Hip-Hop Tech: Twitter 101 – The Basics (Part 1 of 3)

Some friends and a lot people’s been asking me internet questions. So, for my first venture, I’m doing a three part series of Twitter-related posts introducing Twitter to the hip-hop community. It’s a website that looks odd to many of us, and make even the most hardcore of tech users and hip-hop fans paranoid.

Here’s a brief overview of what to expect in this post:

  • What is Twitter and why it’s so popular.
  • What Twitter is not (aka stalker fears)
  • How people use Twitter
  • How to get and set up a Twitter account
  • Breaking Down Twitter.

If you would like to see what the other posts will cover, scroll to the bottom of this post for an overview of the next two posts.

What’s a Twitter & why is it so popular?

Twitter ScreenshotIn simple, layman’s terms, Twitter is a miro-blogging website. And what’s a “mirco-blog”? Take away mirco, and you’ll get “blog”, like Thought Remixer (a WordPress-Powered Site), WordPress, Blogger, or even the MySpace blogs. The only difference is that with a micro-blog, you can only express yourself with a limited amount of characters, or in Twitter’s case, 140 characters. A character is any type of keyboard input, which includes spaces. So for example, if you were to type in the following:

I just met Timbaland at the Knicks game tonight! I got a picture with him on my myspace profile! Check it out if you like!

You have just written 122 characters.

Now why would one want to use twitter to express something that you can blog about anyway? To put it simply… because you may not choose to blog about small things, but you want the world (or your friends) to know what you are up to without really bugging them. Or you want to share a thought to anyone who will listen. So, you can think of Twitter as a public shout out box. A few things people use Twitter for is:

Even thought Twitter asks “What are you doing,” It’s up to you to say what you want to say. A lot of times, people avoid the question all together! Some updates are mundane, while others can be like “huh?”

Here’s a good example of ?uestlove use of Twitter

?uestlove from The Roots love to update people on what he and the band is doing. If you ever doubt that if this the real ?uestlove, consider this. On November 20, 2008 at around 2:43 AM EST, he twitted this message. I didn’t understood why he said that. That is, until hours later when blogs talked about this. BY THE WAY, I’m glad y’all are alright.

Is Twitter a Stalker’s site?

Contrary to popular belief (in hip-hop culture as well as the world over), Twitter is not some sort of “stalker site” because you control what you update, from where you update and what you want to talk about.

For example, Barack Obama, for example, only use Twitter as a “broadcast channel”. (Wither or not he will use it to talk directly to the people will remain to be seen.) Bloggers use it to interact with readers as well as tweet about their latest blog posts (you might have come here via Twitter because I do that as well.). Some people use Twitter as an Instant Messenger replacement.

Twitter is not equipped with a Globe Position System (or GPS), so no one really knows exactly where you are posting your thoughts from. (There is a site that do such a thing, but that’s another post for another day and I don’t want to scare you… yet.)

While it’s true that people can choose to follow you, you do have control over what to update, how to update as well as who gets to see it (which we will cover later in the post). So remember, you have control.

Get it? Got it? Good.

How do you get started on Twitter?

To get started on Twitter, you need just one thing: An e-mail address. Log on to www.twitter.com and sign up for an account. Unlike MySpace, which limits you to one login name, you can change your login name anytime. You can also create as many accounts as you want as long as you have a different e-mail address. However, you may want to stick to just one to keep things simple.

Once you get an set up, you will have a chance to see if you have friends that already using Twitter or if they don’t, you’ll have a chance to invite them in.

Paranoid & Spam Alert

You will be prompted to enter your e-mail address and login information to get your current address book. This is okay and standard for any and all social media websites. What they will do is using a protocol, it will communicate directly with your e-mail service and grab your address book. Afterwards, it will log off and not store your password. So, it’s okay to do this. This is totally optional.

Upon successfully creating an account, you will land on the home page, where you will be greeted with the infamous question: What are you doing? Let’s take a look at the home page. Below is a detailed explanation of what is going on the left side of the homepage.

The Timeline

As time goes on, your timeline will have pages, which you can view by going to the bottom of the page and click “older”. From there, you will be able to view tweets in chronological order (listing by time, earliest to latest).

Am I really limited to 140 characters?

No. You can actually type in more than 140 characters. However, Twitter will only show the first 140 characters. The user will then have to visit the website to see the whole message. It’s not a good idea to go over 140 characters, especially since they will have to visit the website just to see what it is you wrote. It’s easier to break it up into smaller updates.

A detailed look at an update (aka “tweet”).

A “tweet” is an update on Twitter made by anyone with a twitter account. I’ll break it down like this.

Breakdown of a Tweet Note the “How They Update” line. You are not limited to just the website. There are other applications as well as sending a text message, which I will cover in the next post. Also, note the update with a lock. This means that you are getting an update from an account who choose to block their updates from the public timeline as well as from prying eyes. (So, to respect @bossbeauty’s privacy, I “whiteout” her comment)

A Look at the sidebar:

The sidebar can be broken down like this:

  1. Following – These are the number of  people you choose to follow. Their updates will appear in your homepage/timeline. This also repeats, after “everyone” in the sidebar, showing you mini icons of users you are following.
  2. Followers – These are the number of people following you. Your updates will appear in their timelines. Clicking the link will not only take show you who you are following, but to see if you are following them.
  3. Updates – These are the total number of updates you made since you create the account.
  4. Home – Takes you to the home page.
  5. @Replies – Shows you people who publicly reply to your messages. That means that anyone who put in your username with the @ (example: @nukirk) in the beginning of the tweet will be shown here.
  6. Direct Message – This is Twitter’s private messaging system. You can send a private message to people that are following you only. For them to reply back, you must also follow them. For example, @mchammer (yes, that’s really him) can send me a Direct Message because I’m following him. However, I can’t send him one back unless he’s following me, which makes it tough because he does send me personal replies at times. :) (Big ups to MC Hammer by the way)
  7. Favorites – These are your personal favorite updates, collected for you and your followers to enjoy.
  8. Everyone – They might as well call this “the public shoutbox”. You will see every single account’s public update. You will not see private updates.

Public Profiles and Private Profiles

Clicking on a name will take you to their profile page. The profile page is similar to your home page, with a few exceptions:

  • You will only see their timeline and updates.
  • It will include all of their @replies to other users.
  • You will have access to their favorites.
  • And you will have an option to message them (if they are following you), block them, or “nudge” them, if they have not updated in 24 hours.

Note that when you update, your update will be sent out not only to your followers, but will be part of a very public timeline. If you rather keep your updates to just your friends, you can do so by going into settings and click on “Protect My Updates”. This will protect your updates from showing up in the public line and away from searches, including searches from other search engines (Google, Yahoo, Live Search and so on). People can request to view your updates, but you will have the power to approve or deny them access. This is a great option if you don’t want just anyone to access your updates.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, this post is to help get you started on Twitter. However, there are a lot more to twitter than meets the eye. I can’t cover it all in one post, however, I can tell you what I will be covering on the next two posts:

Twitter 201 (Intermediate)

  • Why Twitter seems to “not work at times” (or why there’s a whale being carried by birds)
  • Why Twitter asks you for a password and what API stands for.
  • How to get your cell phone to use Twitter
  • How to find people and search
  • Other ways to use Twitter other than Twitter’s website
  • Twitter Lingo (What is “Retweet” and the uses of @replies)
  • How to shorten URLs (aka links)
  • How to determine when to use your Twitter password on other services.

Twitter 301 (Advanced)

  • How to make the most out of Twitter
  • What not to do on Twitter (or how not to scream “spam”)
  • Customizing Your Twitter Profile
  • Hooking up your blog (or whatever you want to update) to Twitter.
  • Explaining “Twitter Bots”
  • How to shorten your messages and make them readable!

Hopefully, this will cover any basic operations and my sneak previews will cover any advance usages. If I missed something, or if you would like to ask a question, feel free to leave a comment!

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