A guide to Twitter, in tweets

by Chris Lowrance

I am now writing my column for YES! Weekly live on Twitter. Iapologize in advance to my “followers” for the dozen “tweets” it’lltake.For those reading this on my Twitter feed Monday morning; thiswill be reprinted verbatim in the Wednesday edition of the paper I workfor.Neat gimmick, eh?For those reading this Wednesday in print, whodon’t know what Twitter is… well, I’m about to spent an entire columntrying to explain. Essentially, Twitter is a social networking site,although it has more in common with a blog. Except you can’t reallycomment except with your own Twitter feed. And you can direct “tweets”(new posts) at specific other Twitterers. So it’s kind oflike instant messaging, or texting (you can set it up to post from yourphone), or a chat room. Ah, hell… see what I mean? Twitter isperhaps the fastest growing and most inexplicable result of the wave ofblogging and networking sites to date. In fact, I and many othersrejected in at first. Who wants one more website to check every day,one more think that asks you to update it?And there’s this characterlimit — the backbone of the thing. 140 tops. There’s even a littlecounter that ticks off letters as youtype, unSee? I went over. Who came up with this, Hemingway? By theway, I made damn sure to spell check Hemingway. This won’t be editedfor print.My editor and I decided that was part of the point. Youcan’t edit Twitter posts (although you can delete them) (a fact I’msure many a hung-over Twitterer thanks god for. Can you imagine howmuch trouble you could get in with an IM everyone can see?) So whatwore me down? How was I convinced to join the ranks of my fellow OCDattention-mongers? Besides the fact I AM one? The tons of interestingthings I’ve seen done with the format. For instance, the interestingand often hilarious feed of @warrenellis. (by adding the “at”symbol to Warren’s user name, I made it a link on my feed. Mine is @chrislowrance.) Warren Ellis is a superb comics and novel writer, andalso has an overdeveloped sense of the comically depraved. His postson seasoning his steak with the tears of the cow it was carved from aretop notch.#Besides following the tweets of favorite authors, musiciansand other celebs, Twitter opens up a whole realm of experimentation. Dylan Meconis, a cartoonist in Portland, Oregon,recently began @ damejetsam. Basically, it’s an improvisational shortstory. On her blog, Meconis said that Twitter’s restriction on editingmade the format appealing. An excellent poet and prose writeralready, the confined medium suits her, and the story has a wonderfullyrical quality.  Back in the world of journalism, Twitter has quicklybeen adopted as a practical tool.# As Mallary Jean Tenore wrote for thePoynter Institute last year, despite an early backlash many majornewspapers have Twitter feeds. Among them: @nytimes, @cnn, and@oregonian. The publications post breaking news with links to the fullstory. Here in Greensboro, our only daily paper’s online reportertweets @ JohnNewsom. Newsom’s feed scored a point back inMay, when a massive storm did heavy damage in the eastern part of thecity at the absolute worst time.# Early, early morning. So early it waslate for the morning edition. But Newsom was able to tweet the wholething as the facts came in.# I’m not sure if that’s better than a blogwith an RSS feed. Maybe it isn’t. But something about the immediacy ofthe form attracts people.# And as journalists, we’ve got to go wherethe readers are.

I’m still not surewhat to do with my tweets (I wish there was a better phrase for that).I do promise not to live-write any more columns.  I also don’t know howlong Twitter will really remain this popular. But the concept isn’tgoing anywhere soon. So for the last of the cantankerous hold outs:Give up. The future is all atwitter.