If you have other questions after reading this, you can post them to the official Twitter forum where I actively answer questions.
Let's start from the beginning: "What is Twitter?"
Twitter is what I call "micro-blogging". You tell the world what you are doing in 140 or less characters. You can do this via the web interface, SMS on your phone or IMs i.e. Google Talk.
The best analogy I can think of for Twitter is like having conversations with your friends over dinner. Everyone at the table are friends who 'follow' each other. As friends 'tweet', you can listen in various conversations. But as you can imagine, with lots of friends talking at the same time it can get a bit noisy.
That's where the @ comes in. Using @username is like talking to someone directly (e.g. "@thomashan how is your day?"). This tweet is still public for all to see.
If you want to have a private conversation under the table, you can DM (direct message) them and then only they would get that tweet, via email, SMS or IM.
So how do I setup Twitter?
Go to Twitter.com and register, then you can start twittering immediately via the web.
Now what? I'm at the table by myself, who do I talk to?
Like any other Web 2.0 social sites, Twitter is not very interesting if you are at the table and talking to yourself, unless you enjoy that. So the next step is to find some people to follow. Twitter offers a way to look through your email contacts (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, MSN & Gmail).
Click on the "Find and Follow" link on top of the page to have Twitter comb through your contacts and see if anyone you know is already on Twitter, you'd be surprised!If that doesn't turn up anyone you know. There are a few other options. You can invite new people by sending them email. You can use the search feature (e.g. search for "Cupertino"). Or you can simply look around to see who others are following and follow those interesting people. Start from a person's profile and click on the 'Following' link to see the people they follow.
If you still can't find anyone, here are a few that might interest you.
- Anderson Cooper of CNN (as Steve pointed it out below, this is a parody, as if he really has time to Twitter)
- Barack Obama, yeah, the presidential candidate
- John Edwards is also on
- One Laptop Per Child (OPLC)
- LAFD (Los Angeles Fire Department)
- I wrote Cupertino Emergency Services and Fire Department and got them to start an account, they're still testing it, but it's here
- If you live in the Bay Area and want to know what that shake was before anyone, here's Bay Area Earthquakes
- Lunch 2.0
Archive? Replies? Recent? Direct Messages, huh?
On the Twitter homepage, you'll see 3 tabs (see image below).
- Archives shows your own tweets.
- Replies shows tweets from others when they talk to you using the @ notation. E.g. "@thomashan how is your day?" You can @ anyone regardless if they follow you or not.
- Recent shows tweets from all the people you follow.
Setup SMS and Instant Message (IM)
IMHO, one of the most powerful features about Twitter is its multiple interfaces. You can setup both your phone for SMS and your IM in similar way. Go to Settings -> Phone & IM.
When you enter your phone number, Twitter will send your phone a code which you'll send back to 40404 to confirm. Similar on the IM side, you'll add email@example.com as you a new friend and send the confirmation code to it to set it up.
Twitter is clever enough to only send you notifications either via SMS or IM, but not both. You can configure that on the web under Notifications section the main page orr you can send the word "on" to SMS (40404) or IM (firstname.lastname@example.org) to turn on that particular device. Under Settings -> Notices, there are many configurations including your sleep time, so you don't get notifications during those hours.Follow vs. Notification?
After you follow someone, you'll see that you also have the option to receive Notification. If you have a device setup (last section), then these friends' tweets will go to that device if you have it turned on. So while you may follow say 20 people, you might only turn on notification for your closest friends so you don't get bombarded with SMS or IM all the day. For the rest of the people you follow, you can just catch up on their tweets on the web.
So that's the basics of Twitter. There are other topics we can talk about, like Windows/Mac/iPhone clients, tracking features, etc. But we'll save that for another time.
Hope this has been helpful.