Thursday 12 February 2009

Twit ‘er? Damn near killed ‘um!

Twittermania seems to be sweeping the nation, both real and virtual; it’s in newspapers, on television and radio, even this “internet” thing, though I reckon that last one’s a passing fad. Of course there’s a backlash against anything receiving such attention (though with the speed of reaction these days, a phenomenon gaining mass notice and its accompanying backlash tend to arrive simultaneously, making it more of a sidelash I suppose), giving curmudgeons an excellent opportunity to rant about not caring what people had for breakfast. If you’re sick of the whole business already you might want to skip this post, but if you want to know what I had for breakfast then on with the Hegelian bermuda shorts and let’s surf the wave of Zeitgeist…

Actually I tend to skip breakfast, though I know I shouldn’t, and then have to spend most mornings fighting the temptation of a bacon roll. Anyway! Twitter. I first bumped into it a while back, with a couple of blogs having sidebars that contained the author’s Twitter feed, so I’d head off to their Twitter page and read some updates, then notice some messages (generally known as “tweets”, I believe, but I prefer “twits”) seemed to link to other people so I’d open that Twitter page, and it was all very confusing. Though Twitter itself asks “what are you doing?”, if all you do is respond appropriately a few times a day it actually would be the oft-mocked “what I had for breakfast” beast it can seem from the outside. No, the beauty of Twitter, as so much of this web-two-point-oh world, is in the interaction, so if you adopt my initial approach and just go and visit someone’s Twitter page, chances are a good chunk of it will appear to be utter gibberish, half a conversation at best. The syntax is fairly obvious, “@(username) Yes, but it’s better with jam!” is a reply to @(username), and depending on the precise clients of all involved you can then go to @(username)’s exact twit (if you’re lucky) or main Twitter page (if not so lucky, which you then have to scan to try and figure out what might go better with jam), but trying to follow conversations that way is like untangling a slinky.

What you really need to do is sign up to Twitter. I know, this may seem something of an obvious step, but I’m sure plenty of people are like me and just too apathetic to go to all the trouble of signing up to something (or manage an initial sign-up in a flurry of enthusiasm and profile updating, then never return and forget the password you used. And the username, after somebody had taken your first choice. And the e-mail address you gave to recover them. And indeed the URL of the whole site so you can’t go back there anyway.) Really, though, presuming you’ve been driven to Twitter because there’s someone there of interest to you, sign up and Follow them and anyone they’re talking to who seems interesting. Now you’ve got a Twitter feed that you can see on your own homepage, or via one of the plethora of specific clients available (I rather like TweetDeck, but there are at least six billion others, on every platform imaginable). This does a strange and magical thing: you’ll now only see twits you care about on this feed. Well, it would be strange and magical if Twitter somehow detected what you cared about, what actually happens is that you see messages from everybody you follow, but if somebody you *are* following sends a reply to somebody you *aren’t* following, you don’t see that. Instantly the half-conversations vanish!

It’s still worth browsing other people’s individual Twitter pages every now and then, as you might be missing out on fascinating (or indeed scandalous) conversations between people you’re following and people you aren’t, but chances are you’re not, and as you build up interesting Twitterers to follow you’ll probably make the odd update yourself (bowl of Shreddies this morning), or reply to their twits, and away you go.

I started out mostly following other game bloggers, and from them to others in the games industry, but with the recent wave of popularity more and more celebrities are beginning to Twit, leading to further curmudgeonliness on the cult of celebrity (“I don’t care what Jonathan Ross had for breakfast either!”) plus the suggestion that it’s just PR anyway. And for some it might be, but just as with all other Twitteristas if their twits don’t seem, or stop being, interesting, just don’t follow them. Call me a slavish follower of celebrity gossip, but I think it’s rather fun (in a borderline stalkerish way) to read Stephen Fry’s account of being stuck in a lift, followed by Graham Linehan parodying the event in almost-real time, then worrying he might have caused offence but Richard Herring telling him not to worry. Or Phil Jupitus causing Neil Innes to miss a train by misspelling “frittata”.

This is all totally personal, of course, your mileage may vary, you may approach Twitter in an entirely different way (I’m rambling quite enough without getting into re-tweets and direct messages and hashtags and twitter spam), the value of twits can go up as well as down, your followers are at risk if you do not keep up twittering etc. I imagine most people reading this will already have been Twitting away for months if not years anyway, but if you haven’t yet dipped a toe in the Twit-o-pool, why not give it a shot? If you’re desperately keen to follow me some other bugger got to “zoso” first so I’m zosoz, but I’d start with someone far more interesting if I were you.

PS: Fancied kedgeree but would take too long plus had no kippers. Went with toast instead (no jam).

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