Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How I Use Twitter

I decided it was high time that I sat down and described in detail how I use Twitter, i.e., how I keep track of Twitter without spending all day on it.

The techniques described below may not be helpful to everyone, but they serve me extremely well right now, and there's a good chance that other people will benefit from using these tricks too.

The tips below assume that the reader has a reasonable understanding of Twitter terms, such as direct messages, user names, and @replies.

  1. Choose a distinct and short user name. Many of the tips below will work only if you have a fairly distinct user name. The best names are words or names that you would not normally use in regular conversation. You'll also want to keep your user name fairly short, out of courtesy to the people who will need to type it in to send you public replies or direct messages.
  2. Create a Twittermail account to get @Replies by email. Although the Twittermail service was originally created so you could use email messages to post updates to your Twitter account, I use it almost exclusively to receive a complete copy of the @Replies that people have sent me. The email is in digest format, so all the replies that have come in over a span of time are batched together in one email.
  3. Use Tweetscan to search for and email you tweets that contain your user name and keywords of interest. Tweetscan lets you enter up to five search terms, and emails you a complete list of all tweets that contain those terms on a daily or weekly basis. Make sure one of those terms is your user name. This helps you find tweets that talk about you, even if they're not @replies addressed to you. Obviously, the usefulness of such a service deteriorates if you have a user name that's used in regular conversation.
  4. Use Terraminds Twitter Search to look for users that have similar interests as you. Terraminds offers two types of search -- you can search in updates and you can search in user profiles. Since most people include their interests and their location in their profile, you can find like-minded Twitter-ers as well as Twitter-ers who are nearby using Terraminds.
  5. Use Twitter Track Alert for your username and for keywords of interest. Twitter offers its own Track service. After you've specified the keywords that you'd like to track, Twitter will send you (via SMS or IM) copies of all tweets that contain those keywords. Note that these include tweets from people that you're not following. As noted above, it's not that useful to track your user name if it's a commonly used word. Consider also creating Twitter track alerts for your company, your competitors, and topics of interest.
  6. Use LoudTwitter to create archives of your updates. If you're the type of person whose uncomfortable with the idea that the only copy of all your tweets is on a server that you don't control, then you'll like LoudTwitter. It's a service that takes all the tweets that you've posted in the past day, and creates a blog entry that serves as a daily digest of your tweets. As of this writing, LoudTwitter is compatible with Typepad, Vox, Movable Type, Blogger, LiveJournal, and Wordpress.
  7. If you're online often, add your IM account to your Twitter profile. Since track alerts are only sent to SMS or IM, you'll get the most value out of track if you're online on IM for extended periods. I typically leave my IM account logged in overnight to receive tweets, and I skim those when I wake up in the morning.
  8. International users can work-around SMS limits by creating a separate Twitter account for mobile notifications. International (non-US) users can only receive up to 250 sms messages per week. This limitation is especially detrimental to non-US users because Twitter does not let us specify which notifications and alerts should go to IM and which should go to SMS. I've worked around this limitation by using only IM in my main Twitter account. I then created a second account (which is linked to my mobile phone) that only follows people that I want to get mobile updates from. I also created a track alert on my username in this second account. This set-up means I can't use standard sms to post Twitter updates into my first account, but that's not a problem for me since the cost of international sms is prohibitive to start with. I therefore rely more on IM, Twitter Mobile, and mobile applications to post my updates.
  9. Find a mobile application that lets you post updates via WAP, GPRS, or 3G. Since I use a Treo Smartphone and my mobile service provider bills GPRS charges by the kilobyte, I use a Palm-OS mobile application called TreoTwit to post my updates.
When used together, these different technologies keep me plugged into my Twitter community with manageable interruptions and minimal investment in time and effort. I'm sure there are more ways to squeeze value out of Twitter. If you have your own suggestions, I'd love to hear them.