In the recent past, I wrote about not really getting Twitter. Since then, I have to say that it has grown on me. I am not and never will be an addict. But it does add a nice social dimension to my day, particularly given that I work alone from my home office a lot of the time. It lets me feel a little more connected with friends and colleagues, and does so without taking up unacceptable amounts of time. So, for my former fellow Twitter skeptics, I have a few suggestions for how to get the most out of it:
- Don't take it too seriously: If you think that Twitter is something that you have to keep current with, then you will either obsess over it or give up on it. Think of it as being something like having music playing in the background while you work. It can occasionally draw your attention, but you can also ignore it much of the time.
- Engage in the conversation: For me, at least, the point of Twitter has been more social than informational. Sure, I occasionally pick up a good bit of data, but mainly it's about feeling connected with other people. You don't get that unless you occasionally reply to somebody. It can just be something along the lines of "sorry you're not feeling well" or even "LOL". The point is to let them know that you hear them. You'd be surprised at how nice it can feel. I was.
- Don't be afraid to unfollow somebody: There is surprisingly little correlation between how interesting I find somebody in person and how interesting I find their Twitter stream to be. People have different styles and think different things are important to communicate in this medium. If somebody is wasting your time with a lot of posts that you find incredibly boring and useless, then unfollow them. It's not rude.
- Find your own style: People have different styles of posting. Some will tell you about what they're doing, others will tell you about what they're reading, and still others will tell you about what they're thinking. Notice people's styles and experiment with your own. Not only is this kinda fun to do, it also helps you clarify for yourself just why you're playing with the damned thing in the first place.
- Follow somebody famous: There are lots of interesting people on Twitter---people like @judell, @timoreilly, @THE_REAL_SHAQ, @lessig, @algore, and @JoeTrippi, to name a few. Some of them are interesting Twitterers (Shaquille O'Neal is really funny, if not very grammatical) and some are not, but it can be fun to get a peek at how they use the medium. I even got into a short conversation with Joe Trippi once. (If you are going to reply to somebody who doesn't know you, though, make sure it's a substantive point. I wouldn't bother Al Gore with a "LOL.")
- Find the right client: Like many Web 2.0 technologies, Twitter's success depends on having a very low barrier to entry. There are a lot of different Twitter clients and some will fit your personal style better than others. I use a combination of Spaz and TwitterFox. Try a few clients out and figure out which one has the best usefulness to annoyance ratio for you.
- Be patient: As Mathieu Plourde (@mathplourde) taught me, Twitter is all about the network. It takes time to build up a network of people that makes the thing worth the time. So don't make any snap judgments on the thing. Take your time, poke around, pay attention to your frustration levels, walk away from it when it annoys you, and come back to it periodically until it starts to work for you.