05 May, 2009
What is this Twitter thing, and why should I care?
Have you heard of Twitter, but don’t “get” what it’s all about (or how you can use it for education?) I’ll try my best to explain Twitter, and hopefully convince you to give it a try.
What is Twitter?
The techno-babble answer is that Twitter is a social networking and microblogging site that lets you send short messages (140 characters max) to your friends and anyone else who has decided to follow you (more on following later.) The magic happens when you start discovering other Twitterers to follow, and everyone starts re-tweeting (again, more on that later) posts they find interesting.
Before you know it, your personal learning network (PLN) will explode in size to include like-minded individuals all over the world. You’ll discover educational websites and resources you never knew existed. You’ll read eye-opening articles. You may even ask for help or opinions on something, and get more responses than you can imagine. Twitter is a fantastic tool for expanding your PLN.
Beyond expanding your PLN, Twitter can be used with your students. Some teachers use tags specific to a particular class, then have students tweet questions, answers, and general thoughts related to the class. One teacher created a Twitter account used to collaboratively write a story in 140-character chunks. (You can download a free PDF of the completed story here.) A group of volunteers wondered what if Twitter had existed during historical events? Their first project is delivering the Battle of Gettysburg via the Twitter accounts of President Lincoln, General McAllister, and 11 other historical figures. Check it out at TwHistory.com.
You can find more examples in the Additional Resources section at the end of this post.
I still don’t get it. How, specifically, can this help me?!
Still not sure how YOU can use Twitter? Here are some specific examples.
- Imagine you’ve started using Twitter, and you’ve found a couple interesting educators to start following. You’re now getting all of their “tweets” (a tweet is Twitter-speak for a post) showing up in your Twitter account. Each of the people you’re following are themselves following many others…sometimes hundreds of people. When those you’re following find something particularly interesting show up in their Twitter account, they “re-tweet” (RT for short) the post. A re-tweet is similar to forwarding an email. Now you’ll know about that great article even though you aren’t following the original poster. You may even find yourself following some of these new people because they often post interesting articles. Since I’ve started using Twitter 3 weeks ago, my personal learning network has expanded 10-fold and includes educators from across the U.S., Canada, and as far away as England.
- People using Twitter often add “hashtags” to their posts. A hashtag is simply a word preceded by a hash. For example: #education, #edtech, #historyteacher, #swineflu, etc. By using hashtags, other users can search for all tweets that contain that tag. You can even subscribe to a tag using an RSS reader. Check it out for yourself. Here’s a Twitter search for the #historyteacher tag. The key here is that you’ll see ALL tweets containing the tag you’re searching for, whether you’re following the posters or not. This is another way to discover new Twitterers, find new websites, articles, etc. Your PLN will continue to grow.
- Ask the community a question, and receive responses from all over the world. Even though you may only have a couple people following you (at first,) you can ask a question to the entire community by utilizing hashtags. For example, say you were looking for good algebra tutoring websites for your students. If you send a tweet similar to the following, you’d receive many recommendations: “Looking for good #algebra tutoring websites. Any ideas? #edtech #mathteachers“
These are but a few examples, and we haven’t even talked about using Twitter with your students! (Baby steps…)
Nuts and bolts – the terminology of Twitter
I’ve mentioned several terms already. Here are the important terms and concepts you need to know:
- Tweet – A tweet is what you post to Twitter. Tweets can be no more than 140 characters in length.
- Re-Tweet (or RT) - When you RT a tweet, you’re essentially forwarding that tweet to everyone who’s following you. To RT a tweet, simply type RT followed by the username of the person who sent the tweet. (Usernames are preceded by the “@” symbol.) For example, If I sent a tweet that said “Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools http://tr.im/kt6p “, you could re-tweet that post like so: “RT @tipsbytony: Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools http://tr.im/kt6p ” There are alternate ways of re-tweeting. Some people us “via” instead. For example: “Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools http://tr.im/kt6p (via @tipsbytony)” I prefer RT because it’s shorter. Although, if I’m adding my own comment to a tweet, I sometimes use via instead of RT.
- Follow – When you follow someone on Twitter (by visiting their Twitter page and clicking the Follow button,) you’re essentially subscribing to their Twitter feed. Whenever they post a tweet, it’ll show up in your Twitter stream.
- @replies – You can reply directly to a tweet by typing the username (remember the “@” symbol”) then typing your response. For example, if I sent the following tweet: “Anybody know of a good Sushi place in Boston?” you could reply like so: “@tipsbytony – Masoba is good sushi in Boston. http://www.masobaboston.com/” By including my username first, you’re making sure the tweet shows up in my stream – even if I’m not following you! (That’s an important distinction. Think about it for a minute…) Of course, everyone who’s following you will also see the reply. If you get in the (bad) habit of replying with too-short responses, people will wonder what you’re talking about, particularly when they’re not following the person you’re replying to. A bad example would be “@tipsbytony – Yes, I agree!”
- Direct Messages – A Direct Message can only be seen by the user you send the message to, and will not show up in your Twitter stream. To send a direct message, use the letter D followed by the username, then the message. For example: “D @tipsbytony – Do you want to get together for Sushi tonight?” Most desktop Twitter clients (as opposed to the Twitter website) make it easy to send direct messages. More on desktop Twitter clients later.
Twitter clients for desktop or iPhone/iPod Touch
While you can use the Twitter website for most of your Twitter needs, there are much better ways to use the service. There are dedicated desktop applications (clients) for Mac, Windows, and Linux, as well as dedicated apps for smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry, etc. Using a dedicated app instead of the Twitter website will greatly enhance your experience.
Twitter Desktop Clients
- Tweetie for Mac – Tweetie for Mac is my current favorite desktop client for Twitter. The interface is well thought out, uncluttered, and easy to use. Tweetie supports multiple accounts (a MUST if you’re going to use separate personal and work accounts, separate accounts for different classes, etc.) I did some testing, and Tweetie used far less resources (memory, cpu cycles) than any of the other apps, so it should be much better on older machines with less RAM. Tweetie for Mac is still very new and the developer plans to add quite a bit of functionality. For example, there’s currently no way to create groups to organize your various contacts/follows. (You could, of course, simply use separate accounts…) Tweetie is free (ad supported – I’ve found the ads to be unobtrusive and easy to live with,) or $19.95 for an ad-free version.
- TweetDeck (Mac, Windows, Linux) – TweetDeck runs on the Adobe AIR platform, so it works for Mac, Windows, and Linux. TweetDeck has a fairly clean interface, supports groups, and can even cross-post to your Facebook account. The major downside at this time, TweetDeck doesn’t support multiple accounts. Also, my testing showed TweetDeck to be a resource hog, gobbling up lots of RAM and hogging the CPU. Fine if you’re on a fully loaded computer, not so good otherwise.
- twhirl (Mac, Windows) – twhirl is another Adobe AIR application, so it runs on multiple operating systems. However, like the other AIR apps, twhirl tends to be fairly heavy on the system resources. twhirl works with multiple accounts, and can cross-post to other services like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If you have enough system resources, twhirl offers a ton of features and is worth a look.
- Twitterific (Mac) – Twitterific is Mac-only, but is another very good Twitter desktop client. Twitterific is lighter on the system resources than either TweetDeck or twhirl, but not quite as good as Tweeie. Twitterific supports multiple accounts and has many other features.
Twitter iPhone/iPod Touch Clients
One of the great things about Twitter is you can use it from just about anywhere. There are several excellent Twitter clients for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’ve narrowed my favorites down to two:
- Tweetie for iPhone/iPod Touch – Unlike Tweetie for Mac, there is no free version of Tweetie for iPhone. For me, the $2.99 I paid for the app was worth every penny. Tweetie for iPhone is clean, easy to use, and supports multiple accounts. I tried several Twitter clients for iPhone before settling on Tweetie. Your mileage may vary.
- TwitterFon – TwitterFon is a very good FREE Twitter client for iPhone/iPod Touch. TwitterFon is very similar to Tweetie but without the ability to use multiple accounts, which for me was a deal-killer.
Using Twitter with Other Cellphones/Smartphones
There are Twitter apps for Blackberry and other smartphones, but I haven’t used any. If you know of any good ones, please sound off in the comments.
If your phone doesn’t have a dedicated Twitter app, you can set it up to use Twitter via text messaging (SMS.) You can find more information here.
Here are some excellent resources to learn more about Twitter:
- Twitter Handbook for Teachers – An overview of Twitter and ways of using it in education.
- tweeternet – Twitter explained.
- Still Don’t Get Twitter? Maybe This Will Help – Figuring out Twitter.
- Nine Reasons to Twitter in Schools
- 50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Education
- “Where Do You Learn?”: Tweeting to Inform Learning Space Development
- Educators Test the Limits of Twitter Microblogging Tool
- The Art of the Tweet – Good tips for creating Tweets.
- Using Twitter as an Education Tool
- Top 10 Twitter Tips for Beginners
- TOOL: Twitterfall – Good tool for following TweetUps (live Twitter chats between many users.)
- TOOL: TweetGrid – An enhanced Twitter search tool, similar to Twitterfall.
- TOOL: GroupTweet – Send private broadcast direct messages to a group of friends. Good for inter-office communication, study groups, etc.
There you have it. More than you probably wanted to know about Twitter. Hopefully your interest has been piqued enough to at least give Twitter an honest try. You don’t know what you’re missing – seriously.
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-05-15
- Monday Morning Roundup (8/24/2009)
- Monday Morning Roundup (5/4/2009)
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-08-07
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-07-10
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-06-26
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-05-22
- Twitter Updates for 2009-05-01
- Weekly Twitter Archive for 2009-07-17
- Monday Morning Roundup (4/20/09)