Why do you need to be on Twitter? Twitter is one of the top social networks, and is used for information sharing and for business and personal networking. It's also one of the easiest sites to use - its "microblogging," format allows posts to be only 140 characters. This is just about enough space for a one-liner, for one or two sentences, or for a shared link (title and URL).
Twitter is the 21st century equivalent of a public telegraph/newswire. By going to search.twitter.com and typing in any keyword of any current news item, you can find out what people are saying, live. Because of the limited character space, users have created their own shorthand, in order to be able to squeeze as much communication as possible into a short space, so reading "tweets," might seem like reading a foreign language, at first. But fear not - within a day or so of reading others' tweets, you'll catch onto the code, and be tweeting like a pro!
Here's a quick guide to three of the most common abbreviations used on Twitter:
@username - If a Twitter post begins with an "@", this tweet is a reply or message to another Twitter user (sometimes called a "Tweep.")
#hashtag - If a Tweet contains a word that begins with a "#", this tweet is part of an open, ongoing conversation. If you enter the #hashtag as a search term, you will find out what people are talking about. Sometimes these are tweets about a hot news item, or a conference, an event, or just a joke that is running its course on the site, and has taken on a life of it's own.
RT @username - This is the older way to "Retweet" someone. It's no longer the preferred way to pass-on information from someone you are following to your followers, as Twittter has added a new feature for doing this, which does not waste any of your precious 140 characters. For more on Retweeting, see The Retweet.
Also, many of the URLs you see on Twitter are "shortened," by services such as tinyurl.com, bit.ly, or ow.ly. As the name implies these URL-shortening servcies take long URL (some of which are long enough to take up an entire 140-character post), and minimizing them.
So, go ahead, and sign up for an account, and start reading some Tweets. Next, we'll talk about some of the things you can do on Twitter that will help you with online profile management, and social networking to promote your website or blog.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is a trainer and tech writer in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking. Her weakness is the mocha frappuccino.