topic in Twitter can be a bit challenging. It's possible but limited to how much you can say about the topic at hand. Additionally, you can reply and comment on a topic in Twitter; but if a week later, you want to return to that original tweet, you would find that a challenge because you would need to weed through a week's worth of tweets before finding it. Then you would have to bring others in your network up to speed on exactly what you are talking about. With blogs, you have posts categorized and organized, and always with a reference point that its comments continuously reference.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 Blogposts like this one, although Twitter can provide links to them, would be impossible (or downright annoying) to display through a series of tweets.

Also, blogposts can be 140 words or, if the blogger is particularly passionate, 1,400 words. Blogposts can also feature images, audio, and video whereas Twitter provides only reference links. Twitter might behave like a blog in many ways, but is far from it. You can use Twitter as a blog (and many users choose to do so), and this is how it serves as a nice primer for blogging. If you find Twitter a lot of fun, check out WordPress (http://wordpress.com) or a similar blog host. Within minutes you can have a true weblog up and running, and with a few clicks you can even have a plug-in that automatically tweets for you when your latest blogpost goes live.

Twitter Is Not Like Facebook, MySpace, or Other Social Networks

"I really don't have the time for Twitter."

This is probably the biggest excuse I hear from people on why they are not giving Twitter a shot. Where is this coming from? Could it be the hours of productivity lost on MySpace and Facebook weeding through the variety of legitimate and illegitimate Friend Requests and ignoring "Li'l Green Patches," "Pillow Fights," and "Mob Wars"? Or how about, in Ning Communities, there are discussions you jump into; and an hour later you are still working on those discussion posts? Whether it is approving others to join your Flickr feed (and trying to figure out if they are Friends, Friends & Family, or simply a "Contact") or if you find yourself drawn into a thread appearing on a forum you just joined, the perceived investment of time into Twitter seems to be a major barrier for others to clear.

Twitter took that into account, and it keeps it simple. You have only three options when you are notified that someone is following you on Twitter:

  • Follow
  • Not Follow
  • Block

Twitter is the definition of low maintenance. Perhaps, if you want to delete previous tweets or drop followers, the Twitter.com interface does not lend itself to user-friendly actions. You cannot Select All of previous tweets and press a Delete key, and you cannot easily search out Twitter users in your network. However, building your network takes only a few minutes. How deep your involvement with your Twitter network falls back on you and the parameters you set. Twitter becomes high maintenance only if you allow it to be.

So, are you all set up and ready to tweet? Well, not quite. Although you can begin building up your network, connecting with others, and embracing this hot new Social Networking initiative, let's stop a moment and consider those two words: Social Networking. It's all about the first impression, isn't it? When making contacts and creating a network—even the virtual ones—it is imperative to put your best foot forward.

This is what we do with a completed Twitter profile.

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