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Twitter - some of the basics


Twitter - your first 24 hours


Twitter; your first 24 hours


I've noticed a lot of new followers on Twitter recently, and most of them are probably looking at the thing and wondering 'OK, I'm here, what do I do now?' I thought it might help to provide a few pointers that should make that first day a bit more enjoyable and productive.


If you like background reading you could try my blog posts on using Twitter in libraries this is quite old now, but the information contained in it is still pretty accurate. Alternatively try 'Twitter guide book' from Mashable which provides some useful hints and tips on getting started, from Lost art of blogging or CNet's 'Newbie's guide to Twitter' which will take you through some basics; it's comprehensive so there's no need for me to explain basic functionality.


If you're the type of person who likes to jump in and start looking for people to follow you could start with Twitter's follow suggestions tool when you first sign up but quite frankly that's pretty dire and tends to offer you a bunch of celebrities. You could alternatively try Twellow or Wefollow, which takes a category approach to individuals or use the Twitter name search option (which also isn't great either!)


You may be a 'what's in it for me' person, and if that's the case I'd suggest heading over to the Twitter search engine to see which people are talking about subjects that are close to your heart. You can then decide to follow them (or not!) or jump in and start chatting. Alternatively, try clicking on the 'Who to follow' option on the left hand menu to see if you already have friends and colleagues who are on the service.

If you're not any of those people, you might just want to sit back, follow a few people and see where Twitter takes you. I can't offer much advice here, since the people I follow may not interest you, but you can always take a look at them if you like!


However, there are a few that you might be tempted by:

http://twitter.com/ICHCheezburger if you are into LOLcats

http://twitter.com/guardiantech to keep up to date with what's happening in the tech world

http://twitter.com/ukeig which is the UkeiG group

http://twitter.com/stephenfry who now has a ridiculous number of followers. (Currently 9.1 million)


Now I know/hope that you're going to be rushing to try Twitter out - but before you do, please do a few things first:


Create an avatar image to use. This is a small picture - of yourself, your cat, something abstract, it really doesn't matter, but it's the way that most people will learn to recognise you. You can change this at will, but it makes sense to stick with something you like. I often scroll through tweets looking at images for those people that I particularly like, and if you stick with the default image this will not bring you to the attention of people who are following you.


Fill out your profile. People need to know your name, a URL to explore in more detail and a little about you. If you have a blank profile there is a reasonable chance that you'll be seen as a spammer, and you don't want that!


Start with a few tweets before you look for followers. Say who you are, what you're doing, what interests you and so on. While no-one will be reading those at that time they're very useful ways of judging a person and deciding if you are going to be of interest to them enough to follow. Try and pop in a few links to resources as well, just to show how helpful you are.


When you've primed the pump as it were - then go and find some followers - I guarantee you'll get more if you do those few things first of all.


Twitter Search. Want to know more about searching Twitter? Try my Twitter Search page, with Twitter search engine alternatives as well!


Why I (or anyone else) may not follow you back.


If you don't get followed back by me, or anyone else, please don't take it as an insult. Obviously I can't speak for other people, but these are some of the reasons why I don't (immediately) follow someone back.


1. You haven't told me who you are. If you haven't put in some sort of avatar image, linked to a website or weblog, or haven't filled out the one line biography I have no way of telling who you are.


2. You've not written any tweets, or the one that you have written says 'I'm trying Twitter out' or something like that. If I don't have any information on you (see point 1) I'm going to rely on what you've posted to highlight what you're interested in. My rule of thumb is that if you've not done point 1, I'll look at your tweets, and if I find myself clicking on a couple of links, you're clearly providing useful stuff, so I'll link to you.


3. You post in a language that I don't understand, which is (to my shame) anything that's not English. I'm impressed that anyone can speak languages, but if I can't read what you're tweeting, there's no point in me following you.


4. You lock your updates. If you lock your updates it's because you want to talk about private/personal things. If I don't know who you are, why would I want to intrude, and more to the point, why would you want me to? If you're not bothered, then unlock them.


5. You don't say anything that interests me. Sorry to be harsh, but it's true. If you're on Twitter to tweet about your rock band that's great, but don't expect me to be interested. Again, it's nothing personal, but I use Twitter as an information source, not as a leisure activity.


Now, if you fall into any of these categories, it's not a problem, because I don't choose to follow/not follow as a one off. I regularly check to see what people are saying, and I also see if anyone refers to me using the @philbradley option. That'll certainly catch my attention, and the same goes for anyone else. I also search Twitter a lot and may well find tweets that you've posted, and I'll start to follow you back of my own accord.


Twitter search


This is available directly from  the home page, top right hand corner. However, just before you take a look at this, take a quick look at the 'Trends' option to the left. This gives you an opportunity to see what people are talking about at this particular moment, and it's a good way to get a brief overview of major events taking place.


Twitter search is fairly straightforward. Because it's real time searching that we're doing here, don't expect to get number of results since that's fairly pointless in this situation. Just expect to get results from the last few seconds back, and you get the full tweet.


Well, I say 'straightforward', but there's a huge complication. The basic Twitter search that you get from the home page is very limited, and there's no link to an advanced search function. However, there IS an advanced search option, which works entirely differently, and I'll try and point out the differences as we go.


Twitter search defaults to AND, and it recognises the OR option, but assumes that NOT is a search term, although the minus sign works in place of it. Unfortunately phrase searching isn't an option which is annoying, except that there is if you use the advanced search option.Basic Twitter search offers us the option of 'nifty queries' which I think is designed to indicate how advanced search should work, except that the examples they provide don't actually do what you would expect. Their example "is down" doesn't work in basic search, but it does in advanced search.  


Search using hashtag (#) is a useful option, as long as you know what tags to use. A hashtag such as #uksnow is a neat and easy way to collate a series of tweets together on one subject, such as a conference for example. A search on said hashtag will then result in a series of tweets discussing that subject. This works in both basic and advanced search in the same way, with the same results.


Language search options. In theory in the advanced search option it's possible to search by language from the pull down menu. In practice this simply doesn't work. I'd expect a search for dog written in Icelandic to produce zero results, but I simply get a set of results containing the word dog. Trying the same search and attempting to limit to other languages also doesn't produce the desired effect. I have to say that I think this option is busted.


People search options. Both search options allow search by an individual with the function from: so from:philbradley provides a result listing all of my tweets, though you could get the same information from my profile page. However, you can then add in other search terms to limit results to my tweets that also contain a particular word. Unsurprisingly it's possible to search for tweets to a particular person, so to:philbradley shows tweets to me and adding in more terms limits the search to those tweets that also contain the searched keyword. Finally in this section it's possible to search for references to an individual using the @name option, so @philbradley will list replies to me but also Retweets (RT) as well.


Location based search options. This is another oddity. The concept is simple, working in both basic/advanced search, in that you can run a search for your keyword, a location, and a distance. A search for  internet near:exeter within:15mi will provide results for the keyword in a radius of 15 miles of Exeter. I think the location is taken from profiles, either as named or as a geo-location (I've seen a few iphone references for example.) This is of course useful, but because it's seemingly based on users, we have a problem here. A location search sometimes appears to result in replies from a person who lives in the same county as the specific location listed. The problem is compounded when two places have the same name, such as Essex in the UK and in the US. Twitter has defaulted to the US variant, and Richmond in Virginia is the default option rather than any of those in the UK. However, if we run the search as near:richmonduk we get a response based on Richmond near Darlington, but a search for near:essexuk results in an error message. While not exactly broken, I would have to say that searching by location is flawed.


Search by date. This option lists Tweets since a particular date using the function since:2009-03-11 (note the American dating system if you're not from those parts) or before a particular date using the function until:2009-03-12 This works well in both basic and advanced search.


Attitude searching. This is very nice indeed - very simple concept based on the emoticons :) for positive, :( for negative and ? asking a question. Unfortunately it's not possible to search for other symbols such as $ or % which is a real shame.


Other search functionality. A nice function, which works irregularly is the identification of particular users based on search terms. (This also only works in the basic search option as well). A search for 'cards' returns 4 users - mainly commercial that print greetings cards. A search on the word 'search' returns some search engines that have Twitter accounts. The maximum seems to be 4 hits ranked on the number of followers, but it is possible to search for more users, with the Twitter search for users resource. This is another of their neatly hidden options, but it allows you to try (note the word try) to find particular users, based on names. A search for 'search' gives several results from users who use that word in the name element of their biography. However, for this to work properly, you really do need to know the person's name before you begin - you can only find me if you search for philbradley, as philip bradley doesn't work although phil bradley finds several namesakes. It's also worth noting that this search option does give result numbers - there are over 180 who use the word 'search' in their name.


Twitter search competitors.


Native Twitter search is only one solution however. There are other engines that you might want to try.


Take a look at

Icerocket,  BackTweets, Twitterfall, #hashtags, Twibs or my personal favourite, Topsy.