To Tweet or To Not Tweet?

Begun in 2006, Twitter is a real-time short messaging service much like instant messaging but with the capability to reach hundreds or thousands of “followers” at a time. Since its inception, Twitter’s grown from hosting a handful of participants to showcasing huge celebrity accounts featured in national news stories. But what does that mean for you, the casual user? If you’re not a celebrity or someone marketing a product, is Twitter a useful tool?

In fact, Twitter can be a fun and entertaining addition to anyone’s online presence. With more and more of the world spending both work and leisure time accessing the internet, the use of social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter has exploded. More people are “friending” and “following” than ever before, and whether you’ve got a product to sell and promote or simply want to keep up with family and friends, Twitter might be the easiest place to start.

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Why easiest?

Setting up an account is uncomplicated, for one thing. Simply choose a username, sign up with a valid email address, and you’re set to start tweeting in minutes. You can customize your profile with a photo and even change the background, but unlike some of the more complicated sites, Twitter has easy-to-choose themes and backgrounds already set up for those unwilling to spend the time to make it more personal.

For another, Twitter doesn’t host games, quizzes, photos or other content (though you can certainly access those types of additions via Twitter-friendly sites that integrate with Twitter’s functions) so your homepage remains uncluttered, showing only the list of tweets from the people you follow. And, because Twitter limits your character use to 140, all the content you see and share is necessarily limited.

Brief bursts of information, so perfectly suited to our gotta-have-it-now mindset. You can find out what your friends, family or favorite celebrities are doing and keep the world updated on your status all within a minute or two!

You can access Twitter from the web using the official site or from any number of compatible programs such as Tweetdeck (one which allows you to filter your followers list to keep them better organized, a system at which the original Twitter fails.) You can access it from most smartphones, too, so you can always be kept up-to-date on what’s going on.

Twitter isn’t perfect, of course. The main Twitter site doesn’t offer filtering, so if you follow a large number of people or even just a few who tweet often, you can become overwhelmed by the content. It’s not instinctive to use, either – new users often don’t realize they can access their “@” replies – the messages meant for them specifically from other users who’ve added the @ symbol in front of their usernames– by clicking on a link on your homepage. And while Twitter does provide a direct message service that allows you to communicate with someone privately, it’s also limited to 140 characters and can only be used with people who are following one another, so that message you’d really like Ashton Kutcher to see but nobody else can’t be sent unless he’s following you.

In the end, what’s important about deciding if opening a Twitter account is right for you is the simple question: would you enjoy telling the world what you had for breakfast, and do you care to read about what other people are eating, doing, thinking and feeling? If none of that seems important, Twitter’s a social networking tool that’s better left alone.

But if you enjoy interacting with people all around the world, keeping up with trending topics and discovering new information about people you know or wish you knew, Twitter is one of the easiest, quickest and least complicated ways to make that happen.

Good luck, and happy tweeting!

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