I think Twitter has been the first application I’ve come across where people talk about ‘not getting it’. Such comments don’t reflect a lack of understanding of how the software works or how to use the software but what purpose it services and how it can be beneficial to the user. And as we know Twitter fans can be passionate about the benefits it can bring.

A Google search for “getting twitter” reveals an early example of someone who didn’t get Twitter back in March 2007, with a response from DrewB who commented:

Twitter will be huge. Nobody gets it at first. For sure it seems strange and it won’t be for everyone, but what it allows consumers to do will be re-spun in various ways, and soon having open, cross-platform conversations across instant messenger, SMS, blogs and RSS will make one-dimensional conversations like this message-board style blogging malarky seem really backward.

There are now various resources which provide advice on how to ‘get Twitter’ including one from PC World. Rather than repeating ny of the suggestions given in that article I will make a couple of my own suggestions:

Unless your intended use of Twitter is for communications across a closed group (e.g. keeping in touch with your family) you will need to follow a sufficient number of other Twitterers in order to gain the benefits provided by a sustainable community.

If you only follow one Twitterer you are probably a stalker rather than a member of a community :-) This stuck me when one (female) colleague decided to test Twitter by following me (and only me) and having my tweets delivered via SMS. I hate to think what her husband made of the frequency with which her mobile phone beeped when she received my tweets :-)

Twitter probably doesn’t work for lurkers; effective use of Twitter is likely to be gained by people who are willing to tweet.

You should respond to other people’s queries and comments if you expect people to respond to queries you may send.

You need to understand that @ and D commands and how such messages intended for a particular person (@) and sent only to a particular person (D) will be processed.

You should try and understand the various Twitter clients work and, if you choose to use one, learn how to configure it to suit your particular preferences.  

An example of a Twitter client. Tweetdeck, is shown below which illustrates my Twitter stream, tweets I have brought together in a group I have set up (based on people who live in or near Bath) and the results of a local search (tweets from my Twitter followers containing the string ‘JISC’). I also have a global search for ‘UKOLN’ which contains details of all tweets containing this string, although this isn’t included in the screen shot. 

From this I can see some figures on the popularity of social networks at the University of Leicester (Facebook is very popular, it seems), sympathise with Martin Weller who seems to be somewhat reluctantly reading EU reports and, see Talat request for access to a Fedora test application.  Over in the Bath group, I can see t1mmyb providing a suggestion to pip, see discussions relating to repositories between Talat and PeteJ and eavesdrop of music discussions.  Finally looked at tweets from my followers containing ‘JISC’ I can see further sharing of resources between Talat and PeteJ, an announcement of a repository deposit in Facebook using SWORD (this was news to me), my response to a query from AlisonWildish and, finally,  ostephens sharing his frustrations at the lack of RSS feeds on a Web site discussing the future of libraries.

Does this help you get it? If you still don’t get it, perhaps Dave Flanders post on What is Twitter? might help, with its explanation of the role Twitter can play in the development of an online community:

Twitter is small talk: a way of interfacing with other humans in a way that gives out information that may be meaningless in terms of content (“what the weather is like”, “how the sports teams are playing”, “what the hotel is like” etc) but is valuable in terms of establishing set patterns of trusting and communicating further information with one another. 

For Dave, it’s the building of trust relationships which are an important aspect of Twitter – something I’d not really thought about until I read Dave’s post.