from pc world Eventually, for most of us anyway, it dawns on us that Twitter is a lot more than a worldwide stream of trivial, self-promotional text bombs. And when that happens, we begin to see the beauty in Twitter's simple, terse messaging system. Used in conjunction with a good client app like TweetDeck, Twitter becomes an active massively multi-user conversation to rival any other social medium. The more people you follow, the more enlightening that conversation can be. (Up to a point, of course. I've found that my own ability to process the incoming stream from folks I follow breaks down beyond the hundred mark.)
For those who do get it, or get over their misconceptions about it, Twitter really can be a tremendous tool for information gathering and social networking. Sure, you can follow big-name celebrities who aren't likely to follow you back or care about you, but you can also follow minor celebrities and luminaries who just might follow you back and respond to you. More importantly, you can follow people you actually know, and keep abreast of the events in their lives and--more importantly--the ideas they're sharing in a way that requires very little of your effort or time. If the people you follow are at all interesting, you'll probably learn something from their tweets. And if they're not, you can find new people to follow.
For those who are still trying to figure out what, if anything, Twitter has to offer them, here are a few easy tips for getting more out of the service:
1. Follow people. A lot of people.
Whether you're the last in your social group to sign up or the first, it helps to follow a whole lot of people. Don't just add the dozen or so of your friends who are tweeting; look up and add some of your favorite authors, newscasters, and others you trust to deliver information that has meaning for you. Don't be shy, and don't worry about offending them if you later decide to stop following them because they turn out to be too noisy, boring, or self-promotional for your tastes. Following or unfollowing someone is a one-click affair. But if you don't follow enough people to keep your stream filled with fresh tweets each day, you'll never get a real feel for how the conversation works.
2. Don't self-promote. (Or, at least, don't overdo it.)
The recent surge in Twitter's popularity has everyone thinking that joining Twitter is a smart way to boost their business, raise their public profile, or otherwise improve their social and monetary standing. In most cases, that's bull. If all you tweet about is your latest blog post, book, or other commercial venture, you'll quickly turn off most of the people who follow you. So even if you did sign up just for the hope of pecuniary gains, make a point of at least occasionally tweeting about something that real people might care about. If your followers are intrigued by the latest news story you've linked to, they might think twice about dumping you over all those get-rich-quick posts you've been spamming them with.
3. Use a Client App
Twitter's Web site is terrible. Even if it weren't constantly over capacity, its interface is static and unhelpful. But a decent client app will put all of Twitter's coolest features at your fingertips, as well as helpful third-party features like URL-shortening and photo support. I've tried most of the leading clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and my personal favorite across all three platforms is TweetDeck.
It doesn't really matter to me whether Twitter is a viable business unto itself. If it collapses, there are plenty of other social networks out there. And even if its user-retention rate were upwards of 80 percent, I doubt it would have any impact on Twitter's ability or inability to turn a profit. So the effect of newbies abandoning their accounts is probably a net gain for the rest of us in terms of reduced congestion on the site and fewer annoying, clueless tweets.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not dissing those who check it out and then bail, even though it may sound that way. As near as I can tell, almost everybody goes through that check-it-out-then-bail phase when they first try it out. What I am saying is that if you're not getting it, and it's not resonating with you, we won't miss you if you log off until you get a clue.
Robert Strohmeyer is a senior editor at PC World, and he tweets as @rstrohmeyer. You can follow him if you want to, and he may follow you back.