What is Twitter and why should I use it?

By Ross Madden
Published on October 13, 2009 10:48 am MT
Posted in General CNSIT, The Cloud

“Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets” (http://www.twitter.com).  What the heck does that even mean though?  Twitter has actually been around for several years, but only this past 12 months has it picked up steam and become a household name.  Twitter is a free service that allows users to send out and receive updates from other Twitter users.  These updates are short, pithy, and allow a user to filter though a vast amount of information in a very short period of time.

twitter

In our academic environment Twitter can be very useful in the following ways.  Twitter use can be split into two camps depending on who you are; you may fall into one or the other, or even both.

Twitter Follower
Most of the average Twitter use is simply following and reading posts that are posted by the Twitter users you follow.  Typically, you will have a list of twitter users that you follow and you can at any point check on those entries to read their content.  Since their content is limited (140 characters) you can quickly read and filter though a ton of information.  So, as a Twitter follower, one can be informed of events, special offers, interesting articles, tips and tricks for various services, and up to the minute news.

Twitter Content Provider
As a Content Provider you are responsible for creating content that you post to your followers on Twitter.  In some sense everyone can be a content provider if you use Twitter as a Social Networking tool.  This is accomplished by updating your life to your friends and family that follow you.  Most of Twitter content circulates around posting links and news and the distribution is amplified by “Re-Tweets” (noted by RT or Via).  RTs allow a user to resend a Tweet they received from an account they follow to all of their followers.  Good content is then RTd over and over again reaching more and more Twitter accounts.  RTs are a way for someone to vouch for another Twitter account, much the same way Google Pagerank works when one page “links” to another page.  These RTs usually end in more accounts following the original sender (due to the valuable content they have provided) and in the end allows the Twitter accounts that are sending out valuable content to reach more and more people.  In the end, those with the more valuable content will have the most followers (at least this is how it should be).

Accessing Twitter
The most basic way to access your Twitter account is through the Twitter website at http://www.twitter.com.  However, with the increase in popularity that Twitter has enjoyed recently there has been an incredible surge in the creation of new client software for whatever device you are using.  On my work computer, I have been using Tweetdeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/beta).  On my smart phone (iPhone) I have been using a free app called Twitterrific (http://iconfactory.com/software/twitterrific).  With this combination I am able to send and receive tweets with ease from wherever I am.   What Twitter clients are you using?

My personal Twitter experience revolves around the Twitter account for BioIT.  BioIT has been using Twitter under both the Follower and Content Provider roles consistently since around late August.  I have refined the accounts I follow through trial and error.  If I follow an account and it then spams out post after post – I usually un-follow them.  I now have a concise group of accounts that are both creating valuable new content as well as RTing with discretion – only valuable and relatively new content should be RTd.  If I see an account send a dozen RTs out in a short period of time, they had better be amazing conent – otherwise it is just annoying.  Twitter has been valuable to me in that I receive all of my IT related news and events quickly (in terms of reading through all new Tweets in the morning), and in real time – since my Twitter clients are alerting me of new tweets every minute or so (that is – if there are new tweets).

The BioIT Twitter account is attentive to content that deals with end user micro-computing, tips and tricks, and information technology.  These topics must also be valuable to someone in our Academic/Research environment.  I also occasionally post about super cool new gadgets or technology that I feel most will appreciate.  My new content comes from the BioIT weblog and BioIT FAQ library.  All in all, I think the BioIT Twitter account would be valuable to anyone from Colorado State University.  Feel free to follow BioIT at http://www.twitter.com/bioit.

Let me know what you think about Twitter.  Enjoy!

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