2011 University of Illinois Writing Project

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Twitter Overview

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Among the other introductory activities we’ll complete this first day, we’ll also introduce everyone to Twitter. An easy way to send short updates to followers, Twitter was used relatively actively during the Summer Institute last year. Popular with celebrities, marketers, academics, and teachers, Twitter is often used as a backchannel. While it perhaps took more time away from the official activities, many participants used Twitter last year to plan lunch meetups and other events while spread across the library during reading and writing time.

Once you set up a Twitter account, there are a few things to learn about the features of the service. Because Twitter is limited to 140 characters, space is especially important and leads to some language use that needs explanation for new Twitter users. Be sure to check out The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter. This guide provides important information for new Twitter users.

Tweet: This is the update that is sent to your followers and placed on your profile. Many people compare tweets to status updates on Facebook, and they do work similarly.

@ Reply: Tweets are sent out to all followers. If you want to address one person specifically, or if you want to comment on a tweet someone just sent, use an @ symbol, followed by the person’s username. Here’s an example:

@pb112233 Thanks for uploading all the handouts. They look great!

In this example, I sent a message directed at Twitter user “pb112233” (aka Patrick). Only Twitter users who follow both me and Patrick will have this tweet show up on their homepage of Twitter updates from their followers. Others won’t see it.

I can also talk about Patrick using an @ sign. If I want the message to go to everyone, and not just people who follow both of us, I format it like this:

.@pb112233 gave a great talk at #cwcon

By placing a period before the @ symbol, this tweet is read as a normal tweet by Twitter rather than a reply and is sent to all my followers.

Hashtags: You’ll notice that I used “#cwcon” in the previous tweet. This is a hashtag, which means that I’ve given my tweet a term that can be easily searched by others and associated with a specific event, in this case, the Computers and Writing conference. We’ll use a hashtag for the Summer Institute (#uiwp), so be sure to add this at the end of all of your tweets, like this:

We had awesome snacks today! #uiwp

Tweets with hashtags can be easily found through the search function, and anyone can see your tweets this way; they don’t have to follow you to see it.  Along with following other participants in the Institute, you’ll want to follow the hashtag. To do this, put “uiwp” in the search box. You’ll have to refresh the page to see new tweets, but you can follow what others are saying throughout the institute this way.

Retweet: Say someone writes a tweet that you want to share with your followers, either because you agree with it and want to say “right on!” or if it contains a link you want to pass along. Twitter lets you do this through something called a retweet, which allows you to pass the tweet along while still giving credit to its original author. Here’s an example:

RT @scottfilkins: Already impressed and learning lots from drawn representations of writing processes at the #UIWP

Putting the letters “RT” and then @username, signifies that you are retweeting that person’s tweet. If you use the retweet button on the Twitter website, Twitter will take care of this automatically.

Third-party clients: Updating Twitter through the website tends to be a bit clunky; you have to refresh the page to see new tweets. If you use Twitter a lot, you may want to update Twitter through a different service that automatically notifies you of new tweets. I use Tweetdeck, which allows me to send and receive messages from both Twitter and Facebook in the same place. Other popular Twitter clients include Twitterific, Spaz, and Seesmic.

If you’re interested in learning more about Twitter, Mashable has a very comprehensive guide here. Roger Ebert is a prolific writer on Twitter, and his overview of the service is helpful. This site offers a guide to Twitter for teachers. I also wrote two posts about Twitter during the Summer Institute last year that might also give some background. You can find them here and here.


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June 13, 2011 at 5:09 am

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