There’s a Facebook-trashing thread elsewhere on the site, in which people have begun debating the usefulness of Twitter. It took awhile to get used to, but I really like Twitter. I understand, though, why some people are turned off by it—it can be hard to figure out what to do with the site at first. So, here are five useful things you can do with Twitter. It’s not intended as an exhaustive list, and I'm sure others have equally good ideas (or would like to critique mine). Post it all in the thread. :o)
- People Twitter what they find interesting at conferences. When you attend a conference and can't be everywhere at once—or you would like an impression of what's happening at a conference you can't attend at all—type its hashtag(s) into Twitter's search bar and you’ll get a running list of the things people find most engaging (or are writing off as boring). If you see there’s a fascinating panel going on while you’re in a boring one, you can switch rooms. Or if you aren’t in attendance, you can look up the most interesting presentations later at your leisure. For instance, here’s a Twitter feed from an ongoing conference, the American Political Science Association.
- If you're thinking about seeing a movie and aren’t sure if it's worth it, search for it on Twitter. You'll see what people who’ve just left the theater are thinking. For instance, here’s what folks are saying about the new movie Extract.
- Have you installed a newly released software program and found out it doesn't work? There's a Twitter feed for that. For instance, in this feed Mac users who've just upgraded to Snow Leopard are posting helpful links and tips for fixing a popular software program called Growl, that was broken by the upgrade.
- Follow the news, or individuals whose work you enjoy. For instance, White House correspondents from ABC News and CBS News post the facts they're collecting for stories to Twitter as they find them. They also post links to news and analysis by others that they find interesting, so you can get recommended reading from folks who follow an issue or institution for a living. A great example is CBS News' Andrew Cohen, who curates a great collection of links about legal decisions that impact the public interest. MSNBC's Ann Curry recently Tweeted a link to her photo essay of women in Pakistan. ABC News' Lara Setrakian posts regular observations and links from the Middle East. And it's not just journalists. Experts on most any topic can be found on Twitter.
- Similarly, save a search for a topic you're interested in and find links to news and analysis posted by other people interested in the same thing. For instance, at the #nativeamerican hashtag on Twitter, you'll find links to stories and opinion pieces about current issues of interest to American Indians, such as an attempt by Walmart/Sam's Club to build on top of an indigenous burial site, and the recent denial of parole for Native American activist Leonard Peltier, whose conviction on murder charges over thirty years ago continues to be controversial.
Most of these feeds will contain a bit of spam posting—folks who don't know what they're talking about or include a hashtag in their Tweets for no good reason. And if you’re following a person on Twitter, along with their interesting ideas and links to insightful articles, you'll inevitably find out what they had for breakfast every once in awhile. But the upshot is that I've found a lot of helpful and interesting information on Twitter, to the extent that I see it as something worth adding to the pile of online stuff I check regularly. Let me know what you think and what your useful ideas are.