Five Important Points About Twitter

Twitter I've mentioned before that I tried Twitter awhile back and immediately gave up on it.  I'm glad my colleague Steve Weiss talked me back onto it last October, mostly because I'm now finding it to be a more valuable tool and platform than blogging.

With that in mind, I'd like to present the five most important things I've learned about Twitter over the past few months (in no particular order):

It's all about the client -- Twitter's website is as bare-bones as it gets.  If you base your impression of Twitter on the site itself you'll walk away disappointed.  Once you sign up you really need to get a client app for Twitter.  I used Twhirl for awhile but some colleagues talked me into TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck but it tends to crash and make my system flaky; I can go days without rebooting if I don't run TweetDeck but I have to reboot every day if I'm running it.  (My Mac friends tell me it's much more stable on that platform, so I'm glad I'll be switching shortly.)  The point here is that the various client apps offer a great deal more Twitter functionality than the website itself does.  And don't forget about your mobile device.  I have a couple of Twitter clients on my iPhone and I use them as much as I use TweetDeck on my laptop.  Mobile devices and Twitter were made for each other.

It's more about listening than speaking -- It's true.  Nobody cares how good your blueberry muffin was. Please don't Twitter that stuff.  I don't tweet that frequently but I get loads of value by following (listening to) other Twitterers.  Hashtags are one way to tune into a specific discussion.  For example, at last week's TOC conference if you followed the #toc hashtag you could have tuned in to the proceedings (more on that in a moment).  Listening is next to impossible without a great client that offers search functionality though.

It enriches the conference experience -- I couldn't believe the Twitter activity throughout the TOC conference.  It's one thing to marvel at the volume of tweets, but it's even more important to stop and think about the value that's created by that stream.  TOC was a multi-track conference, which means sessions were run in parallel and you obviously couldn't be in multiple rooms at once...unless you followed the Twitter stream.  I found myself listening to a speaker in one session while also reading the tweets from the others running simultaneously.  Some attendees felt the tweet stream made another session look more interesting so they switched from one to another.  It was also interesting to read audience feedback while that particular session was still running.  Twitter has the potential to dramatically affect (and improve!) the conference model.

Speaking of conferences, you don't even have to be there to get the benefit -- T&E budgets are tight.  You probably won't make it to all the conferences you'd like to attend this year.  Why not research the ones you'll miss and see if there will be hashtags to follow along from home/office?  Anyone who missed TOC would have benefited significantly from following #toc last week.  It doesn't replace the in-person networking and other benefits of being there, but it's better than missing out entirely.  And, if you're lucky, you might be able to pass your speaker question(s) along to an attendee via Twitter.

It's 140 characters per tweet, max, sort of... -- The 140-character tweet limit is both the best and worst aspect of Twitter.  I love it that nobody can ramble on but it's painful when you've tightened your message as much as possible and you're still looking at 142 characters.  That's where links come in.  I've sometimes written a lengthier blog post and then linked to it from a tweet (in fact, I'm about to do just that with this one).  Some followers won't bother to click through but if you make your link message powerful enough you might coax them.  Remember to use numbers (rather than spelling them out) and symbols (such as &, not "and") when you run tight!

So there you have it.  My top five points about Twitter.  Now for the call to action.  If you don't already have a Twitter account you need to sign up right now.  Seriously, do it now, don't wait.  Next, download a client app and start playing around with it.  These two steps combined will take you all of about 3-5 minutes, so it's not a big time investment.  Next, if you're looking for publishing/publisher Twitterers, start by looking at the 75 Twitterers I'm currently following.  And do me a favor: If you find some other interesting publishing-related Twitterers that I'm not yet following, please let me know (or add them via a comment to this post).

Twitter is for real.  So are the benefits of being on Twitter.  Jump in today and you'll ask yourself why you waited so long.

O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) Conference Starts Tomorrow

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 08 13.35I've been counting down the days for this one and tomorrow it will finally be here.  I'm talking about O'Reilly's TOC conference, which starts bright and early tomorrow in NY with a series of tutorials.  I'm heading there tomorrow afternoon and plan to attend a conference-related Tweetup that's scheduled for later in the evening.  Then it's two full days packed with great sessions from morning till evening.

I've been tipped off to several exciting product announcements that will be made at TOC this week, two of which that have really caught my eye.  I can't say anything more about them just yet, but stay tuned for upcoming blog posts and Twitter tweets over the next 3 days.  Actually, I'll probably spend more time Twittering than blogging, so look for more of the former and not so much of the latter.  I also have a search panel set up in my TweetDeck feed, searching for #toc entries; there are already a lot of tweets piling up there, so if you can't make it, be sure to watch the stream from attendees.  And, if you see me tweet from within a session and have a question you'd like to ask the speaker, send me a direct message and I'll do my best to get an answer.

Finally, I'm already keeping an eye out for some of you, but if you're a Publishing 2020 reader and would like to say hi at TOC, be sure to pull me aside between sessions.

TweetDeck: Just What Twitter Needs

TweetDeckI've been experimenting more with Twitter over the past two months and I'm happy to report that, similar to my iPhone experience, I've got from skeptic to advocate.  It started slowly with the twhirl client on my laptop and any one of a number of apps formerly on a Blackberry and more recently on my iPhone.  Each of these tools and approaches were useful but the real breakthrough came when several people recommended TweetDeck.

What's so special about TweetDeck?  It's all about the columns.  While other clients offer a number of ways to filter and rearrange tweets, TweetDeck's column approach just feels much more natural.  A column can be configured to just show tweets from a list of people, so I have one set up to show all the tweets from my O'Reilly colleagues, for example.  And while that's nice all by itself, an even more useful function is the ability to save searches in TweetDeck columns.  I have a column for "Kindle" and another one for "iPhone," which enable me to quickly scan the Twittersphere for all the latest tweets covering both of these gadgets.

My only beef about TweetDeck is that you can't stack columns.  Every column extends from top to bottom of the window, so even though I may only care to see the last 2-3 tweets for each column I'm forced to see an entire screen's worth.  This is a pretty common complaint so I'm hoping it will be addressed in a future version.

Finally, here's another confession I need to make about Twitter: I find I'm more active on it than I am on either of my blogs these days.  I still try to feed both blogs regularly but if you'd like to see more frequent, albeit bite-sized, commentary from me, look for me on Twitter.

Twitter Thoughts...Second Time Around

Twitter I've been back in the Twittersphere for a couple of months now after trying and aborting it initially.  I have to admit that the experience has been much more pleasant this time around.  Why?  First of all, I was (and have remained) pretty selective about who I'm following.  More on that in a moment.  Secondly, the Twhirl client I've been using on my laptop (thanks, Steve!) is far better than just doing everything from, which is what I used during that first experiment with Twitter.  That said, I keep hearing a lot of good things about Tweetdeck, so I'll probably give that a shot in the next couple of days.  Twitterffic on the iPhone is a great portable client too, btw (thanks Laurie!).

My initial disappointment with Twitter had to do with the poor signal to noise ratio.  I was seeing far too much junk and I gave up.  That's not the case this time because, as I mentioned before, I've been very selective with who I follow.  I'm currently only following 40 other feeds and I can't imagine letting that go above 100, for example.

Given that last point, I'd like to make an observation: There seems to be a strong correlation between the quality of a feed and the number of other feeds that person is following.  As the latter goes up, the former seems to go down.  The best (highest quality) feeds I follow are generally written by people who follow less than 500 other feeds, and most are less than 100.

I chuckle when I see someone is following 1,000, 2,000 feeds or more.  Really?  How do you find the time?!  I can't help but think these same Twitterers are just clicking the "Follow" button as much as they can in the hopes of reciprocation.  "I'll follow you if you'll follow me", that sort of thing.  Because those high-follower feeds tend to be the weakest, I find myself reconsidering (and canceling some of) my feeds pretty regularly, much more so than I do with RSS feeds.

So am I wrong or is there a variant of Moore's Law happening here that looks something like this: "The quality of a tweet is reduced by half for every 500 feeds the author is following above a base of 500."  IOW, if someone is following 400 others, their tweets have a quality level of 1.0.  If someone is following 700 others, it drops to .5.  1200?  The quality level gets cut in half again to .25.

What's your experience been?  Have you found any great Twitterers who follow more than 500 others?

Guilted Back to Twitter

Twitter I had lunch yesterday with Steve Weiss, one of my new O'Reilly colleagues, and he totally guilted me into giving Twitter another shot.  A year or so ago I complained that Twitter's signal-to-noise ratio was awful, and while I suspect that's still the case, I figure I can help myself a bit there by only following a few key people to start.

One of the next steps is to add my Twitter feed to my blogs (since Twitter widget functionality is offered for both Typepad and Blogger) and we'll see how it goes...  If you care to follow my tweets, you'll find me here.

Thanks Steve!