Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mobile Instant Messaging Meets Social Networking: Twitter - A Beginner's Guide

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Twitter has created quite a buzz for itself in the first quarter of this year- managing to combine the ease of Instant Messaging and SMS with the reach and scope of social networking services. So what's all the buzz about?


Essentially Twitter gives you the chance to publish your thoughts on the fly, or tune into the thoughts and information streams of other users from around the world.

The key to the success of Twitter is brevity - each message that you write can only be a maximum of 140 characters long. This has seen the rise of what has been called 'micro-blogging' or 'micro-publishing', with some users sending out tens or hundreds of messages a day to their friends, followers and the public.

Rather than a replacement for blogs as a publishing medium, Twitter offers an addition to the options available to you. While blog posts tend to be longer in form, Twitter posts are ideal for making single points or sharing a single piece of information, like a link, instantaneously. Think of the difference between an email and an SMS message, and you are in the right ballpark.

Messages can be accessed through the Twitter website - via personal or public pages - or through your favorite Instant Messenging tool or mobile phone. With the ability to follow the stream of messages created by any number of friends, Twitter allows you the chance to have an always-on stream of information wherever you go.

In this beginner's guide to Twitter I have taken a look at the following questions:

  • What exactly is Twitter? - a full review of what Twitter is and does
  • What do I need to use Twitter? - The different ways that you can use Twitter, and the technologies required
  • How are people using Twitter? - Twitter is being used in a number of ways to a variety of effects
  • Why do people love Twitter? - What the blogosphere and press have to say about Twitter when they are singing its praises
  • Why do people hate Twitter? - What the blogosphere and press have to say about Twitter when they are less than impressed
  • What tools are there to extend Twitter? - While the strength of Twitter lies in its simplicity, that hasn't stopped a micro-industry forming around it. I take a look at some of the tools and services available

What exactly is Twitter?


The basics

''Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you're doing. For some friends you might want instant mobile updates--for others, you can just check the web. Invite your friends to Twitter and decide how connected you want you to be.''

Twitter FAQ

As the Twitter team make clear in their description, Twitter is basically a way of sending out messages to groups of friends, or even to the general public, from a website, mobile phone or Instant Messaging client.

Every time you post a new message, which must be less than 140 characters long, that message is relayed to all of the people in your friends list, published to your personal Twitter home page, and added to the public home page unless you tell it otherwise.

Friends with Twitter activated on their mobile phones will receive your message, and can reply to it, via SMS. Those who have activated their Instant Messaging account will receive the message through their IM client. Everyone else can follow your updates from your personal Twitter page, which also features its own RSS feed.

Your online presence


You are given some degree of control over how your personal page at the Twitter website will look, and should you wish to it is possible to change your:

  • Text color
  • Name color
  • Link color
  • Sidebar fill color
  • Sidebar border color
  • Background color
  • Background image (default is none)
  • Profile picture

This last image is displayed in thumbnail form next to your message, every time you post, and therefore serves as a kind of avatar.

Get started

Once you have made any customization tweaks to your Twitter page and profile, added SMS mobile phone and / or Instant Messaging support and invited any friends you would like to join you on Twitter, you are ready to get started.

What do I need to use Twitter?


There are four different ways to access your Twitter account and create or receive messages. They are:

  • Directly from the Twitter website, where you will be given your own user-page, like this one for Robin Good
  • Remotely, by using a desktop client that will allow you to send and receive Twitter messages without having to go to the website
  • Via IM, using AIM, Google Talk, iChat, Livejournal chat or Jabber. This means that you can send and receive messages straight to your chat application rather than through your web browser
  • Via SMS from any mobile phone, if you want to really take Twitter to the streets

As all mobile phones have SMS capabilities, there are no limitations on which phone you can use. As such Twitter is very accessible, and profoundly mobile. By being able to access it in a variety of ways, you can truly manage which information you receive and at what point.

By sending a simple message to Twitter from your phone or IM client you can choose to turn your stream of messages on or off at any given time, which could prove very useful when you are too busy to read or respond to them, or if you just want to take a break from the incoming flow of status updates. The following commands are available:

  • get - gets all of the latest updates from anyone listed in your friends group
  • get username - gets the latest updates from one specific friend
  • leave all - turns off updates from all friends
  • follow all - turns them back on again
  • leaveusername - turns off a specific friends messages
  • off - turns off Twitter altogether
  • on - turns it back on again

How are people using Twitter?


Twitter goes beyond the cliché of people writing up what they had for breakfast, or that they just changed channels on their TV set. While it is possible to use Twitter in any way you see fit, including as a way to detail the minutiae of your existence, there are other more useful functions it is being used to fulfill. These include:

  • Promoting an event such as The Web 2.0 Expo, so that Twitter can be used to keep the outside world updated as to the latest news at an event, while serving as a 'back channel' for those present
  • A way for retailers to promote their latest deals and for interested customers to get the latest tips on sale items, as in Twitter stream
  • Creating an additional resource for website visitors, in addition to the longer-form content available online. Bloggers and newscasters can make use of this to bring the latest scoops and opportunities to their most loyal readers, as with our own Robin Good Twitter stream
  • Live-blogging and link-sharing, giving bloggers the chance to report live from an event, or quickly share hot finds from the web. See for instance the compulsive Twittering of Robert Scoble
  • Publishing or tracking news, with quick descriptions of news items and a link for readers to follow, as in the BBC news stream

For those willing to get a little inventive, then, Twitter offers a great platform for reaching thousands of people with bite-sized chunks of information. Conversely, it also offers a very simple and effective way of keeping track of not just your friends whereabouts, but also the latest breaking news, shopping deals, and even job opportunities and events.

Why do people love Twitter?


Twitter is the kind of tool that splits opinion right down the middle, and there are a great many people public declaring their love and hate for the service.

So what are the factors that have people like Tech blogger Robert Scoble - who at this point has 3233 people following his every message - so excited about Twitter?

Always-On Micro-Publishing

One of the reasons that Twitter has seen such success is its ability to facilitate quick, easy micro-publishing to the world. For those busy people using various devices and gadgets in the average day of communications, Twitter offers a simple, efficient way to cut to the quick. John Blossom writes that:

''Twitter is more than a messaging service - it's a publishing medium that allows people to reach both micro-communities and the world as a whole. For people on the go who are shifting constantly between mobile devices and computer keyboards Twitter allows micropublishers to keep up with their social network more efficiently than either platform alone could manage.''

John Blossom, Flittering With Twitter

Extending your online presence

Others go further yet, claiming that Twitter is not simply an efficient way to get the word out on the fly, but also an excellent resource for those looking to grow their online presence. Anyone that publishes to the web does so in the hope of attracting more than a handful of readers. Twitter, argues Thomas Hawk, is an excellent way of amplifying your online presence:

''First Twitter, as a social network, is another extension of your online presence. As a blogger if you think of your primary online presence as your blog, much of what you can do on the internet can be amplified through the various social tools available to bloggers.

Digg, Slashdot, knowing when to pitch a story to top sites like Boing Boing or Lifehacker or Engadget, Flickr, book marking sites, and sites like Twitter represent ways where you can amplify and expand your ideas, thoughts and messages to your friends, contacts and the world.''

Thomas Hawk, Twittermania Sweeps The Blogosphere

The ultimate status indicator

Another approach is simply that Twitter allows you to roll-into-one a whole range of communications based around 'what you're doing now'. Rather than having to change your status on your IM, make a call to your colleague or family, making a blog post or sending several one line emails, with Twitter you can let everyone know exactly what you're doing with a single 140 character message. David Chartier writes that:

''We have IM, email, and mobile phones to stay in touch with the world. When our status changes (and I mean 'status' as in 'whatever is going on'), it often involves any combination of setting a new IM status, calling someone to let them know what's going on, posting to a blog or emailing a co-worker to say you're stepping out.

Twitter, even in its infancy, has taken innovative strides to remove this tediousness from staying updated and connected with what is going on in the worlds of the people who matter to us.''

David Chartier, Why I Love Twitter

Why do people hate Twitter?


Twitter isn't without its detractors, and some of them are very passionate about their distaste for the service. What is it that makes people hate Twitter?

Saying too much

One of the chief complaints leveled at Twitter is that it encourages people - through its ease of use and very function - to detail the mundane and frankly boring details of their lives. Karoli argues that this is out of a need to belong:

''Is there something to this that I just don't understand? Or, does the buzz and apparent love of Twitter point to the need that most people have to belong to a group, to identify?

These are serious questions. I have friends, on and off line, but I don't feel the need to know what they're saying, doing and thinking in real time, and I certainly don't feel the need to share what I'm saying, doing and thinking, either.''

Karoli, Twitter THIS

Keeping you awake at night

The always-on nature of Twitter is for some more than they are happy living with. Certainly, if you are going to get the best out of Twitter, especially on your mobile phone, it makes sense to learn the commands required to stop and start your incoming messages. Otherwise you are left with what could potentially become an intrusive rather than informative service, as detailed by Rachel Metz:

''Twitter lets you turn updates off during certain hours, but I stupidly figured nobody would bother sending a message at, say, 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday.
How wrong I was. At first, the incoming texts were just clogging my cell phone's text inbox. But then, in the early hours of a recent Saturday, I awoke to the unmistakable buzz of an incoming text message.
It was from Justin Kan of, which lets viewers watch Kan's life 24 hours a day via a webcam he wears on his head. The message read simply, "sleeeeeeep."
I rolled my eyes and texted, "Being woken up by incoming twitter txts" back to the site.

Rachel Metz, Twitter Provides Just Too Much Communication

Low relevance threshold

The final complaint leveled at Twitter is that in incorporating group conversations there is a tendency for users to become trapped between other people's thoughts, none of which have any relevance to themselves. Again, this is really an issue of selective filtering, but it is clear to see how an unchecked Twitter account might play havoc with both your mobile phone battery and your brain:

''It is irresistible to respond to people's "twittering" and ultimately it turns into an IM conversation between two or three people. If I've enabled Twitter on my mobile phone, I'm the unwilling witness to long conversation between a few of my so-called friends. Clearly, they're using Twitter's web or IM interface and twittering back and forth in the comfort of their computer about dinner plans or something. My phone buzzes away with every post. Why are they doing this to me? Don't they know they're setting my phone off with every hit of the enter key?

With friends like these, who needs enemies?''

Scott Jangro, Why I Hate Twitter

What tools are there to extend Twitter?


The main strength of Twitter is its simplicity as a publishing platform. As such the feature-set available from the Twitter website is quite limited. Fortunately, a great many third-party solutions have cropped up to fill the gap, allowing you to extend the capabilities of Twitter, or to interact with it in new and interesting ways.

Here is a small selection of some of the many tools and services available:

  • Twitterment offers both Twitter search functionality, and graphs based on the use of keywords by Twitterers
  • Twittervision is a world map that displays the geographic location of Twitterers as they post,almost in realtime, along with the contents of their post and their personal avatar
  • Twittersearch allows you to easily search Twitter by Keywords, and then click through to see the exact geographic location of a Twitterer on a street-level map
  • Twitterfeed makes it easy to send the feed of your blog to your Twitter account
  • Post to Twitter is a simple addition to your Firefox browser that allows you post to Twitter right from the search bar at the top right of the screen
  • urlTea allows you to shorten your URLs to a Twitter friendly format, making it possible to add links to your word-count-limited Twitter posts without a problem
  • AutoTwit lets you set up and automatically send out scheduled Twitter posts
  • Rss2Twitter lets you send out the information from any RSS feed to your Twitter account so that you can track news while you are out and about
  • PhoneTag lets you update your Twitter timeline by speaking your updates into your phone
  • Twitcash allows you to profit from your Twitter posts by incorporating ads into them, on a per-follower, per-post basis
  • The Twitter Fan Wiki is host to an extensive list of desktop, server-side and web-based applications to enhance your Twitter experience



Love it or hate it Twitter is a force to be reckoned with, and provides a great many opportunities beyond simply telling the world what you ate for breakfast. By making it easy for people to send out short (140 characters or less) messages to their personal webpage, friends and followers, and even the Twitter community at large, the service makes for a compelling way to get the word out fast.

Whereas blog posts and emails tend to be longer-winded affairs, Twitter posts are closer in form to the SMS messages you send from your mobile phone, and in fact it is possible to access Twitter in this very way, in addition to using the Twitter website, Instant Messaging or one of the growing number of desktop applications available.

This effects the overall nature of the content produced, and very often you will find people sharing information entirely different to that featured in their blog posts. As such, Twitter allows you to keep up-to-date on the very latest information - information that may not make it into the longer form of the blog or newsletter due to time constraints.

Take our own Robin Good's Twitter presence. Here, by signing up as a friend and follower you can be sure of getting the very latest news, opportunities, scoops and updates to your IM account, Twitter page or mobile phone. This is the kind of information that never makes it to the website, or only finds its way there a long time later.

Twitter is an excellent micro-publishing platform that acts not as a replacement for blogging, emails and SMS, but rather as a complement to their functionality. By making publishing something possible in the space of a few seconds, the stress is firmly on creating social links, sharing key information, and releasing spontaneous thoughts and data into the world in the spur of the moment.

Join Robin and the other thousands of people taking advantage of this micro-publishing platform to get the word out, and tune into the latest nuggets of personal and professional communication weaving their way through the web.

Sign Up to Robin Good's Twitter Presence

follow RobinGood at

If you want to be the first to know cutting edge news, breaking opportunities within our media network, and never-to-be-published elsewhere scoops, sign up to Robin Good's Twitter presence and be sure never to miss a thing.

Additional resources

If you would like to learn even more about Twitter, you might want to check out the following links:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Mobile And Instant Messaging Meets Social Networking: Twitter - A Beginner's Guide"

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Readers' Comments    
2010-06-10 09:35:27

online football

thanks man nice post

2010-06-01 13:37:45

meryem sahin

thanks man useful post

2008-01-03 17:24:31

Linda web20 user

This was a great overview on Twitter. Blogging has become quite popular and allows users to write short content about whatever in an informal style.

It seems that Twitter will take shallow conversation to a new level! But thanks to you I now see how to use Twitter in a more practical and useful way...

2007-05-03 03:31:18

Twitter Forum

We also have 60+ twitter apps, services etc. listed on our Twitter Forge at the Twittown, The Twitter Community and Forums.

2007-04-29 13:22:01

Julian Bond

Additional tools.


Both Windows tray apps that show your friends Tweets and let you post.

2007-04-25 23:42:27

Alexander Muse

Lots of folks are using Twitter's API to create mash-ups. We built a simple one that allows you to call a phone number, record a message and have it posted to your twitter account. You can see it at

posted by Michael Pick on Wednesday, April 25 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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