Monday, 25 May 2009

Twitter, Facebook And Me

Some time ago, in a strange fit of enthusiasm, I signed up to Twitter and was immediately bewildered: I didn't understand how Twitter worked, didn't see what it was for, and didn't know what to do with it. So I ignored my account but have since received a few emails telling me that someone (usually a name I recognised from here) was following me.

I now notice that quite a lot of people are coming to this blog from Twitter. Which is lovely of them: but I don't know why, or how.

I would be grateful if someone could explain to me in words of one non-technical syllable how Twitter works, and how it could be of use to me and my blog. Can I somehow feed my blog posts (or at least part of them) into Twitter automatically, or do I have to actually go there and do it myself? And is there any way I can be notified if someone has linked to my blog from there without Sitemeter first spilling the beans?

And what's all this about Facebook? I've signed up there, too, but have found it just as perplexing as Twitter. People keep linking to this blog from there too, but here Sitemeter fails me: it won't reveal precisely where those links are. It's driving me mad.

Someone please put me out of my misery. I'll make you a nice cup of tea as a reward. Earl Grey, of course, in a lovely china cup.


Jeannette StG said...

I actually made a blog on Facebook, but then dismantled it after 2 hours working on it, because if I want to contact someone there is the phone or email.
I'm not sure why people link from Facebook or Twitter to Blogger, but I guess it could increase traffic on both sites. I'm not after that, so please do not make me a cup of Earl Grey, but of Jasmine green tea, that's my favorite!

Daniel Blythe said...

Jane, I am as baffled by Twitter as you are. I don't know what it's for, or how it works, or why people write things like this: #janesmith or @danielblythe. It seems to be a bitesize version of blogging, through which people can keep you informed of their every bowel movement from their iPhones. I find this concept faintly disturbing.

Facebook, though, I do get. After an initial period of scepticism I joined about 15 months ago, and I now look at it pretty much every day and have over 100 "friends". These are evenly divided between people I've known for some time, people I've only met once or twice and people I've only ever met online. (You see how 2009 I am? How I dropped the ironic inverted commas around "met"?)

It's basically what they call web 2.0 - you can make your own page and update it, and all your friends can see it. You can share links and videos, send messages (invaluable for me when I am away from my own computer, as I don't have webmail), engage in silly Top Fives, and use all manner of applications ranging from the interesting to the daft. My top one is Scrabble - I have games on the go with nine friends at the moment. You can share photos and set the security levels so they can be seen by everyone, or just your appointed friends. (Although remind me to tell you about the loophole to be aware of here.) Give it a try!

My 9-year-old daughter even goes on her own version, called Superclubs, which they have to register for through school and which is very carefully monitored by adult supervisors (usually school staff). I think you have to be 16 for a proper Facebook account, although I know some people who have opened them for their children - not sure how.

[word ver: triessid - a three-fanged snake]

HelenMWalters said...

I love Facebook - just as a way of keeping in touch and knowing what people are up to without having to ask. Brings out the nosey in me. I'm not sophisticated enough to know how to import blog posts into it - although I would like to.

I haven't gone on Twitter yet, but I think I'm going to have to because so many of my friends are and I don't like being left out! Oh, and of course I really need another way of wasting time.

pierre l said...

I was going to try and explain what Twitter does for me, but I think I will refer you elsewhere to start with (unfortunately, BubbleCow is moving her blog and not available at this precise moment, but she has several posts on how authors can use Twitter).
I would start by saying that I am not interested in what people are eating, and I follow a small number of people on twitter.
One recent example you may have heard of: a little while back, Amazon decided (or claimed it was a glitch) that they were going to give ratings for erotic (particularly Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual material).
In my case, I heard about this from GirlWithAOneTrackMind). As It became better known, the situation was christened "#amazonfail" -- that syntax introduces a searchable keyword which can be used to see all the relevant posts (whether you "follow" the originator or not, using the box labelled "search"). I suspect that this campaign, plus the "Google-Bomb" was a strong influence on Amazon changing its mind.
More recently, #JustOneBook has been used to discuss the Salt Publishing campaign.

Sally Zigmond said...

I don't think anybody understands everything about all this stuff except perhaps the saddest, friendless geeks. They only pretend they do for fear of not looking cool.

I'm not a Luddite (I have 3 blogs for God's sake) and I take what technology can offer me. But I can live without it. Most of it is repetitive garbage.

I hate mobile phones. What does everybody find to talk about as they walk about with them glued to their ears? Nothing much, I reckon.

I prefer silence and the clouds.

Maggie Dana said...

Facebook continues to bewilder me, and Twitter did at first ... until I jumped into a live, ongoing 'chat' (something preceded by the hashtag, i.e., #publishing) that lasted for an hour and was very informative. My first experience was with #litchat which is a regular feature every Mon, Wed, and Fri at 4 pm US east-coast time (5 hours behind GMT), and the subject that day was libraries and how publishers can help/hinder/interact better with them.

I'm following, and being followed by several authors I admire including Elizabeth Buchan who this morning asked, via Twitter, for suggestions on gardening-themed books. I pointed her to several I knew about.

If nothing else, Twitter can teach voluble writers to pare things down a bit! Some of the posts are brilliant pieces of concise writing that manage to convey thoughts and meaning in a only a few words. Francis Bacon would've been at home on Twitter.

But when I first joined it was like being in a room full of people all talking at once but nobody was listening. It wasn't till I jumped into the #litchat thread that I started to enjoy it. Kind of reminded me of the early days of AOL's chat rooms that I hung out in for a year or so back in the mid-90s.

I've found some useful web sites about writing and publishing via Twitter that I'd not have stumbled over elsewhere. It's not a bad place once you get used to the odd terminology.

At some point I may even give Facebook another attempt. I have a page there but haven't put much effort into figuring out what to do with it. It still baffles me.

Mosher said...

Twitter is what's called "microblogging". You get 140 characters per "tweet" to say something. It's good for very fast spread of information or just giving your "followers" an update on what you're doing.

On the bad side, it's full of "I AM ON A TRAIN" or "I just done a poo". On the good side it's great for fast news updates. There are Twitter apps for mobile phones so you can stay updated on the move, and even update your Twitter feed via SMS (text messages) making it a very portable platform.

You can include your Twitter feed in your blog (check mine on, down the right hand side) or use Twitter to advertise your blog posts. Not sure how you'd do it in Blogger as I don't use it, but in WordPress there are several plug-ins that will automatically Tweet a link to a new post when it's published.

As for the # and @ things... Anything after a # is called a "hashtag". It's a method of labelling so that people can do a search on related tweets.

Anything after an @ is a username. By placing an @ before a name, you make the name linkable so anyone seeing the tweet can click on it to get to the other person's profile. If the @name is at the start of a tweet then it makes the tweet a "reply".

There are also direct messages (start a tweet with a D) which aren't public and only seen by the person you want to direct message.

And finally RT - "re-tweet" if someone sends you a tweet you like, you can share it with other people by re-tweeting.

It is pretty simple at the basic level. Honest!

pierre l said...

If I may have another bite... Part of the secret for me is to follow a relatively small number of people I am really interested in. I get a newsfeed from "the Bookseller", information from Salt and Snowbooks, and various writers and booksellers. You don't need to follow Stephen Fry or Mr Obama, so that cuts the traffic.

Mosher said...

Ah yes, good advice. I don't understand how people can follow 100+ other users and not be swamped!

There are other applications you can get (TweetDeck is popular) to help you organise your friends. I've got mine set to give me separate columns for "friends", "News", "Football" and so on. Stops everything getting all mixed up.

pierre l said...

Another difference between Facebook and Twitter is that you don't have to follow someone to read their posts. I can go to Mosher's twitter, see the last page of traffic, see who he follows and who follows him.
So, there is a privacy issue: unless you lock your profile, I can see who you are following and who follows you. If you don't like the look of someone who is following you, you can "block" them (useful for spammers).

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane, I do Facebook and Twitter but in a very controlled way (OF COURSE - when am I ever not controlled??) You can live perfectly well without either but actually i think Twitter is the better/simpler/less time-consuming/more easily controlled but less personal one of the two, and that it (Twitter) can be useful if you are a) self-employed b) have reasons for wanting to know what's going on in your area of business and c) don't want to spend too much time. Facebook is more friendly, but has more annoying aspects. If you email me, I'll be more specific as to how I think you could use it. Sorry - am in rush now. Got to go and tweet ...

Paul Lamb said...

I suspect it's a generational thing. My semi-adult children all use Facebook, and some use Twitter as well. I barely see much use in it myself except to keep in touch with the kids (who have their own lingo and uses that leave me far behind). Sure, I could learn all of that, but I still don't see the value.

A friend suggested that in the future, privacy is going to be a rare thing. It will be the odd person who does not report every moment of his life and the even odder person who would object to reporting it.

I suppose that Twitter and Facebook are useful for self promotion, especially for writers, but will a generation that communicates by Tweeting still be able to sustain the concentration to read whole sentences and paragraphs? (Also, conciseness is overrated.)

Derek said...

Twitter I understand. It's like a giant chat room. But Facebook baffles me.

BTW Jane when I visit your blog, my browser (IE8) keeps aborting. There's something on the page it doesn't like.

JP_Fife said...

You want technology explained? That's asking a bit much isn't it?

I've never tried twitter but I have MySpace, Facebook and Bebo profiles which I occasionally log into. I 'maintain' the same sites for my work, plus a plaxo profile, and I must say it's good (and free) advertising for the company.

Like all fun things they're pointless, which is half the reason they're fun.

Kara Ferguson said...

I'm baffled by Twitter, I just don't get it. I do however have a Facebook account. For me, it's a means of getting my name out there as a writer, and also as the editor of a small lit mag. I can give brief updates as to what's going on, and keep in touch with other writers, and interesting people that I've met. It also seems a bit more personal to me than keeping up my editor's blog.

My husband who works in internet marketing swears by twitter and facebook as free self-promotion tools, though I'm still twitter-phobic.

barrettmanor said...

Twitter and Facebook are good self-promotional tools, but like anything else, people have to balance the self-promotion with other useful content. I stopped following an author on Twitter the other day after their stream turned to all self-promotional spam, all the time. People will accept the promotion when you have something of value to contribute the rest of the time.

karen wester newton said...

Your Twitter experience will depend on whom you follow. If you browse through and find people who interest you-- writers, scientists, artists, celebrities, news organizations, journalists, political commenters-- and follow them, then when you look at Twitter you will be informed, entertained, or amused. Using the reply feature, you can also talk back, but since Twitter is a bit like assembling all those folks in one room and trying to listen to all them talk, they might not hear your reply. If they follow you back (and a lot of them will), then you can communicate with them by direct message.

Like most things, Twitter is what you make of it.

Anonymous said...

What everyone said, plus the fact that many of these online conversation sites are connected up now. (My favourite is FriendFeed, which has a very nice simple interface, you can set up a group and feed your own choice of blogs and other links into it. We have a great crime-fiction reading group there). It is actually much easier to have an online conversation at, say FF than it is at a blog, because once you have joined the FF group you don't have to keep on going through all the awful spam catching systems, blogger registration, etc, each time you want to comment - you just comment and it goes straight to live with no impediment. On FF (and Twitter etc) you can therefore have pretty much real-time conversations, which tend not to happen on a blog.

My blog is at Typepad, and I have the option of my posts automatically exporting to my facebook or twitter profile - so although i don't go to these sites very often, my online activity at my blog or at FriendFeed is automatically posted there - so if anyone who just uses FF or Twitter wants to follow me, they can.

Nicola Morgan said...

barretmanor said: "Twitter and Facebook are good self-promotional tools, but like anything else, people have to balance the self-promotion with other useful content. I stopped following an author on Twitter the other day after their stream turned to all self-promotional spam, all the time. People will accept the promotion when you have something of value to contribute the rest of the time."

I couldn't agree more. I've blocked people on Facebook and Twitter for the same reason. It has to be a two-way thing and you have to think about what people might actually want to know, either for information or enjoyment.

I also feel that Twitter is better for slightly more impersonal/work stuff and Facebook better for people who you might actually want to call "friends" in the real sense, or at least acquaintances.

Feisty Crone said...

I keep in touch with coworkers and family on Facebook. Twitter has become overwhelming to me, as local politicians and world hepatitis day follow my few updates.

I find it hard to keep up with everything, since I work M-F, and am gone between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Blogging fulfills me more, so I use the minimalist approach when Twittering or using Facebook.

catdownunder said...

I prowled around Facebook (blame Vanessa at Fidra)and decided it was better to spend the time cleaning my paws. Then Vanessa mentioned Twitter and I tried to prowl around that. It made no sense at all. Blogging is better. It is my chance to purr or growl at leisure. Nobody else reads it very often. Does that matter? Should I be Twittering? It sounds like a bird - and you know what we cats think of such things!

Dan Holloway said...

Jane, I haven't read the rest of the threads, but as you probably guessed I would be I'm a huge twitter fan - I haven't found you there yet, though. I'm agnieszkasshoes (unsurprisingly) over there.

Alas, twitter is one of those Wittgenstinian phenomena - until one does it one can absolutely not see the point of it (I certainly couldn't) and when one does do it, one can't understand not doing it.

On aboring "business case" level, I find it very useful for keeping people updated with my online novel - I don't like sending group messages as it clogs people's inboxes. It's a very good way of finding like-minded people very easily.

For someone like me it's also great for publicity. I have somehow, without really publicising it (a very kind person listed me in mashable's "top 100 authors on twitter" directory, though, which helped), attracted, at the latest count 336 followers, most of whom are authors but several of whom are agents and publishers, and many of whom have come over to my Facebook group.

I think the latter is why I'd recommend it to authors - you can communicate directly with agents, and get an insight into their thinking you can't get anywhere else. And I would have thought any author worth their salt would want to be on twitter for the #queryfail days alone - there are similar "days" of great interest such as #litchat, which pool expertise form around the world. So what? That happens all over the web -BUT it's a much broader and deeper pool on twitter with agents, authors, editors, publishers and the like all chipping in.

Plus it's fun :-)

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm yet to be convinced. When do you guys ever find time to sit down and savour the slow delight of a good book or, dare I say it, write?

And why do we all need to be up-dated on everything 24/7?

It's all very well promoting yourself but I'd rather spend my time making sure I had something well worth promoting.

Dan Holloway said...

Sally, I tweet 5 or 6 times a day at most - it takles no more than 2 or 3 minutes of my time, maybe another 5 minutes to skim read other people's tweets. And what I learned from #litchat and #queryfail was absolute gold dust.

Time - I spend my lunch hour and tea breaks online, and I write for an hour when I get home. I read on the bus and in the bath. I've never found time management an issue with it all - it helps that I've never had block (I'm blogging about block-beating on Thursday), so I know I'm very lucky, but there are lots of other writers lucky in other ways.

All I can say is for me I've gained way more than I've lost from twitter

Chrissy said...

I must confess I'm right there with you. As an author, I have a website which is then mirrored on various blogs and Myspace so that anyone who has a communication preference can find me in their own comfort stream without a lot of effort.

Well, that comfort stream is now including Facebook and Twitter and for the first time I find myself quite baffled.

I've yet to get the hang of Facebook, and honestly, I find it rather rude to know that a post of mine will end up on someone's wall unless I figure out how to stop it. It's their wall - why do they want my stuff there?

Perhaps, it is more and more a generational thing. I find I'm still relatively a private person outside of my author life, and any sharing I choose to do is done somewhere where it isn't saved for posterity (visited the WayBackMachine - Internet Archive lately?). Heaven forbid, maybe even in person.

none said...

I send my Twitterings to my other blogs so it looks like I blog regularly. Sad, you say? :)

At the suggestion of our editor-in-chief, I've been twittering about my reactions to slush as I go through it. Search on the Twitter homepage for #GUDslush and you'll see :).

Dan Holloway said...

I'm following you, Buffy :-) Thanks for the hashtag

Anonymous said...

Derek: My browser (IE7) does the same. I found I had to press OK and then the back button.

I'm on Facebook and Twitter. For now, they're just fun. In the future, they might also be useful. ~Miriam

Sheila Bounford said...

I'm fascinated by Twitter - and worth noting that I only came across you / your blog because of it. This post on The Silicon Valley Insider:
although written for people in the social media business is hugely informative for people like us who are trying to work out what this is all about.

Once one lets go of the notion that it is going to be possible to pursue everything and accepts that it is only possible to dip in and out, Twitter becomes less daunting. (Think of it as fishing messages in bottles out of a stream - except it is not a random stream because by definition it is full of bottles from people you have elected to follow because of their relevance to you.)

Also try Tweetdeck - its a better interface for looking at Twitter as it enables you to see different lists (all friends, direct messages, searched subjects - and that's where #hashtags come in) and so on.

Do keep trying - it's worth it - and in particular the US publishing industry has some very serious and senior figures engaging in this medium.