Coming to terms with Twitter

Okay, if you’ve read earlier posts, you know I’ve had a problematic relationship with — from the service failure last summer, to security breaches earlier this month, to the general “what is it good for”?

One “aha!” moment is that I now realize that while the Twitter canonical question is “what are you doing?” the users in the twittersphere have morphed that to include:

  • What are you thinking about?
  • What key resource have you just discovered?
  • What problem are you having “right now”?
  • What solution can you offer to someone else’s problem?

Looked at that way, a Twitter “conversation” can be much more content rich than “I’m sitting down to a tuna sandwich” nonsense that might have provided workers in a virtual office with the “background chatter” they might miss — but which, to me, just seemed like so much noise.

Other things I’ve learned:

  • Track vs. Hashtags
    • You can “track” a term and get all tweets with that term sent to your phone or IM. [In about three weeks of tracking “aauw” and “nccwsl” there’s been one (count it!) tweet containing either. I did make a new acquaintance of the twitterer, but I’m not sure our community is ready for this yet.]
    • You can add a “hashtag” to a tweet. Examples would be “#aauw” or “#nccwsl”. [In some communities the # symbol is referred to as “hash” — anyone else ever use the term hashbang?] If you are also “following” the twitter user hashtags, then your posts will be accessible from, and folks can even subscribe to an RSS feed attached to a particular term (e.g. the #aauw feed is
    • Note that “track” gets messages to your phone. Hashtags can be followed over the web. Track follows “everyone,” Hashtags follows those who are also following Hashtags and who remember to use the hash character. I’d actually prefer to see Hashtags on my phone and follow tracks on the web: using the hash indicates an intentionality that, to me, improves the chances that I’d need to “see it right now”.
  • D vs. @: sending a message to a particular person
    • When you send a message to a particular person, you use the D command (e.g. “D nes49”), and it works pretty much like an ordinary text message. The benefit is that you remember their twitter name, not their phone number. The message isn’t stored, it just goes into the either –so, it’s okay to use this for posting private data. On the other hand, if the person is reading tweets over the web it still works. On the other other hand, if the person isn’t following you, you cannot use the “D” command.
    • When you use the @ in a message, you’re saying that the message is a specifically to someone, e.g. @nes49. It differs from D (which is just between you and the other person) in that this is a public message, and your followers can choose whether or not they want to see your messages to others. I find reading others’ @ messages pretty confusing (I’m rarely following the person to whom they are directed, so I’m seeing the reply out of context). But it’s a useful tool for those “let me help you with a problem messages” that are becoming a significant portion of the twittersphere, and you can send an @ message to someone who’s not following you.

So, some conclusions:

  • While I may continue to post AAUW and NCCWSL tweets (as nes49 and aauw07), the intersection of AAUW members and twitter users is so small that this is pretty much like spitting in the wind. If anyone (maybe from NCCWSL) disagrees and wants to take over the community building here, feel free.
  • I’m connected to a *very* few “real folks” in twitter — and have already had a seredipitous outcome through that connection:
    • He posted a query
    • I forwarded a link to a possible helpful item on
    • He noticed the spam problem that was announced there and sent me a link to a media wiki extension I hadn’t been able to find on my own.
    • All is now well on the wiki and rogue folks trying to register.

    Could the exchange have happened in e-mail — very unlikely. In Facebook — possibly, and it’s likely I saw his first question as a Facebook status update imported from twitter. In any event, it’s enough of a “good outcome” that I’ll stick it out awhile longer (though as I look at my twitterfox bug – I’ve got 22 unread tweets…).

3/14 update: clarifications to D vs @

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