13 months on Twitter – A MIR Reader’s response to my request for help

Last week I posted a note about Twitter (“My Arse With Twitter“). In the piece, I set out quite a few examples of why I thought the service wasn’t entirely useful to me. There are total gems — now and again — amongst the rubbish conversations. What to do? How do other people use Twitter? Is it just me not ‘getting it‘?

Enter Martin Bryant, a regular mobile reader and talented musical genius from Manchester. He sent me a direct message about the post and I asked him if he’d be interested in noting down his thoughts on Twitter and how he uses the service.

Here it is.

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As a regular MIR reader I’m a fan of Ewan’s occasional rants and until this week I could say I agreed with every single one. When he posted his criticisms of Twitter though I found myself disagreeing entirely. Although it was initially designed as a simple status update service, Twitter has grown into so much more. You just have to dig a little to find the value, as I’ve found out over the past 13 months.

I’m the kind of person who likes to try new things, especially online things that are free. So when I heard about a new web service called Twitter taking Silicon Valley by storm I had to try it. The problem was I just couldn’t think of any use for it. None of my friends used it and all you could do was post status updates. Why would I want to share what I was doing with a load of strangers?

As a musician, though, Twitter was useful for me. I wanted a website with dynamic content that was different every time someone came back to it. So in November 2007 I signed up. I didn’t always have a new release or gig to announce but having a Twitter feed on my site allowed me to post micro-updates.”Recording vocals for a new track”, perhaps, or “Just come off stage – I broke the mic stand… again”; I saw Twitter as nothing more than a little ‘added value’ for visitors to my site.

Over time, though, I began to see how much more Twitter could offer me. Through starting to ‘Follow’ people local to me in Manchester I discovered a lively community of people using the service to share interesting links, discuss current affairs and talk about the projects they were working on. I found myself using Twitter more as I interacted with this community and I found more people around the world who were interesting to follow. It became less about promoting my music and more about connecting with a constantly growing, changing and evolving community.

Now, 13 months from my first ‘tweet’, Twitter is the second thing I check every day after my email. I now follow about 250 people so I can’t read every single tweet that each one posts but I regularly scan through what people are saying. Tapping into that continuous information flow has helped me in lots of ways.

– I wrote what may be the first ever song commissioned over Twitter when one user suggested she would like someone to write a bleepy song about robot pigs in flying cars(!) – I was happy to oblige.

– The conversation flow gives me lots of ideas for my technology blog, 14sandwiches. I can see what web services and gadgets people are talking about and that’s far more of a direct tap into the tech-hive-mind than subscribing to Engadget and TechCrunch.

– Through participating in Twitter I make people aware of what I can offer, leading to all sorts of opportunities. Recently a Direct Message from a fellow Manchester blogger led to me interviewing Vodafone’s Live Guy about his Social Media campaign to promote their Dell Inspiron Mini netbooks. Just yesterday I got a DM from some guy called Ewan asking me to write a piece for some site called Mobile Industry Review.

So, I think what the Twitter critics have missed is that it works best when you run your account as your own personal web community, built to maximise what you get out of it. What you want to get out of it will vary from user to user depending on their needs. You might want to use it just to keep up with friends, maybe you just want to follow people in your line of work so you can keep up on gossip and network with like-minded folk, maybe you want to snoop on Twittering celebrities like Stephen Fry; you can do all these things with Twitter.

One of Ewan’s criticisms was that he doesn’t care what most people are doing most of the time. Well yes, most people post unimportant twaddle on Twitter at times. Why do I care that BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has just walked his dog? Of course I don’t, but as I’ve said above, Twitter as a constantly moving stream of information. Not every single message will be relevant to you but manage the list of people you follow well and most of what you read will give you some sort of value.

Another of his criticisms was that he sees conversations between people that he doesn’t need to see; people arranging a pub meet-up or the like. True, many of these should be done by DM rather than public reply but you’ll only see replies between people that you’re following and so many of them will have some relevance or interest to you.

So, what tools should a serious Twitter user have to hand? A good Twitter client is a must. I use Tweetdeck on my laptop as it separates normal tweets, public replies and DMs into separate columns. You can also set up columns to search Twitter for keywords and there’s a ‘Twitscoop’ column to see the current hot topics being talked about. When I’m on my iPhone I use Tweetie, which costs £1.59 from the iTunes App Store but is well worth the modest expense as despite being made y a 3rd party it works in exactly the way you’d expect a Twitter app built by Apple themselves would. On my Nokia N82 I use Dabr.co.uk, far and away the best web-based Twitter front end for most mobile phones.

If you’re new to Twitter there a number of tools for finding good people to follow. Once you used Twitter’s own email address book lookup for finding people you’re already in contact with, TwitterLocal is useful for finding people close by and search.twitter.com is can help you find people talking about things you’re interested in. Once you’re following a few people, Mr Tweet can suggest other people you may like.

Oh and feel free to follow me too: I’m MartinSFP.

– – – – –

Martin, thank you very much for taking the time to write and send that. Very illuminating and enlightening. You’ve modified my perspective Martin!

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