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Tweet tweet a year …

So, it's exactly one year ago that I started using Twitter. I remember that I was always of the opinion that Twitter is one of the most stupid hypes nowadays and that it's so useless to know when other people have a cup of coffee or go to the toilette. Using Twitter actively for exactly one year now proofed this attitude wrong. I'm providing some stats on my live with Twitter in this article and try to explain my personal value of using Twitter in.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not the typical Twitter user, at least not if you look at the global and especially the non-geek uses of the tool. Tweeting is also called microblogging. In the original sense of blogging, writing an online diary, this could mean anything, including senseless information about ones daily live. But there are also different uses of Twitter.

Stay connected

Staying connected is one of the greatest values of Twitter. I have a lot of friends all around the world, which I mainly know from open source activities like working together on projects or having a good chat at conferences. Even with other recent social networks, it's hard to stay in touch with these people. Once in a while you ask a question or check for feedback on a project, but this usually happens via email, instant message or IRC. It's pretty uncommon to just ask "how are you doing?" and even more to get a sensible answer.

Twitter helps me to keep up to date with these people on a personal, social basis. It's not like the typical questioning for a status, where the other side needs to take some time, remember the interesting parts and then maybe replies with a large amount of bundled information. Twitter gives you an information push approach here. People post the interesting (yes, sometimes also not that interesting) happenings directly to my (central) information feed. Knowing that someone got married, fell sick or switched jobs is easier than ever before.

Be up to date

But personal updates are just one part of the constant information flow I receive from Twitter. Another big part are domain specific news. Every active net citizen follows at least one news provider. Might it be Heise and Golem for IT news (in Germany), local newspapers websites or different blogs. These domain specific news basically replaced daily newspaper and monthly magazines in my live completely.

However, Twitter is faster and even more important, since the information spectrum is wider and more specialized at the same time.

I typically follow people that I a) know in person and/or b) I know they post stuff that is interesting for me. These categories are obviously not disjunct. People who post stuff that I find interesting are generally interested in similar topics - reside in the same domain - than I am. That's what makes their posts interesting to me. These people also use different news providers to be up to date.

Two different aspects help me to be more up to date here than I would be without Twitter:

  1. People consume different news sources than I do. If they post an interesting link to an article, chances are good that I would have missed that article. Especially since inter-linking between blogs happens less and less often just for the purpose of showing the readers interesting articles on other blogs.

  2. People consume the same news sources than I do. If they post links, this raises my attention to the article and I might read it even I overlooked it in my news feeds before or thought it was not that interesting and skipped it.

In a lot of cases Twitter is also much faster than any other information distribution way. It happens very often that I read about some news hours before they appear on one of my other news sources, if that happens at all.

Following people that post interesting stuff gives me a pre-filtered view on the huge range of information sources on a certain domain, which I could not manage myself at all. From experience, the links occurring on my Twitter feed are most valuable.

Directly from the source

Beside the channeling and filtering of information as described in the last section, Twitter helps me to get interesting information which is not available anywhere else on the web or hard to find and extract, right from its source.

I want to watch many interesting open source projects to know what their status is, to get triggered about new releases, new features and development problems. The typical way before Twitter was to subscribe one or more blogs (or even a planet) around these projects or subscribing to the projects mailinglist. The latter one is obviously a more reliable source, since some bloggers are as lazy as I am, but also much more polluted with uninteresting stuff. Following developer or project feeds on Twitter give me a deeper and faster insight into the projects.

People often start new projects without directly announcing them on their blogs or publishing a press release. Usually they post some information to Twitter, so I get notified, can provide feedback or even jump on the bandwagon to help them.

Localized

There is one situation where Twitter is useful to me even ahead of the ones described above: At conferences and other big events. Many people tweet from their cellphones or other mobile devices when attending such an event, commonly their Tweets are tagged with a certain hash tag (that's these words in Tweets which start with a #).

It is useful in many ways to follow this hash tag, if you attend the same event or if you don't but you want to be up to date on the happenings.

When being on a conference, the crowd usually splits in the evening hours to explore the city, get dinner or enjoy some activities (not necessarily, but often having a beer). It's quite cool if you can keep up with who is where and doing what, to decide which people you want to join and to switch locations.

For talks at conferences you usually get instant feedback from the attendees via Twitter. It might even happen that you can instantly respond here. Also you can keep up with talks that you're not attending and see what you have missed or read interesting news published in a talk.

Re-re-re-…tweet

Re-tweeting is essential for the scenarios described above. Although I don't like the new re-tweet feature that integrated into Twitter natively, I still love the concept.

Making a re-tweet usually means to copy a whole tweet (or parts of it, if it's too long), to prefix it with RT (or even shorter with ) and the nick of the original Tweeter and to post it to ones timeline. This way interesting information is spread over a certain domain extremely fast and even beyond domain borders.

Re-tweets are also the most reliable source for new users I might want to follow. If I receive a couple of interesting posts by a certain person via re-tweets of my followers, chances are good that I will look into that users feed and possibly decide to follow it.

So, what to tweet?

I tried to summarize my experiences with Twitter above and tried to explain what makes me keep using it. I hope that helps some people to understand what is behind the Twitter hype and why it makes sense to use this tool. So, since Twitter is not only about reading, but also about writing, what do I tweet about?

I actually maintain 2 twitter accounts:

Yes, one can discuss a lot about this way of dealing with multiple languages on Twitter, but for me it works out. It also help me to divide topics, since the audiences following these accounts are different in great parts. Below you will find some information about what happened on these accounts in the past year.

tobySen

On my English Twitter account I mostly talk about PHP and other open source stuff, but also about university and photography. The minority of tweets affects my private live here. Tweetstats told me that my favorite hash tags in the past year were #php, #ezc (eZ Components), #fail and #ipc09 (the International PHP Conference). I also had many tweets tagged with #photo and #uni, as expected, and on #twitter.

I re-tweeted Kore Nordmann (@koredn) a lot, but also some other people like @derickr and @norro58. Sometimes Twitter is abused a bit as a chatting platform and when I did that, I mostly replied to @arneblankerts, @koredn and @s_bergmann.

If you're interested in following people I stalk, you should take a look at my Twitter lists:

I currently follow 114 people on Twitter, which is quite OK to keep up to date with the complete feed, and 272 Tweeters read my blurbs. Some of them listened to all of my 1,084 tweets. That means, on average, I tweeted around 3 times a day.

tobySde

My German account is quite different. Here more personal news touch ground. Sadly, Tweetstats does not remove German stopwords from their statistics but in terms of hash tags, my most popular topics were: #piraten and #piratenpartei (the German Pirate Party), #fail, #zensursula (the politician mostly responsible for upcoming internet censorship in Germany) and some #php.

So on this account I mostly deal with internet related politics, since I joined the Pirat Party due to being fed up with the incompetence of German politicians. But there are also Tweets about my private life, web 2.0 stuff and other misc things.

On this account I currently follow 90 people, mostly friends I know in person, news feeds and political activists. 217 Twitter users follow my blurbs here and I tweeted 1,096 times in the last 365 days (another average of 3 per day).

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