Having used Twitter now for.. what seems like forever, but is only a few months, I come to realise a few things about it, and using it (and especially what I like in it, and how I use it).
Not heard of Twitter? Think “Facebook status updates on crack”. OK, you’re good to go.
First: what I like is people pointing me to interesting stuff. Which generally means people who include links to interesting stuff in their tweets. When people don’t have those sorts of things in their tweets, and when it really is the unexamined life (“Having cup of coffee” “Eating biscuit”) then I’m afraid I’m not interested. I love ya and all that, but I’d like to get something done. And for me that means finding a fresh perspective, not knowing that you still have a pulse and a functioning brainstem.
The day I realised this I also realised, with something like horror, that I hardly ever do this. So I wrote a little Applescript at once to enable me to do precisely that from Camino. (NetNewsWire already has a function to let you post a feed item’s URL straight to Twitteriffic. It’s been in there since at least January, possibly longer, but I’d never used it.) (If you want the Applescript, it’s below.)
I think that Stephen Fry – who I praised for the quality of his twittering in Andy Murray v Stephen Fry serves up a surprise winner at the Guardian – is a really good example of someone who gets it right away: he posts pictures, links, little things that inform you. OK, so most of us don’t have exciting lives where we’re filming chimps in Africa. But then again, Twitter isn’t write-only (Andy Murray, can you hear me? No, probably not.)
That’s pretty much it, actually: lead the people who follow you to interesting stuff and you make yourself interesting. It’s the idea of the link economy that Jeff Jarvis talks about so much, brought down to the personal level.
Which means that if people start using Qwitter and ask me why I’ve unfollowed them, I’ll point them to this post. It’s simple really. In an attention economy, there’s only so much time I can listen to what colour your curtains are. Then, I’ve got to get on and earn some money. Please, no hurt feelings though. In the meantime, I’ve resolved to try to tweet useful stuff. Though the temptation to put any old rubbish in is huge, I have to admit..
Update: many appear to have taken umbrage. Don’t tell us how to use Twitter! they say, and that’s absolutely fair. Use it the way you like to. But I think that you’ll probably find after a while that you merge towards my thinking.. but as Mike Butcher points out, Twitter isn’t just a link exchange. It’s also about the conversation, which he realised when people (back in January? Earlier?) began using “@” to reference each other, and swap ideas, to argue, to move the conversation on:
It quickly became apparent that this was turning into the best use of Twitter of all. Not for long, winding conversations you might have on instant messaging, but short, to the point wise-cracks between people interspersed with a little status update here, a small observation on life there. Twitter was no longer about ’status’ or ‘what are you doing’. It was about conversation, ‘what are you thinking’, ‘what are we talking about’.
Mike’s right. And to all those (and in the comments) saying “Oh, so is this why you haven’t followed me?” – I don’t automatically follow people. (It’s a setting in Twitter. My setting is “don’t follow if someone follows you.”) I choose to follow people when they @ me with interesting stuff, or when I see them referenced by other people I do follow and find they say interesting stuff. (That’s better value than any damn web link.) So that’s why. I didn’t unfollow you – I never was in the first place. But please, don’t be offended. It’s just my attention deficit – in the attention economy, you simply can’t have a trade imbalance on that one. Happy now? Or at least, less unhappy?
Update 2: Paul Walsh thinks Qwitter will do more harm than good. That could be right. People get too wound up on whether they’re being followed reciprocally. For me, what makes Twitter great is that it’s *not* like Facebook, where you must be “friends” to share information. I can follow people who aren’t at all interested in what I have to say, but who I find interesting.
Oh, yes, that Applescript. Here it is. Possible improvements: use bit.ly; hide Twitterrific after posting. (Not sure how to do that.) Any more?
(To use it, paste into Script Editor on a Mac (in /Applications/Applescript); press compile, and get ride of spare line endings; enable scripts and save in Library/Scripts/Camino/ – if you’re using Camino, that is. If not, then in Library/Scripts/[your browser]. Warning: Firefox 3 doesn’t understand Applescript to any appreciable degree, and certainly not enough to do this.)
set baseurl to "http://tinyurl.com/create.php?url=" -- we'll use this if the tweet we make is too long
tell application "Camino" --you'll have to tweak this depending what your browser is; Safari has a different instruction to get the URL, I think
set theurl to URL of current tab of front window
set theText to text returned of (display dialog "Comment?" default answer "")
--now we've got a short comment and the URL. Tie them together, but watch that they're not too long..
set thecomment to (theText & ": " & theurl) as string
if (count characters of thecomment) is greater than 140 then
set thescript to ("curl " & baseurl & theurl) as string
set thebit to do shell script thescript
set thecomment to theText & ": " & thebit as string
tell application "Twitterrific"
activate --so you can be sure it worked, and see it posting
post update thecomment