Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

Twittter? Really? Are you guys...sure?

"We wanted to capture that in the name -- we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word "twitch," because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But "twitch" is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word "twitter," and it was just perfect. The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was."
Jack Dorsey, Twitter creator (quoted on Wikipedia)

HANK: Twitter. What a weird, weird thing. But then someone told me--you can't live without it. Gotta have it.

I thought--you're kidding me,right? Why would I want to do that? But, just like I wouldn't try to make a souffle without a recipe, or go to another country without at least trying to know the language, I found a Twitter expert.
Yes, there is such a person, and Patrick O'Malley is quite a twitter genius. And he taught me all about it! (You can't believe all the cool stuff he knows. All kinds of short cuts and info and messages and searches.) And we'll hear from him in a minute. But JR's--do you tweet? Why or why not? And any questions for the fabulous Patrick? He knows ALL.

HALLIE: You know, Hank, you really can't make a souffle’ without a recipe... No, I do not Twitter. It's on my to-do list. #36.

ROSEMARY: I know ...never say never..but I can't imagine anyone that I'd want to hear from that frequently. Or who would want to hear from me that often. What are we talking about? Maybe some people think it's cool to know when Demi Moore is getting a cavity filled but I'm not all that interested. And anyone who wants to know what I'm doing ten times a day is a little scary. Then I'd be like all of these weirdos walking around New York looking at their phones instead of watching where they're going. (That may be another blog.)

I've had a few people send me emails asking if I wanted to follow them on Twitter. Not even Russell Crowe. Okay, maybe Russell Crowe.

HANK: Two resounding thumbs down from JRW. Hmmm. But certainly it's a hugely popular site. So, you get 140 characters per message, and that's all. Patrick, you think Twitter is here to stay?

PATRICK: Twitter may not be here to stay, but there is certainly a place for something like it. Twitter has problems, like the fact that you can waste a lot of time reading about nonsense before you find some tweets that are useful. They’ll have to solve this soon or some people will never invest time in it.

HANK: Why do you think it’s so effective?

PATRICK: It has a few essential elements that are critical for our fast paced society, including

- It’s quick to setup an account
- It’s quick to post a message, since you’re limited to 140 characters
- It is quick to read an individual message. (However, reading hundreds can be daunting)
- It can be updated and read from mobile phones

HANK: See how organized he is? So--what can it do for people? How can it help them? Who's a good candidate?

PATRICK: Twitter can be good for

• learning cutting edge information in your field of interest
• finding out entertaining information from celebrities
• getting the most current news

It can also be used by a group of friends, neighbors or family members to just see what others in their group are doing at any moment. One great example of this is that impromptu meetings, parties, et cetera, can be done with a single message if everyone knows how to look for it on Twitter.

You can find the thought leaders in your field by going to the Twitter yellow pages at and searching for “mystery author” if that is the type of person that you would like to follow.

You could also follow celebrities and entertainers like ashton kutcher (@aplusk), Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow), or Britney Spears (@britneyspears), who all have over 2 million followers. The Twitter-ers that have the most followers can be found at

You could follow CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk), Barack Obama (@BarackObama), or The New York Times (@nytimes) to get current news.

Or, you could just follow friends, colleagues, et cetera, on Twitter. You can then see their “tweets” and if they follow you, they would see your tweets.

Of course, most people probably do some combination of all of the above.
HANK: Some people turn up their noses...and say, this is such a waste of time. What do you think about that?

PATRICK: That can be true. One of the biggest problems with Twitter is that the same people who may give you a pointer to a valuable blog entry or news article may also send out tweets about having coffee, going to the gym, or going to catch a plane. These are a waste of time for most people, so I encourage clients to always think about whether their “tweets” will be valuable to others. If more people followed that guideline, Twitter would be a more productive way to spend their time.

HANK: I know this is your job--but just for Jungle Red--tell us one Twitter secret. Okay?

PATRICK: I’ll give you two.

One is to realize that your tweets don’t just go to your followers. They can be seen by anyone on Twitter, possibly for eternity, so be careful what you write. To see a great example of this, Google “Cisco fatty paycheck”, and see the story of a woman who lost a job offer because she broadcast a message on Twitter saying she had to “weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Cisco saw the tweet and rescinded the job offer.

The second one is to tweet information about great articles that you might find on the web. If you find a good article, create a small description about why you think it’s useful, and then put in the URL (i.e. the web address). If the URL is too long, a free site called can make a smaller URL that will go to the same location.

HANK: Well, Twitter suspended my account for no reason, bizarrely enough (what 's up with THAT?)…but I persevere. Not exactly sure why, thought Patrick is so enthusiastic and he does know his stuff! So now I have a new address
(Thanks, Patrick! )

Twitterers—or is it tweeters?—come find me there!

Do you tweet? What do you think about it? And feel free to use more than 140 characters.


  1. I use twitter to publish Haiku under the name geekhaiku. It has two purposes. Writing the haiku is good practice in rhythm and sound. Twitter gives me a chance to practice without just losing the haiku into a notebook or file, I can see if people like the work by whether they retweet it to others.

  2. Yay, Ray!

    Haiku has got to be the perfect Tweet.

  3. My apologies, but I can't get it out of my head: only twits twitter.

    That having been said, yes, I'm on there (don't tell my daughter). And I greatly appreciate any advice on how to manage the process and reduce the overwhelming volume of stuff.

  4. Have not yet joined in this one. Really can't see how it would work for me. So far, all I see is dozens and dozens of Twitter feeds on Facebook saying, "I'm having coffee", or "Can't decide what to wear." I've finally had to set filters on Facebook to move those folks off my main feed page.

    I prefer quality to quantity. I'm sure I'm missing something, but I really haven't been able to gather the motivation to care.

  5. Sheila,

    Check out Tweetdeck (which you can find through Google). It helps somewhat in managing the clutter.

    Also, look at the Search function on the right hand side of your page, which can allow you to find tweets with only certain keywords, although you will then see everyone's tweets, not just those of the people you are following.

    Lastly, if you specify those keywords along with RT, for ReTweet, you'll see only those tweets that people considered useful enough to pass on to others.


    I'm not sure if you've found the "Hide" function on Facebook. If you have an over-zealous friend who posts statuses constanly, and you want to remove them, look for the Hide button, which, ironically, is hidden.

    If you look at a status update from someone, and hover your mouse over the upper right hand corner of the status update, it will appear, and will allow you to hide the updates from that offender.

  6. No Hank I don't tweet--though my husband sees your posts all the time:). I even have a Twitter account and every few days I get a notice saying someone new is following me...the guilt rushes in. But I'm in writing phase lately and just not willing to get sucked into any more time-consuming social networking. Besides that, maybe I'm really a luddite who doesn't like being constantly connected to the world. My family thinks so--they never call my cell phone because they're so sure it's never on.

  7. Ah, Ray. Wonderful! Off to find you... Let's follow each other, okay?

    I must say the 140 word limit is really a wonderful editing exercise. Maybe there's a way to use that in accompany the "Shorter is better" mantra. Hmmm...

  8. Oh, there's a typo on the blog--hate that. It says "thought Patrick is very enthusiastic" instead of "though Patrick is very enthusiastic."

    SIgh. But you didn't notice
    it, right?

  9. Well, I don't really want to totally hide these folks, so I've just created filters -- like I have one for family, and one for people who I want to follow closely, and so I created one where I can put all these Tweeters -- I can still go look at them, but they don't fill my entire home screen with all their chatter.

  10. I'd take Twitter and a blog over all the other social networking any day of the week... until something faster and easier comes along. I guess I interact with lots of interesting folks over there!

    I do think the comment about everyone being able to see Twitter tweets is a little misleading. Yes, someone can go direct to your account and read everything you've ever written, and there are secondary ways your tweets might come to light, but in general, it's your followers who'll read your tweets on any given day, not everyone.

    Good post though - will mention you in my online travels today.


  11. Dani,

    I agree that in general, it's your followers who'll read your tweets on any given day, but users should be forewarned that anyone could see their tweets.

    In the example that I gave in the blog post, the young woman tweeted about getting a fat paycheck at Cisco for a boring job, and thought only her followers and friends would see it.

    Cisco was watching all tweets from everyone for the keyword "Cisco", and found hers. It cost her a job, and made her infamous.

  12. I use Twitter and have it copy my tweets to my Facebook account.

    I have a ton of Twitter accounts (make that 45 and counting) that I don't "follow" but whose twitterfeeds I've bookmarked to catch up on when there's time. Accounts move onto my Twitter list and off, depending.

    On my Twitter list? Foodies, writers, techies (including cnewmark, laughingsquid, techcrunch), magazines, news sources, Poynter, people in the publishing business, science sources, some trivia, ...

    I don't read =everything= =everyone= says. I move someone off my list and into my bookmarks if I find that interesting as they are, I just don't have time to follow them.

    Twitter gives me a wide variety of factoids, news snippets, and links briefly. Give me content. Give me a brief precis so I know if the click is worth clicking. I dip in several times a day.

    But, yes, remember that unless you've made your Twitter account private, anyone who cares to can read your tweets and they're archived. If you browse through you'll find my interests, snippets of my life, things others have tweeted that I thought worth sharing.

    Twitter's also great for immediate (but take it with several grains of salt) news. Wondering what's up with Sotomayor? Pop /sotomayor/ in and see what-all is being said about her. Care about what's happening in Iran? Check for tweets labeled #iranelection. Want to know what people might be tweeting about you? e.g. Pop /Hank Ryan/ into the search field. Search /writing markets/ and see what bubbles up.

    Twitter's a blast and useful!

    Twitter's an amazing tool. Just don't stress about following people or not following people or reading everything everyone posts, checking out each link given, or following every path to see where it leads.

  13. Ray..very cool!

    I know I sound like a total Luddite, but I can't see where I'd find the time to check my twits...;-) People who know me know I don't even pick up my phone messages...if it was important whoever it was will call back. THAT might have been fun to read Andy Roddick's messages during Wimbledon.

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  15. I came to Twitter reluctantly (and only recently), but I do love it. I had been thinking that Twitter is a kind of build-your-own magazine, where you get the content you want from the people you want, and then Susan Orlean later compared it to 'having your own radio station', so I guess we view it the same way. I follow a lot of astronauts, writers, SAR folks and dog people -- but I'm choosy, not out of snobbery I hope, but because I'm looking for a certain kind of content via the platform.

    I follow @Sockington and @Pennycat, because really, to get an idea of how a distinct POV can get hugely popular, those two, written by Jason Scott, are the standard bearers. (He tweets exclusively from their cat point of view -- full of personality and character and total catness, smart with those 140 characters, and he has 800,000+ followers to prove it, and a book deal in offer because of it).

    As a follower, authors who simply tweet their next venue aren't as interesting to me as, say, Orlean, who really gets how to be provocative, interactive, personable, and ... newsworthy! (One of her tweets on social expectations for women writers who also have small children -- set off quite the media buzz in June.) So I generally don't follow authors who just tweet book tour stops or who spam a book promo six times daily; I don't follow anyone who crossposts the same material to Facebook if they're already a 'friend' on Facebook, as I don't like seeing the same messages twice. No insult intended -- I just want certain things from the experience, and if I already see it on Facebook, I'd prefer not to see it again on Twitter, as I view that a lot from my phone.

    I definitely don't follow friends who want to tweet every cup of coffee. I absolutely don't follow dogs, cats, gerbils or boa constrictors whose authors tweet them in babytalk. (Him wuvs his weekly puppypawties wif friends, him does. AUGH!) With Twitter, I'm looking for something interesting, well-written, and thought-provoking. "E-converse before E-commerce," one writer I know tweeted, and hear, hear. Build a relationship; it's not all about the sell.

    I tweet as @PuzzleCharleson, writing my take on a search dog's POV (and definitely not in babytalk)-- ideally funny or interesting or unexpected material really designed for people interested in dogs or search work. There are the occasional dog haikus on there (one went up yesterday.)

    I've just set up @S_Charleson to tweet from my own perspective. Four followers show on that account now, and since I haven't yet posted on that account, this probably means a 'bot' found the name and is using my follower field as additional exposure for their own products/services, etc.

    I do always review every follower, because so often it's a bot follow promoting porn or virus-laden links. I block a lot of bot-followers these days!

    Anyway, long-winded stuff. I loved Twitter and didn't expect to: love it as a follower and on the other side hope to write something there worth reading.

    And boy does it teach you how to edit.

    Which I could have used here.

    -=Susannah, at 36,000 feet Washington Reagan > DFW International, on AA's inflight gogoInternet

  16. I opened a Twitter account last week just to see what all the fuss was about. It took me just one day to d/l Tweetdeck to organize the chaos. I still don't get it. The noise to signal ratio is much too high to make it useful. And I've got lots of "followers" who just want to sell me something. (Yes, I know how to block them.)
    The one useful contact is the local traffic reporter, but I'm not putting this thing on my cell phone.

  17. Susannah,

    Odd that you should mention Sockington and his 800,000 followers. Jason Scott is a very good friend of mine, and I actually hired him to work for me about 15 years ago.

    I've talked to him a lot about the Sockington phenomenon, and I was worried about telling people about it, because I thought Twitter would eventually ban him. Oddly, Sockngton is now on some of the Twitter Help pages.

  18. What a small world, Pat! That's very cool.

    Socks and Pennycat are a little joy on Twitter, if you like that sort of thing, and having cats with attitude, I do. And I have a friend fighting cancer who finds those tweets a day-brightener. Sometimes when she feels too rotten to sit at her computer, she can read them on her phone -- a nice little aside during chemo. :/

    When Socks-the-cat went missing on Saturday (legitimate, not a Twitter stunt), I wrote Jason privately about possibly using a pet-specific search canine to help in finding Socks. He (Jason) promptly wrote back a thank you and said the information was helpful, and considering how many hundreds of emails he must have gotten in a very short space of time, I was impressed. Sockington was found, bless him, spooked and with a hurt foot. He is a quintessential Twitter phenomenon, and his writer has got an enviable wit.


  19. Off to folow @Sockington and @Pennycat, and both of you Susannahs...

    Elise, Sal,where are you? Who else should I be following?

    Dani and Terry--I got you, babes.

  20. Susannah,

    Make a deal with you. Email me the address of your friend with cancer, and I will make sure Socks sends her one of the new Socks Tshirts, free of charge.

    You can find my email address under the "Contact me" info at

    I don't want to post it here or the spammers that crawl the internet might get it.

  21. OPh, PAt, that's very sweet! Anda gret ending for the day...thanks for sharing your expertise! And anyone who wants more info--just head toPAt's webiste.

    Tomorrow..Jeremy Duns.
    Come chat about spies, the cold war, thrillers and his new trilogy.

    You think Hitchcock is the master of suspense? Duns has some other candidates.