Thursday, October 22, 2009

Christopher Renner Is Presumptuous And Thinks He Can Explain Twitter To You, Assuming You're Unfamiliar

I like Twitter, which I think is pretty well evidenced by the Twitterfeed on the right side of the page here. I also think that it's highly polarizing - opinions I've heard can be neatly divided into "it's awesome!" and "it's the stupidest thing I've seen! You're on it too much". Additionally, the social networking benefits aren't as immediately visible as, for example, MySpace and Facebook with their many pronged user interface, and the fraction of new users who remain on Twitter is significantly lower.

So I've decided to share a few thoughts (and improve my screenshot skills) on what exactly Twitter is all about, and why I think it's useful.

Also I think it's worth noting at this point - every service I mention here is FREE to the user.

Here we go:

What's in a Tweet?

The individual 140-characters-or-less Tweet is the basic element of Twitter. Below is a screenshot one of my recent Tweets; I'll talk more about the specific parts of it momentarily. You can click this image and any other for a full-screen view.

This looks pretty simple, but there are quite a few cool links within that tweet that aren't noticeable until you move the mouse over them. I'll start with the first, the "@reply" (spoken as "at-reply"), which I've highlighted here.

The "@ reply" magically transforms my tweet from a boring blurb about my breakfast to a delightful public conversation, welcoming all the world to join in. Well that's a slight exaggeration on my part. "@ replying" does, however, go a long way in making one's tweets less of an expression of vanity and more of a means of communication.

Here's how - when I include the @, followed in this case by "emdesign" (my friend Erin's Twitter username), anywhere at all in the Tweet - the Tweet becomes specifically addressed to her. It's still viewable by everyone else, but Erin can also view a list of @ replies addressed specifically to her, which will now contain my Tweet. (To see what this looks like in practice, here's a feed of Tweets that have mentioned me.(@chris_renner))

I think the @ reply is probably the best feature of Twitter - it easily enables you to communicate directly with other users in an amazingly simple fashion. And unlike Myspace, Facebook, and instant messaging, you can address more than one person simultaneously this way.

On to the other features of a Tweet:

In this photo I've highlighted the timestamp. This actually does more than simply illustrate the time that I sent it, it contains the permalink to the specific tweet.
I didn't notice this feature for the first several months of using Twitter, but it's useful to know if you want to share a specific tweet, particularly with someone who's not on Twitter yet. For example when a breaking news event happens. Or your favorite celebrity posts something even dumber than usual. Or in a much less inane use, you've got a cause to rally people for.

Next, the method of updating:

This shows how the Tweet was posted; at other times it might say "from web"(i.e. from, or "from txt"(i.e. sent via text message from a mobile phone).

2 important features of Twitter are shown here. First, there are multiple methods of posting a tweet. This is quite handy, since poor cellular coverage or an internet outage alone won't interfere with your communication - a fact which may have saved lives during the Iranian election protests earlier this year.

The second feature is the availability of separate applications for use with Twitter; in my case I've posted this tweet via TweetDeck. Twitter's API allows programs such as TweetDeck, developed by third parties, to download others' tweets, view Twitter profiles, and post new tweets.

This last link appears when you reply to a specific tweet, either from the web or from a third party app such as TweetDeck. Like the timestamp it links to one tweet - the tweet which I was replying to. This makes it easy to view complete Twitter conversations.

Another Tweet Examined

This tweet of mine illustrates a few more Twitter fundamentals: the Re-Tweet, the hashtag (#XXXXXX) and the shortened URL.

Here, the Re-Tweet is highlighted. The RT wasn't developed by Twitter but the community of users accepted the format long before I joined. It's a beautifully simple way of passing along someone else's tweet, when you want to share it with your followers (apologies if I'm insulting your intelligence here - the people who receive your tweets are called "followers" as opposed to "friends").

The Hashtag:

Putting the "#" before a string of characters in Twitter turns that into a link which will search for that character string. In this case, "thebcast" will probably bring up a feed related to their show, and tweets from fans. (If you're thinking, "wow, couldn't someone use a hashtag for spam or mild vandalism?" the answer is yes, and they were especially inclined to do that when the homepage of Skittles was displaying a Twitter search feed for the brand(Linked page contains foul language, etc.).)

Last, and certainly not least:

The shortened URL(as always, apologies if I seem to be condescending - the URL is what gets you to a particular place on the web. The long string of characters you might type at the top of your browser that include "http", ".com", and a bunch of slashes. The "web site number".)

Jokes aside, since tweets are limited to 140 characters, the URL shortener makes it possible to share a web link in a Tweet without using up those precious characters. More happily still, the shortening process is automated: Twitter's web site entry automatically shortens any URL longer than 26 characters with, and TweetDeck now shortens any URL in the Tweet and allows you to choose between several URL shorteners.

That's really about all I can think of - Twitter, again, is a delightfully simple, and yet profound tool for communication and socializing. I hope I've been enlightening here, feel free to leave comments, and by all means please follow me if you join and/or start tweeting in earnest.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hitler can be funny! (To normal people, not to those who think mass murder is funny.)

I never realized this until now, but there's a great meme that's been on YouTube for over a year now - clips from "Downfall", with the subtitles altered for humorous effect.

Here's one recent example:

And another(warning: Though the audio is entirely in German, the English subtitles on this are NSFW):

Thanks to Caleb at RedState for his effort to promote Hitler-parody awareness, and to the commenters as well.