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What is Twitter?

We are now past the midway point of 2011 and Twitter now has over 200 million registered users globally. I live and work in Brunei and every now and then, I get asked the question: “So what is Twitter all about?” Let’s start there. What is Twitter?

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                                                                                                      Source: BradFitzpatick.com

Wikipedia says Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, informally known as "tweets." Twitter highlights Each Tweet is 140 characters in length, but don’t let the small size fool you—you can share a lot with a little space. Mashable adds …start thinking about Twitter as a new form of online communication. Twitter is just communication in a new shape, but it’s also a platform for listening to the communication of others in new ways.

Through Twitter, people from all across the globe are updating their ‘status’, telling each other what’s happening in real time. People tweet from movies, the car, work, demonstrations, concerts, places of worship, parties, home, captivity, disaster-hit locations, etc. So what is the difference between Facebook and Twitter? I once heard that with Facebook you learn about what your friends are doing; Twitter tells you what’s happening around the world.

If you are new to Twitter, here are seven essentials you should know.

140 characters. Mobile phones allow you to send brief messages through the inbuilt short message service at a limit of 160 characters per message. (You’ve just read through 149 characters) Twitter allows you 140 characters to convey your message, hence the term ‘microblogging’. If you do want to share more, e.g. an article from The Brunei Times, no problem. Post up the full link onto the What's happening box on the Twitter homepage and it auto-shortens it for you. Most if not all applications (see below) also have an inbuilt url shortening function too.

Follow. Asides from telling people what you are doing, you too can find out what others are up to by following them. So say you are a fan of Jamie Oliver. You have read all his books and he inspires you. Well, follow him on Twitter (@JamieOliver) to see what he gets up to on a day to day basis. Whatever he tweets will be on your Twitter feed. Likewise, people who follow you on Twitter (unless you have a private account) will get to read what you are doing in real time through your tweets.

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                                      Source: Geek and Poke

Retweet. To ‘retweet’ (or 'RT') is essentially to repeat a Twitter message. Say you read a tweet that inspires you and you want to share it with your followers. Most applications have a Retweet button which gives you the choice of retweeting it as is or to add a short comment before sending it. Voila, now your followers can read what you have just read.

Applications. Whether you are using your desktop or a mobile device, there are (soooo many) applications out there to suit your tweeting needs. Whether you are into photography or need something translated on the go or want to share video or need an application to help you manage multiple accounts, there is something for you. Some are free while others cost a bit of mula. Check out these links to find out more: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, desktop.

Lists. Twitter allows you to put people into different categories or lists. Say asides from your friends, you are following a bunch of musicians, chefs, politicians, bloggers and celebrities. I find this function particularly helpful as it helps me use my Twitter feed reading time more effectively. To find out more about lists or how to set it up, click here. You can also check out (and follow) my lists here.

Hashtags. Twitter’s definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages. Personally, I find this is one of the great hallmarks of Twitter – that we the users had a part to play in its current use and form. In Brunei for example, on any given week there are hundreds of tweets with #Brunei. We use it to share about local promotions, second hand items, social news, urgent information, etc. As @BruneiTweet, I rediscovered so much about Brunei through searching and following the #Brunei Twitter results.

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                                                                                                  Source: Dilbert.com

Fun. Ah yes, fun. To answer the initial question: What is Twitter? Twitter is what you make it to be. A live global news stream? A source of inspirational quotes? A peep into the lives of celebrities? A political appendage? A platform to amplify your opinion? A touch point between a business and customer? A place to hang out with friends? A tool to help rediscover a country? It is all these things. Have fun. Twitter is what you make it to be.

Do check out my other posts related to Twitter: Seven Twitter Tips for Businesses, Seven Deadly Smartphone Sins and Twitter is a Party and You're Invited.

Also, feel free to follow my journey on Twitter as @BruneiTweet as I rediscover Brunei through the tweets of the people.

Big Love!

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