Advantages Fairly easy to use, great way to communicate with the great and the good
Disadvantages Spam, site sometimes cannot cope and grinds to a halt
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I first tried social media back in the days when it was called “Friends Reunited” and you were charged for the privilege of trying to get in touch with people you hadn’t seen for 25 years. For a while, Friends Reunited was one of the most popular websites in the UK, but it was eventually overtaken by free variants on what was essentially the same thing.
Having tried Bebo and finding it a bit juvenile, I fell in love with Facebook and have been happily using it for several years now. When Twitter fell into the spotlight following the crash landing of a US Airways jet on the Hudson River in New York back in 2009 I was intrigued. Twitter users had posted photographs of the evacuation of the plane online way before any news organisation and this in itself made the news.
I signed up but didn’t become a regular user until about a year ago, having in the meantime watched my daughter embrace the site wholeheartedly, and in such a manner she made me feel like a luddite for still clinging to Facebook.
What sucked me in was what had brought Twitter to the attention of news organisations back in 2009 with the US Airways incident – the fact you can find out what is going on the world, as it happens, and when there was a backlash against the superinjunctions being sought by the wealthy to suppress stories in the press, Twitter led the way in effectively breaking the injuctions.
How Twitter Works
Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a pretty basic form of social media. Each post, or tweet you make cannot be longer than 140 characters. You can extend this using other programs such as Tweet Longer, but I quite like how it forces you to be pithy and try to stick to the character limit.
You don’t have friends on Twitter either – you have followers. You can find people you know to follow – and I follow a few real life friends – or find other people worth following. People worth following can be the famous, the political, the funny or the controversial. They more likely than not won’t follow you back but it doesn’t matter – you can still see what they tweet and respond to it.
Twitter has a list of topics which are trending and these are taken from the topics with the most tweets. Some people add a hash tag to try to get a person or thing to trend but the best use of the hash tag (# for those not in the know) is to help other people on Twitter find your tweet, especially if it’s about something being widely discussed in so-called Twittersphere that day.
Because Twitter is a public site, privacy settings are generally pretty low. Anyone can view your profile and you can’t see who viewed it either. As most people’s profiles consist of a picture and no more than 140 characters about themselves there’s not a lot to see anyway. You can however block people from tweeting you.
You can set your tweets to private which means only your followers can see what you tweet, which I personally find a bit limiting. I tried private tweets with my daughter for a while but she hated it because it meant she couldn’t engage in discussion with people who weren’t following her on subjects that matter to her like Nicki Minaj’s latest wig colour. I have access to her Twitter account and keep an eye on things there that way instead.
You can post links and pictures on Twitter but you have to use sites such as Twitpic or Instagram and use short links for the pictures and similarly use a site such as bitly.com to shorten a link you wish to share on the site.
If you see a tweet which you feel deserves a wider audience you can re-tweet it. The more followers you have the better as more people will see the tweet, and some people ask famous people who have vast numbers of followers to re-tweet charity tweets to reach that larger audience.
My Thoughts on Twitter
I have grown to love Twitter but I have to say it’s taken rather a long time. Having done a little research on the subject for this review I learned I joined Twitter at the tail end of 2009 but didn’t start tweeting until about a year later, which is when my daughter signed up after falling in love with Aiden Grimshaw on The X Factor and following his Twitter account.
I think my daughter and I probably perfectly encompass the people who generally have taken to Twitter – the teenager and the news junkie adult. Certainly if you look at trending topics you can see this with endless trends featuring One Direction and Justin Bieber which usually start up when kids have just got in from school in comparison with the news junkies commenting on the Levenson enquiry or Prime Ministers’ Question Time in the Houses of Parliament.
I generally use Twitter when I am travelling as I find it loads more quickly on my phone than Facebook, or when I am watching something on TV and feel the need to put something out there. This might sound rather sad, but it’s becoming increasingly normal for people to do this when watching TV and you only have to look at trending topics when a programme such as Britain’s Got Talent or The Voice is on to see how many people are tweeting their thoughts. The best way to find out what other people are thinking about what you are tweeting about is to ensure you add a hash tag, with #bgt and #TheVoiceUK regularly trending on a Saturday night.
Hash tags are clickable so with one click you are taken to other people’s tweets on whatever subject you fancy – the hash tag is, in effect, Twitter’s way of helping you find a topic without doing a lengthy search.
For some time I had my tweets linked to my Facebook page and this works if you don’t tweet too often. Since I started tweeting more about TV programmes I have removed the link but my tweet loving daughter has no such qualms and regularly fills her Facebook Timeline with her tweets.
This brings me to the subject of how often you should tweet. I try to be judicious because I have had to stop following people who tweet incessantly, especially those who use the site to advertise something else. I am all for social media being used to draw attention to things but when people use automated features to auto tweet links to the same things repeatedly it gets more than a little boring – especially if they unleash 20 tweets at the same time.
I generally don’t tweet on the mundane, as I prefer the site for discussion or for jokes. I follow some people purely because they make me laugh, and there are some great spoof accounts on the site which exist purely to made you chortle at the very least. Cheryl Kerl – a fake Cheryl Cole – is a good one, as is Katie Weasel who regularly and mercilessly mocks people linked to popular culture. There is a really good fake Queen too. If something literally makes me laugh out loud, I tend to retweet it!
I like politics and follow some political figures including my own MP – it’s a great way to contact him after all – and some political journalists. I’ve always liked Kevin Maguire from The Daily Mirror and Michael White from The Guardian for instance and follow them. I also follow other people who mock the world of politics and who aren’t quite as well known in traditional media but certainly merit a follow purely because they make me laugh or think on Twitter.
I also follow Sally Bercow, who is married to the Speaker of the House, John Bercow. She makes me laugh because she generally doesn’t give a stuff about what people think of her but she is also a passionate advocate for autism and I really respect her for that. She also follows me back, which is nice!
I also follow Piers Morgan, Lord Sugar and Gary Lineker. Morgan and Sugar have been bickering at one another on Twitter for ages and it was this bickering which drew my attention to Lineker, who is quite adept at coming back at Morgan with a witty retort. The whole thing is all very light hearted but it makes me laugh – with Morgan being excellent value for money as he balances his arrogance with retweets of retorts he receives cutting him down to size.
Of course as a news junkie I also follow a couple of news sites, with BBC Breaking and HuffPost UK my sites of choice for breaking news, but almost every news organisation has a Twitter feed these days so other organisations and sources are available.
If a news story is developing Twitter is marvellous – but of course you do have to be wary because sometimes a rumour can start on Twitter and people will run with it without checking to see if it’s true or not. Last year someone posted to say Adele, who was suffering throat problems at the time, had throat cancer and roundly condemned her for being a smoker. This was completely untrue but was a trending topic for some time. On the other hand I first heard about the man who held a siege in Tottenham Court Road in London recently via Twitter – the news was evident from the trending topics way before BBC Breaking tweeted it.
For all that Twitter relies on whatever is trending to draw people in there is a bit of a drawback with this because the site attracts a huge amount of spammers who see a subject or person is trending and abuse that with fake tweets.
It doesn’t take you long to spot the spammers – they usually have western sounding names and profiles which suggest they like dogs or cats – but their tweets are invariably nonsense and contain links to sites with no explanation as to what they take you to. I’ve never clicked on spam links and would advise anyone unsure about Twitter not to. You can click on their profile however to report them for spam and this automatically blocks them too.
I do wish Twitter would do something about this however as so many young people are involved in trending topics and many of these spam links are for porn. I am not computer literate enough to know what to suggest but perhaps blocking entire IP addresses and proxy servers might be a start as it really does spoil Twitter for me sometimes.
The site can also go over capacity at times which can be annoying if you are tweeting about a live event at that time. I have also noticed it can sometimes work very slowly on Firefox and as such I prefer to use it on my iPad.
I have come to love Twitter over the years and like it for wholly different reasons for loving Facebook. Facebook is where I feel I connect with people I know and who know me. On Twitter I connect with people who live far more interesting lives than me and who use it as a way of giving me a glimpse on their lives.
The site makes me laugh and doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time either because most tweets are short and sweet so even if there’s 100 of them it takes no time to read them.
I think a lot of people are put off Twitter because they expect something similar to Facebook but while you can if you desire make your Twitter account a place to connect with people you know, you can equally make it something else altogether, so if you have an account and are unsure how to use it – persevere!
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