A guide to Twitter, in tweets

by Chris Lowrance

I am now writing my column for YES! Weekly live on Twitter. I apologize in advance to my “followers” for the dozen “tweets” it’ll take.#

For those reading this on my Twitter feed Monday morning; this will be reprinted verbatim in the Wednesday edition of the paper I work for.#

Neat gimmick, eh?#

For those reading this Wednesday in print, who don’t know what Twitter is… well, I’m about to spent an entire column trying to explain.#

Essentially, Twitter is a social networking site, although it has more in common with a blog.#

Except you can’t really comment except with your own Twitter feed. And you can direct “tweets” (new posts) at specific other Twitterers.#

So it’s kind of like instant messaging, or texting (you can set it up to post from your phone), or a chat room. Ah, hell… see what I mean?#

Twitter is perhaps the fastest-growing and most inexplicable result of the wave of blogging and networking sites to date.#

In fact, I and many others rejected 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 character limit – the backbone of the thing. 140 tops. There’s even a little counter that ticks off letters as you type, un#

See? I went over. Who came up with this, Hemingway? By the way, I made damn sure to spell check Hemingway. This won’t be edited for print.#

My editor and I decided that was part of the point. You can’t edit Twitter posts (although you can delete them).#

(a fact I’m sure many a hung-over Twitterer thanks god for. Can you imagine how much trouble you could get in with an IM everyone can see?)#

So what wore me down? How was I convinced to join the ranks of my fellow OCD attention-mongers? Besides the fact I AM one?#

The tons of interesting things I’ve seen done with the format. For instance, the interesting and 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, and also has an overdeveloped sense of the comically depraved.#

His posts on seasoning his steak with the tears of the cow it was carved from are top notch.#

Besides following the tweets of favorite authors, musicians and 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 short story. On her blog, Meconis said that Twitter’s restriction on editing made the format appealing.#

An excellent poet and prose writer already, the confined medium suits her, and the story has a wonderful lyrical quality.#

Back in the world of journalism, Twitter has quickly been adopted as a practical tool.#

As Mallary Jean Tenore wrote for the Poynter Institute last year, despite an early backlash many major newspapers have Twitter feeds.#

Among them: @nytimes, @cnn, and @oregonian. The publications post breaking news with links to the full story.#

Here in Greensboro, our only daily paper’s online reporter tweets @JohnNewsom.#

Newsom’s feed scored a point back in May, when a massive storm did heavy damage in the eastern part of the city at the absolute worst time.#

Early, early morning. So early it was late for the morning edition. But Newsom was able to tweet the whole thing as the facts came in.#

I’m not sure if that’s better than a blog with an RSS feed. Maybe it isn’t. But something about the immediacy of the form attracts people.#

And as journalists, we’ve got to go where the readers are.#

I’m still not sure what 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 how long Twitter will really remain this popular. But the concept isn’t going anywhere soon.#

So for the last of the cantankerous hold outs: Give up. The future is all atwitter.#

To comment on this column, email Chris at Or, if you’re so inclined, tweet at him.