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Tweeting 101

We've been covering Twitter quite a bit recently, though, like the Internet itself, it is something best experienced personally. The good news is that, in its most basic incarnation, Twitter is about the easiest Web application you could ever use — even if it is, at first glance, a bit obtuse to outsiders.

Here is how to get started.

First, go to Twitter's home page, you'll find a "Get Started — Join!" box, and pick a user name and password. After you fill out and submit everything Twitter wants you to, you are presented with your landing page. Bookmark that page; that's the one you'll want to return to whenever you want to check out Twitter.

In the middle of the page is a small box, which you can click and then fill in with whatever it is you want to say. Try to say something interesting. Keep in mind you have only 140 characters to work with (the page helpfully offers a counter that will let you know how many characters you have left after you start typing).

When you're finished your missive, hit "update." There you go, you've just tweeted.

For anyone to see this message, of course, you'll need a few "Followers." These are the people who can read your messages from their own Twitter accounts. The easiest way to get followers is to let people know you are on Twitter. Send out your Twitter name to colleagues and friends who are already using the service, so they can add you to the list of people they follow.

You'll also want to keep tabs on what other Twitterers are doing. When you "Follow" someone, their messages will appear on your Twitter landing-page. On the top-right hand of the page, you'll find a "Find People" search, which you can use to find other Twitter users by name and then add them to your list of people to follow. Also, scope out the the GovTwit site, it keeps a list of government personnel who are already tweeting.

And this is where the fun starts: As you add more followers, and get more updates from your group, your landing page will start to resemble an ever-flowing stream of updates, giving you a near-real-time completely-personalized ticker feed of what your peers are up to. This can be useful for your job, or just plain entertaining, depending on the kind of folks you follow (You'll have to keep hitting the browser's refresh button to get that ticker-tape effect).

If you want to reply to someone's else's message, of just send a message to their attention, put the recipient's Twitter handle, prefixed with a "@" sign, into the message, i.e. "Hello! @Govcomputernews" would send a message to Govcomputernews. The recipient would see the message in his or her replies page (which is a link off the main landing page with the account holder's handle). Note: These reply messages can be seen by anyone who is following your account. You can also send a direct message that can only be seen by the recipient, but that recipient needs to be following you for you to mail that person a private message.

Another way to get the word out about what you are Twittering about is to insert hash tags into messages. A hash tag is the "#" symbol affixed to a word that describes what you are writing about. That way, your message will be picked up by services that periodically do searches on widely-used hash tags and aggregate the results, as well as by Twitter's own search engine.

For instance, Steve Ressler declared "#GovLoop" would be a hash tag that his government's social networking site, GovLoop, would use to identify those messages that would be interest to that site. The home page of that site now has a link to the results of a real-time search of all the messages tagged with #GovLoop.

And that's about it. There are other aspects about running a Twitter account that could be worth attending to over time, such as setting up a private account or customizing your profile page, so check the Twitter Getting Started page for more tips.

Note: For a rundown of more advanced desktop clients that can be used Twitter, check out the GCN guide, here.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Apr 14, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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