If you’ve always secretly believed that less is more, Twitter is the social network for you. In 140 characters or fewer, you (and the rest of the world) give your response to the question "What’s happening?". What you get is a compressed version of everyone’s immediate news, from the monumental to the fascinating to the banal. Here's a quick guide on how to get started on Twitter.
Once you’ve signed up to Twitter, you can post messages - the super-short ones known as tweets – on the Twitter website through your computer, tablet or mobile. These are visible to everyone, unless you make your tweets private. Each tweet is adding to the collective wisdom of Twitter on various topics, and everyone can contribute their opinion. This is the real value of Twitter - you get access to information and updates about things that interest you and from people whose thoughts and opinions are interesting.
You need to go to the official Twitter website and click on sign up. You can join Twitter by filling in your name and email then choosing a username and password.
Many people use their real names on Twitter but you can also go for a nickname. The website will tell you if your choice has already been taken.
Once you’ve done that, you can start finding friends, interest groups, organisations or celebrities.
You’ll be presented with a page with a box at the top saying "search by name".
Type in (for example) "Gransnet" or "sky diving" and you’ll be shown a list of matching tweets about those topics. You can also search by person - just click "People" on the left hand side. If you find someone you were looking for, click on the "follow" button to the right of their name to add their messages to your timeline. For example, you could follow Gransnet, which means a list of our tweets will be added to the timeline on your homepage.
Twitter will suggest other people or organisations that are similar. You can choose to follow some of these too. (You can always unfollow later if you change your mind).
Below the search box, there’s a list of things you might be interested in – you can also select from this. Or you can leave that until later.
The next step is a "friends" page, which allows you to search some types of email accounts for friends and contacts of yours who are already on Twitter. If you prefer to miss this out, you can click the "skip this step" button at the bottom right of the page.
You will now be taken to your timeline (on the left-hand side of your screen) where you can see the latest tweets from people you've decided to follow.
To send your own first tweet, just fill in the box at the top of the timeline under the question "What’s happening?".
Remember, you have to keep to 140 characters or fewer. As you type, Twitter will let you know how many characters you have left. In practice, people share all sorts of things, from what they’re looking forward to doing later this evening to how they feel about the day’s headlines. Your followers may find it particularly valuable if you point them in the direction of something interesting (maybe the latest heated debate on Gransnet?) It can take a bit of time to establish your Twitter voice, but have a go and see what happens.
You can upload a picture (of yourself, or of something that you feel symbolises you) and write something about who you are. You're allowed a whole 160 characters for this! This will help people to find you and tell those who don’t know you a little more about you. You can also change the background picture and colours of your twitter page to reflect your colourful personality.
If you like what someone has tweeted and want to share it with others, hover over the message and a retweet symbol will appear underneath (two bent arrows forming a little square). Click on it and this tweet will appear in all of your followers’ Twitter streams.
To mention a specific Tweeter, you need to include their Twitter handle, which is their username preceded by the @ symbol. So you could write: "Check out the excellent @Gransnet on Twitter". Everyone can look at the mentions of their usernames (by clicking @Mentions near the top), so it's a way of communicating either directly or indirectly with the person you're talking about.
If you mention someone at the beginning of a tweet (eg. "@Gransnet you're obsessed with cake" - something we hear often!), it's called a reply. This will only come up in the timelines of people who follow both you and the person you're replying to, even though everyone can read it if they choose to click to read the whole conversation.
When Twitter users are sending messages about something topical, or a subject that a number of people are likely to be interested in, they add a hashtag – which looks like this # (hold down the alt key and 3 at the same time if you're on a Mac and have no hash key) at the beginning of a word or phrase. Clicking on a hashtagged word in a tweet will show all the other messages with that hashtag. So if you are particularly interested in biscuits, find #biscuits and you will get the latest updates, often from people who have inside knowledge on biscuit production and consumption (nom nom nom). This is when it gets really exciting…
Needless to say, it can get more complicated. Once you’ve got going, you can consider exploring the site’s more advanced features – lists, direct messages and favourites. Learn how to include photos or videos in your tweets, and link twitter to your mobile phone. See Twitter’s help pages for more information on this.