To the Internet hipsters who discovered Twitter in 2006, Oprah’s inaugural tweet — FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY, she typed — was the end of the era, the shark jump. But that’s like saying the Beatles were over after they appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Twittermania has only begun. In the days after Oprah’s show, Twitter’s traffic growth is accelerating. The ratings service HitWise now ranks twitter.com as America’s No. 38 Web site. It’s about to rocket past CNN and Wells Fargo.
Because it’s kept simple, most users figure out Twitter quickly. If you began tweeting the day of Oprah’s show, it’s a safe bet you already know how to DM a private message to a friend, and how to R.T. a joke worth retweeting. You search for #swineflu every few hours, and know it’s called a hashtag. You’ve learned how to follow Demi Moore and block online marketers.
Assuming you’ve got these basics down, there are many less obvious tips and tweaks to get more from tweeting. They all can be Googled, but the online version of this article has the links.
Twitter has some powerful search options, but good luck trying to find them. If you use the search box built into Twitter’s Web interface, it won’t tell you there’s also an advanced search tool, and special characters — “operators” in search jargon — that you can use to search for, say, “Bush OR Cheney since:2009-01-20.”
To find the Advanced Search, scroll to the bottom of any page at twitter.com and look for the link “Search” hiding there. Click it and you’ll be taken to search.twitter.com. Click the Advanced Search link. I suggest bookmarking the Advanced page on your browser. There’s another link there that lists all search operators, like “within:10mi.”
Twitter via S.M.S.
Twitter’s architects deliberately limited tweets to 140 characters, so that they could be sent and received as short message service text messages (S.M.S. allows 160 characters, but the Twitter people left room for user names.) Many newcomers are unaware they can operate Twitter by texting. Login at twitter.com and click Settings, then go to Devices and add your phone.
At first, you’ll get nothing. That’s because, by default, updates from the users you follow aren’t texted to your phone, so you don’t run up a bill. Instead, the interface at twitter.com adds buttons next to each user you follow, so you can turn updates on or off.
You can tweet from your phone by texting a message to 40404. You can also text commands to Twitter, like “help” or more important, “off.”
Are you a Facebook user who also tweets? Wish you could type only one status update, and have it appear in your profile on both social networks? Go to twitter.com/widgets/facebook and click the button at the bottom of the page that says “Install Twitter in Facebook.” You’ll then have to click through a few pages of configuration.
You can use the connection in either direction. I suggest updating Twitter and letting it pass the tweet along to Facebook. It takes fewer steps, and you’ll be kept within the 140-character limit.
Another hidden feature: If you like a tweet and want to preserve it for eternity, mouse over it. A star-shaped icon appears at the right of the text. Click that. Then, you can click the Favorites link on your home page to see all the tweets whose stars you’ve clicked, no matter how long ago you saved them. You can also go to other users’ pages and browse through their Favorites.
You can’t send photos through Twitter, but you can send the URL for a photo hosted on a Web site. TwitPic plugs the gap with a Web site that both holds your photos and creates URLs for them. You login to twitpic.com with your Twitter username and password, then upload a photo from your computer. You and other users can then share the picture by going to the TwitPic page for your photo and tweeting from there. TwitPic forwards them to Twitter with the correct photo URL automatically appended.
Desktop Twitter Apps
If you’re still using a browser window open to twitter.com to tweet from your computer, try using a desktop (or laptop) client instead, to make sending and reading tweets more like using AOL Instant Messenger.
On Windows machines, Digsby is an application that displays Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all of your e-mail accounts in a long, tall window that looks like a buffed-up A.I.M..
Both these applications tuck Twitter into the side of your display. If you’d rather it cover your screen, try TweetDeck, a free program that runs on both PCs and Macs. Instead of one column of tweets, TweetDeck breaks out multiple columns for different kinds of tweets and different groups of friends. It has plenty of extra features, too, like photo uploads to TwitPic, a Facebook tie-in and a ticker of stock market tweets.
Like desktop apps, Twitter clients for smartphones are also proliferating faster than reviewers can track them. And again, there’s no obvious Best in Show. I suggest TwitterBerry for BlackBerry, Tweetie for iPhones, and Twidroid for G1 Android phones. Why? Because these three make it easy to post photos from your phone’s camera to TwitPic without thinking about it.
Another Phone Use
TweetCall is a recently introduced voice-recognition system that takes calls to 1-877-TWEETCALL from your phone, converts your spoken words to text, then tweets the result through your account.
TweetCall correctly parsed “How was the amuse-bouche at French Laundry?” But it still misses words and can’t parse my friends’ user names. The company claims that in a few weeks, the system will have many more Twitter-centric features including support for user names and hashtags.
Sneaking Office Tweets
Spreadtweet is a cheeky desktop app that mimics a boring Excel spreadsheet. Coworkers who don’t look too closely won’t realize your spreadsheet’s rows are actually tweets. I use it at home because it packs a lot of tweets into a small space, with no distracting visuals.
OutTwit is a more serious application that adds Twitter support into Microsoft Outlook. You can send and read tweets from inside Outlook, and then archive, group and search them as if they were e-mail messages.
Save Time for Tweeting
TweetBeep.com does what the I.T. guys call alerts. Once programmed, it will search Twitter once an hour and shoot you an e-mail if it finds, say, the name of your company or the latest batch of #swineflu tweets. TweetBeep saves you from spending your day hovering over the Advanced Search page.Then again, who am I kidding? One of Twitter’s primary attractions is that it gives obsessive webheads something to reload that updates faster than Google News. All these power tools make using Twitter more flexible and more fun. But they aren’t going to send any of us scurrying back to work any sooner.