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Twitter Turns Out to be Fun and Useful

For a long time, I was depressed about Twitter. Apparently, lots of people were using Twitter to microblog on their mobile phones, sending short text messages to friends – and strangers! – about what they were doing. I work at home and have poor mobile phone connectivity, so I felt left out of the party.

A week or so ago, in a fit of modernization, I tried Twitter, though not from my phone. Instead, I went to the source, the Twitter home page. I had a great experience. It was easy to make an account and easy to find people to Twitter with, including several TidBITS staffers who also joined recently. Twitter is set up so it’s easy to make connections, thus becoming a “follower” or gaining people who follow you, though I think it’s more engaging if you follow people who you know in the real world.

And, the best part for me – I don’t have to use a phone! I bookmarked my Twitter page in Safari, and now I can open it any time I like. And, there’s a free Macintosh client for Twitter – Twitterrific, by The Iconfactory. Adam has dibs on reviewing Twitterrific, so I won’t say much about it here except that it’s an alternate interface to Twitter and comes with Growl support, so your incoming “tweets” can briefly appear on your Mac screen via Growl, if you wish.

Most of my Twitter friends send tweets only a few times per day, so it takes less than a minute to check my Twitter account and see what’s up. So, even while on vacation, I enjoyed checking in. I learned that Rich apparently has a new parrot. Andy has been testing cell phones by dropping them in vodka and running them through a dishwasher. Glenn wants more sleep. Jeff is working hard with CSS.

So, I’m no longer depressed about Twitter. Instead, Twitter seems like an informal, fun way to stay in touch with far flung friends and colleagues, without much overhead. My email has inexhaustible backlog of messages, many well intentioned, some guilt inducing, but in my lifetime I won’t be able to reply to them all. And, blogs are great, but they can take a lot of time to create and read.

In Twitter, each message is limited to 140 characters, so it’s like blogging except that you need only write the headline. If this blog post were a tweet, it would read: “Twitter is more fun than email and blogging, esp. when on vacation.” And, nobody expects that you will definitely read their messages, so there’s no problem if you don’t keep up.

Most of the time, you tweet to everyone who is following you, but you can also send direct messages to just one person. This nifty feature let me stay in touch with family about some specific logistics while on vacation, without using email or trying to find a convenient time to call.

I have a bazillion friends, relatives, and colleagues, so what I’d most like to see in Twitter is a way to create groups of people who I’m following. On a busy work day, I might only follow a core group of colleagues. On a less busy day, I might follow more folks. For occasional fun, I might follow a huge group. (Some people have over 1,000 people who they are following!)

At least for now, though, I’m happily twittering away, so feel free to follow me.

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