The other day I was quietly working away when I overheard:
But I don’t want to use Twitter, I’m not interested in what people are having for their lunch.
Firstly, how can you not be interested in what people are having for lunch? I actually find this fascinating and often recommend good places for people to get their chips and falafel from. But I understand that there are people out there not as nosey as I am or generally interested in what people do.
So, instead of arguing about why I think Twitter is the best thing ever I thought I’d put my energy into thinking about things you can do with Twitter (other than telling people how good your falafel wrap was). I know there is already a wealth of information for the Twitter user out there but you know, I wanted to throw my two cents in as well.
Who do you follow?
Well, generally I follow people who match one of this criteria:
- people from real life – friends, family (although my Dad hasn’t discovered Twitter yet – shame it’s the perfect way to spy on me) and work colleagues;
- librarians or information specialists posting interesting links to current issues or discussing new technologies etc;
- news services – including The Guardian Tech, New Scientist, Hollyoaks and Heatworld (obviously);
- whale defenders and marine conservationists – because we’ve got to save the whale to save ourselves;
- vegans – I like stealing recipes and looking at pictures of cake;
- and crafters – it’s a good way of finding free patterns etc.
The problem I have then is keeping the personal and the professional separate, particularly as I worry about being too personal in the professional. For example I’m majorly opposed to whaling (as you probably know) but as this has no relevance to my work do colleagues really need to know it? And should I be telling people about long line fishing in the Galapagos whilst having a break from my book orders? Plus there are those examples of how not to use Twitter. Yet given I actually love my job, my boss is really cool (seriously) and I don’t moan about being bored (usually because when times are quiet I get on the look out for new blog material or ways to improve services for students) then I don’t really see this being an issue for me. I did bad mouth Bloglines once though after a frustrating morning and got caught out by their auto searching, but they were actually more helpful than anything else.
One way of overcoming these problems are to make your updates private, but seen as Googling ‘lex rigby’ fills out the first however many pages of my stuff (although I was never a Communist Student and have nothing to apologise for) then it seems odd to try and make my tweets private. I’m quite an easy person to find out information about. I’m a science and engineering librarian particularly interested in new technologies, I’m insanely fond of whales and cats, I craft, I read stuff about Iran (mainly involving women and human rights) and I’m vegan. Simple eh. And I guess that if people didn’t want to know what Bella’s up to they wouldn’t follow me anyway.
What do you use it for?
The most useful thing I have found to do with Twitter is to do with #tags or hashtags. Hashtags are assigned to subjects/people/categories/conferences/companies/hobbies/films or whatever and are a great way to find out what people are saying about them. In putting a hash sign in front of a word you’re essentially creating a link to a stream involving everyone talking about that particular subject. And the great thing is is that it’s all in real time! A real-time search engine, now that is amazing.
OK, so say I attended the 2009 Lilac conference (I didn’t but some of my colleagues did) and I wanted to say something about what I was hearing alls I need to do is say it (or rather type it) and put a #lilac09 tag in. Voi la. But then say I wanted to know what other people were saying alls I’d have to do is go to Twitter Search (or one of the other many search sites) and put in #lilac09 and start eavesdropping. It truly is a fantastic way of searching – built for the people, by the people.
I discovered this during the Mumbai attacks last year. I wanted to know what was happening before the news stories told me and stumbled upon Mumbai attacks coverage powered by a service called Monitter. Brilliant, now I was getting real time updates from the people there on location, as well as others reporting on events as the news unfolded.
But what could I use it for?
Well, other than using #tags to keep on top of your interests there are a vast number of other things to use Twitter for:
- Use Twitpic to share your photos;
- use Tiny URL to shorten links into your 140 character limit;
- use @ signs to reply to tweets and engage in conversation e.g. ‘@lexrigby that was really funny’ (or direct messages to make your responses private);
- use Tweetworks to start discussions or join groups;
- use Twittangle to filter your timeline by rating users and tagging favourites (very useful if you follow people like Stephen Fry and get sick of his updates);
- use Twtpoll to create a survey;
- use Trackthis to track a package from UPS, Fedex, USPS, DHL etc;
- use direct messages to update your LibraryThing book shelf;
- use Twittercal to update your Google calendar;
- use Tweetbeep for a bit of vanity searching;
- use Fuelfrog to track your gas mileage;
- use Botanicalls to get your plants to tweet you when it’s hungry;
- use a Greasemonkey user script (a Firefox add-on) to get Twitter updates in your Google results page;
- or use RFID chips, computers and cameras to keep track of your cats.
See, it’s not just good for finding out what people had for lunch! It’s so much more than that.