Friday, November 27, 2009


I've only been using Twitter now for a handful of months. After putting it off for a couple of years, I started in late winter/early spring of 2009.

Oh, and just a brief note about what Twitter is, on the off chance that someone reading this isn't familiar with it -- Twitter is a free social networking service allowing users to put out text-based messages of no longer than 140 characters that others can subscribe to. It is similar to blogging and is often referred to as micro-blogging. (For a lot more details about Twitter, here's the Wiki entry)

This might have been one of my first tweets (March 15, 2009):

Wonders if I do the EXACT same message for both Facebook and Twitter, is that like having an affair?

Of course, I'm not sure if all my tweets have been archived or not, but it certainly feels like one of my first tentative ventures into the land of Twitter.

I've stumbled my way around the Twitter landscape now for a while and while I'm far from a proficient or experienced user, I thought I'd share how I like to use it as well as my own version of Twitterquette (or Twitter etiquette)

First, I have two accounts. One is a personal one - Mark Leslie. The other is a work-based one I share with a co-worker at Titles Bookstore. Given that I'm passionate about books and bookselling etc there's a huge crossover between my personal posts and posts from the store. However, I do try to keep the posts from the work related account on target in terms of things that might be of interest to the McMaster community (particularly those interested in bookish things)

And that leads to how I use Twitter. For the sake of simplicity, I'll stick to my personal account, since that's the one I use 90% of the time.

Here are the types of tweets I send:
  • Items of interest (blog posts, articles, etc that I consider worth a look)
  • Humorous observations/anecdotes
  • Updates on my writing activities/appearances/etc
  • Goofy, silly comments

When I tweet, I try to consider the amount of noise out there and before I submit something I wonder if it's really worth crowding up someone else's Twitter feed. So I don't tweet everything that comes into my mind or every single thought I have in a day. I try to stick to a self-filter of only the most interesting. Is that the right way to use it? Well, it works for me. It's my version of "do unto others."

Some things that annoy me with Twitter are users who DO seems to tweet every single thing that comes to their mind, and don't seem to apply any sort of filter on what they're tweeting. I'm not saying that's wrong -- there are no right and wrong ways to use Twitter (and I'm far from an expert) -- but the way I approach it is the way I approach a that babble-mouth who never shuts up or lets anyone else get a word in during a conversation. I avoid speaking with them, or I stop following them.

Does this mean I expect every single tweet to be great? Is every single thing a person says gold? No. Why should Twitter be any different? But, given the unique nature of this social media platform, there is the ability for users to apply at least some thought before they "publish."

Another thing that annoys me about Twitter are those who seem to be out there MERELY to try to amass the most followers. These are the folks who follow you only in the hope that you'll follow back. Then, if you don't follow back after a few days, they drop you. Strange behaviour in my mind, and I wonder if these people actually understand that Twitter is a community, not a potential fan-club.

There's so much noise and so much content on Twitter that I try to only follow tweets that are of interest to me. So, usually when someone follows me, if I don't already know them (and if I have time), I'll go check out their Twitter page and scan through the most recent 5 posts they've sent out. I make a decision based on those 5 posts.

1) Do they have ANY info about themselves in their profile? A website link?
2) Are the posts interesting/entertaining/useful to me?

3) Are the posts coming out like machine-gun fire?
So if I answer YES to the first question (which is, to me, a measure of whether or not this is a "real" person or some blatant spam account or perhaps just some amateurish marketing attempt for attention -- if you're a writer, or blogger or bookseller or whatever, simply say so - it helps give me an idea of who you are and what you might offer to my experience in the Twittersphere.). If I answer YES to the second question, I seriously consider the 3rd one. Does this person send an update every 5 minutes? If so, then it might negate the effectiveness of the first question. Too much of a good thing isn't so good or useful to me.

I HAVE tried various filters and ways of honing in on my "favourite" tweeters, but I'm not fond of any of them so far. First, I don't always know from the get-go who will end up on that list, and maintaining yet ANOTHER list is something that just eats up more time. There might be a blogger I follow in RSS whose posts are phenomenal, but whose tweets leave me flat and dry. Or a writer I admire who, similarly, should stick to novels and stories rather than 140 character updates. Also, I question filtering. If I'm not going to pay attention to your tweets, then why the hell should I even pretend by following you then just ignoring the stuff you're saying? I'd rather not bother including you just to filter you out.

One of the great things about Twitter is the serendipitous nature of it. I want to follow as many interesting people/entitities as possible -- but not at the expense of creating so much noise that I can't get any use out of it. So while I know I'm not getting everything because I'm sure there are thousands of others out there that I'm likely to get great info/content from, it's simply a matter of not being able to properly digest it all.

The main way I add new people to follow is through retweets that others send out. If someone I'm following retweets something, and that something intrigues or interests me, I will check out the original poster and run through the same 2 questions, then follow them or not.

What I haven't done in a while is go through to see who is following me whom I might like to follow back. My apologies for anyone following me who I haven't followed back -- perhaps I'm seen as rude, but in all honesty, if I didn't get a chance to click on your profile and check out your posts, I might have just missed the chance. Hopefully the chance for me to check you out will return through another way. And if I did check out your profile but didn't follow you, please don't take it personally. It's like books. There are hundreds of fantastic books published each year that I haven't read and might not ever get to. Not that I don't want to check them out -- just that I haven't been able to get around to it yet.

So while I think things like Follow Friday (#FollowFriday) are interesting, I don't find them particularly useful. Sure, the community spirit of sharing is there and I truly admire that, but I question the usefulness of it. Users simply toss out names of people they follow in a large list. That's nice, but there's no substance to it. It doesn't speak to WHY do you follow them? WHAT about them is interesting, and to what type of person? If you're following a person because they send really cool updates about crocheting, but I'm not interested in crochet, there's not much use there for me. So I tend to look at other things such as retweets to find people I'm interested in following.

One thing I've learned is that there are way too many tweets out there that I'm going to find interesting than I'll ever have time to absorb. But really, that's no different from being at a party or conference where there are dozens of interesting conversations going on at the same time and you can't be involved in all of them at the same time.

If I'm not connected or following and I miss 100 great posts, so be it. It doesn't bother me. It's no different than if I step out to the restroom and miss a few minutes of great conversation. I have enough faith in my friends that if something REALLY interesting happened while I wasn't paying attention or had stepped out, that they'll relay it to me later.

And THAT, more than anything has allowed me to use Twitter to connect, send updates and receive interesting information from others without getting all stressed out about it

How do you use Twitter?

1 comment:

lecram said...

Though I am fairly connected cyber-wise... I am not on twitter. I guess because I find even texting a bother. LOL. I do understand the value of it but have yet to justify using it myself.