Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Getting the most out of Twitter

I've sifted, collated, alphabetized and arithmetically shifted to the right the hundreds thousands 5 comments I received on my last post when I asked for what people didn't get about Twitter. Ok, that last post wasn't even close to one of my best. Chalk it up to this late winter crud I'm selling, cheap. I've been feeling like something much worse then garbage but only slightly better then a zombie

Hashtags. I just looked up the definition on Wikipedia. You don't want to read it. It's really confusing. Actually it was so technical, it sucked. I think the best way to help you understand them is to tell you a little about why Twitter is much more then a web page. It's a communication platform in the same way as Instant Messengers are a service much more then a program.

A bit of clarification for you. The Internet is more then a bunch of web pages. There is a whole hidden side to this system that users just never see.  Just like you can use a fax machine over your phone lines, programmers can use tools that communicate in a way that is not visible in your web browser. Twitter has a whole menu of services that it offers to programmers to create a rich collection of tools to do Twittery stuff.

Let's be perfectly honest, the Twitter web page sucks. It's usually broken, it's pretty slow and it's quite ugly. Using a different program to access Twitter is the only way to go.

For me there are 3 main programs in my Twitterverse for reading and post my personal tweets: Twhirl, TweetDeck and Twitterrific. For pushing my blog posts to Twitter, I use a tool called TwtitterFeed. There are few other services I use, but they aren't as visible. Twitteraholic compares your stats with other users, sort of a vanity thing. (Like me, I'm the most prolific tweeter in my town...go figure!)

Why would you want to use these tools? Ease. Terri, you were wondering why or how you can be alerted to replies? These tools make that far easier then hitting the reply tab on the web site. Let's look at the pros and cons of each of my 3 favorite tools.

Pros: It's very easy to use. To spot your replies, you simply scroll looking for tweets that are brown instead of dark grey. This tool is WAY to convenient. I do a lot of my tweeting from here. I use this to tweet from the bus stop, on the bus, waiting in line, while shopping with the Mrs, traveling, you name I'll tweet during it. Well, maybe not anything. I like being married and like cell phones, should never be used while sitting on the throne.

It's got a built in tool for posting pictures to TwitPic and posting the tweet associated with it. Extremely handy.

Cons: The version I use runs on the iPhone. You don't have one? There's a for money version for the Mac. I don't have a Mac, so I've never used it. Other cons are its limited in it's history. I will only go back so far.

Overall: This is your Twitter connection on the road and away from the computer. I love this tool. It's one of the most used apps on my iPhone. I'd feel lost without it.

These next two tools are a toss in some ways to me. There are definite pros and cons against each one. The truth is, I use both and haven't really settled on either.
Pros: This is by far the most popular Twitter client available. It's also free as in beer and offers the most functionality. If you click the picture to see the bigger version, you will see that you know have an entire treasure chest of Twitter tools.

What makes TweetDeck so cool is you get all these columns. I usually choose to display my stream (what you see on the web page), my replies and my direct messages, but you could choose to create a custom column that displays your selected group. You chose only those Tweeters you want to see special. Pretty handy. You can also create a column based on a filter, such as a hash tag (#hashtag). During #snowmageddon, this was really handy. This tool is also integrated with TwitPic for quick uploading of pictures.

Another feature I really like about this is the ability to quickly retweet something. Hovering over a users picture gives that option with one click. It also has a built in tool for handy URL shrinking.

Cons: My biggest con for this tool is it's a memory hog. This thing sucks up RAM like sailors on the seaside bar in Manila. When I'm sitting here editing photos, my computer just can't keep up with this and Adobe at the same time.

Pros: Extremely light weight. It's quick and fast and can be set to sit transparently on your desktop. It gives you a nice linear view just like the web, but it does highlight the replies and direct messages as a different color.

It's very easy to use. It shortens long URL's for you automagically.

It also makes for very quick and convenient retweeting.

Cons: Not even close to as many features as TweetDeck. It's does it's job as a twitter client in a nice small package, but feature for feature, it's just not there.

So what does this have to do with hashtags? One thing the web page really doesn't tell you about is search. There is a web site at does some pretty cool stuff. 

You use hash tags to identify your tweet is carrying on a certain topic or conversation. During the TV show '24', people will tweet about the show and add the tag '#24' to mark their tweets so other can see them in search. 

These tools also highlight hash tags as clickable items. When you are in TweetDeck and want to know what's going on with a hashtag, click it, and it will take you to Twitter Search. BOOM! All the recent tweets using that tag. Very cool.

I've noticed that there are new tools out there popping up all the time that use hash tags for different reasons. One of the most interesting was TweetChat. It uses these hash tags to create virtual chat rooms. When you are on that page, you can create a tag and then when anyone uses that tag, it magically pops in the page.

The biggest advantage to TweetDeck is building your own searches on the tags and then keeping all your tweets together. Cool stuff.

So, hopefully this helps answer your questions about hash tags and Twitter. If I didn't quite do it, let me know. Any other questions about twitter?


WeaselMomma said...

I tried tweetdeck and it hogged up so much memory my old haggard laptop couldn't keep up with the Slowski"s

Melisa with one S said...

Wow. Lots of info. Funny, I use Tweetdeck and my computer isn't acting up at all. (We upgraded our memory last year though, so maybe that's why)

Great info!

OhCaptain said...

WeaselMomma - Twhirl is similar to tweetdeck only consumes A LOT less memory. It might just run for you on your haggard laptop.

Melisa - Upgrading memory goes along way to improving those things. I use both. My computer is between yours and WeaselMomma's. There are times I have to stop using TweetDeck to save memory, the I use Twhirl.

Momo Fali said...

Yes, can you tell me why I'm addicted to it and where I can get some help?

OhCaptain said...

Momo Fali: You are asking me? I'm currently the most prolific twitter in a town of 100,000 people. You don't have a problem.

terri said...

tweetdeck... ok... I'll check this out. Maybe I'll actually start using twitter more often! Thanks for the info.