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True Beginner’s Twitter Guide: Advanced Twitter Functions

Today’s post, the second of four, is a collaborative effort by Sarah (@sarahjoaustin) and me (@xgravity23). Yesterday, you learned the basic functions of Twitter and in this post, you’ll learn advanced Twitter functions. In the next two posts, you’ll learn how to use Twitter on the web, at your desk, and on the go; and get our recommended Twitter tools and resources.

Once you’ve been on Twitter for a day or two and you’ve nailed down the basic Twitter functions, you can move on to the advanced functions. “Advanced” is a little misleading because these functions are easy peasy; however, they are a little less essential than the very basics.

Retweets

A “retweet” (RT) is just like clicking “forward” in your email: When you come across an interesting tweet that you think your followers should read, copy the tweet, paste it into a new tweet, then add RT @[username] to the beginning of the tweet, like this.

Retweet

Retweet

If you have room, you can add a comment between RT and the @[username] part of the tweet (just like in the image above), but because of the 140-character limitation, this is not always possible.

Most Twitter applications now include a RT button that fills in everything for you so that all you have to do is click retweet and submit. This makes it super easy to forward those tweets that catch your eye.

Some people think that retweeting is spammy because it is completely unoriginal content. You might consider instead sharing why you like the tweet or link and using “(via @[username]) at the end to give credit to the original author instead. Don’t worry too much, though; Retweeting seems to be the standard in the Twitterverse right now, so don’t retweet too often, weigh the two options, and go with which ever method suits you best.

Hashtags

If you’ve been observing the Twitterverse for any length of time, you might have noticed tweets containing the number symbol and a word, something like this:

Plain ol' hashtag

Plain ol' hashtag

Many websites use these so-called “hashtags” to track what is “trending” (popular) on Twitter at the moment. Even though that example tweet doesn’t mention Lost at all, it is about the show and should be counted if you want to know what people are talking about on Twitter right now. In this way, hashtags are something like an email subject line: They tell your readers (and anyone analyzing tweets) what you are talking about in your tweet. They can be at the end of a tweet, like above, or embedded into the tweet.

A hashtag embedded into the tweet

A hashtag embedded into the tweet

No matter whether you embed your hashtag or put it at the end of the tweet, it will show up in a Twitter search or trending report. Hashtags.org and Tagal.us are two websites that track the use of hashtags on Twitter and are useful resources if you’re looking to use a hashtag but aren’t sure if it’s in use or how it’s being used. Tagal.us also allows you to define hashtags.

Recommended: define new hashtags

Recommended: define new hashtags

One final note on hashtags: We recommend that the first time a hashtag is used, it should be defined with the hashtag #define. A tweet that defines each hashtag will help future users understand when the hashtag should be used. While Tagal.us lets you define hashtags, those definitions are not accessible through Twitter Search. If you use a #define hashtag, users searching tweets will find your definition. First define your hashtag in a tweet, then add your tag and definition to Tagal.us for maximum impact.

Shortened URLs

Many interesting applications have sprouted because of Twitter, and URL shorteners are one of them because URLs are long and hog all of your limited characters before you’re able to explain why you’re sharing a particular link. URL shorteners take an original URL, smash it down to 15 or so characters, and provide a new URL. If you are using the Twitter.com site to post your sites, you will need to either install a bookmarklet, like the ones offered by Snipr or TinyURL, or visit their websites to shorten your URL. Most third-party apps include a URL shortener within their interfaces or a bookmarklet for your browser to make URL shortening easier.

Snipr.com

Snipr.com

Twitter Search

Twitter has a built-in search that searches all tweets in the public timeline. At search.twitter.com, you can do a simple search if you’re looking for a simple keyword, but if you want to narrow that search to a location, person, date, or many other limiters, use the advanced search tool. Once you have the results that you like, you can subscribe to those results via RSS to receive future updates that meet the same criteria.

Automatically-tweeted Blog Posts

One reason many people start tweeting is to advertise their blogs to a new readership. You can shorten your URL (see above) and type in your post title manually, or you can take advantage of the many services that will access your RSS feed, package your post title and a short summary (if you so choose), and tweet your blog posts on your behalf automatically. Twitterfeed is probably the most popular site offering this service, but HootSuite does this too.

HootSuite tweets your RSS feeds

HootSuite tweets your RSS feeds

One word of warning: Some people might consider this spamming if you only send out tweets that promote your blog or website. Twitter does not exist primarily as an advertising medium but for community building, and as such, if you use it for only advertising, you will not win favor from the very people you are trying to attract to your brand. Besides, building community is the way to build success on the Internet.

That’s all for today. If you missed it, be sure to check out the first post in the series on basic Twitter functions. Tomorrow, Sarah will share how to tweet on the web, at your desk, and on the go; and on Thursday in the final post of the series, we’ll share our recommended Twitter tools and resources.

True Beginner’s Guide to Twitter: The Collaborative Project is Published

After one particularly fruitful Google Talk conversation with Lorraine, who was getting ready to start promoting her local AIGA chapter on Twitter (@AIGAKC) but who had no idea how to use Twitter and even less time to play around with it, I realized that there is no really good beginner’s guide to using Twitter (Lorraine now tweets at @LorraR).  Sarah (@SarahJoAustin), who is the web development guru at her church, LifePoint in Ozark, Missouri, and who has recently discovered the vast applications of Twitter in the church, also knew that she would need to find or create a useful, easy-to-swallow beginner’s guide to share with her church body.

Sarah and I (@xgravity23) turn into complete tech nerd heads when we get together (physically or over the Internet),  so naturally we tossed this idea around. And it became bigger and bigger each time we discussed it in 140-character messages. We started a shared Google Doc and just poured all of our ideas into it. We even gave our project a code name, Hawk, so we could more easily discuss it within Twitter’s limits. And If you’d like all of our guides and tips in one place, download (and share!) our free eBook (huge thanks to Chris/@typografika!)

Today, this very fun collaborative project has come to fruition. We’ve broken it into four sections, which will be posted on both Sarah‘s and my blog. Here’s a preview of what is to come in the series.

We hope you enjoy learning about how to use Twitter, and even if you’ve already been using Twitter for a while, that you will pick up a few tricks along the way!

New Facebook Design: Thumbs Down

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a huge fan of Twitter, but I haven’t been as vocal about my preference for Facebook. I have always liked it more than MySpace, and I finally had enough friends close their MySpace account and switch to Facebook that I felt like I wouldn’t be losing contact with them (although there are still a few I will miss! If you read this, email me, comment here, or just join Facebook! :) ).

And I have always been excited about the new updates Facebook has made to its interface, until now, and something this morning made me feel the need to write the following message to Facebook about their new design.

I have been a vocal fan of Facebook since I joined, and I have supported every update since. Some of those updates took some getting used to, but eventually, the advantages were obvious.

Unfortunately, this latest iteration does not fall in that category. I just read in the help section that this redesign aimed to “simplify” the Facebook experience, and that is, unfortunately, what it has done. The main Facebook page emphasizes the status updates (Twitter), when that is not what I come to Facebook for. I rarely read everyone’s status update before, and it doesn’t interest me now. I used to log into Facebook for a quick check on a particular person’s profile, but couldn’t get away because Facebook was dazzling me with all this info on all my friends. Now, I log in, check that one person’s info, and close the tab. It has become rather time-consuming to see when people have uploaded pictures, changed their profile pics, joined groups, all those other functions that make Facebook , well, Facebook.

I understand that you are trying to compete with an agile competitor (Twitter), and rightly so. They are changing the way people communicate and that steps on your toes. But don’t forget what made Facebook strong in the first place: a unique, all-in-one, easily-accessible, well-designed, dare I say it, fun platorm. Don’t lose your uniqueness, don’t “dumb down” to meet Twitter. Innovate instead, and make Twitter chase you.

I can’t send this message and feel good about myself without telling you what I do like about the new design. I never really got the point of friend lists even though I was using them. And now they are extremely useful. Make it tad easier (drag and drop?) to put friends in list large-scale (move 5 friends to a list), and you’ll make a lot of users very happy. Also, birthdays are right at the top of that right column–I love this! I almost always log into FB at least once a day just to see who I need to greet for their special day, and now it’s easy peasy.

I just have to close with telling you how much I love Facebook. Thank you for creating a great product, and thank you for your commitment to always making it better, listening to your users, and having fun at the same time.

Linden

What do you think about the new Facebook redesign? Post it in the comments, and be sure to click here to tell Facebook directly!

Linden’s Pensieve is Mobile

Linden's Pensieve mobile screen capJust a quick post to let you know that I have installed a couple plugins to make Linden’s Pensieve accessible on mobile devices, thanks to Sarah’s post “2 WordPress Plugins to Mobilize Your Blog.” I’ve tested it on my iPod Touch, but I would love to see screen shots of the site in Windows Mobile or Opera Mini–leave ’em in the comments if you can!

Lorraine's header on iPhoneYou can always view the original design (and Lorraine‘s beautiful header) by switching to the regular theme or by checking out my main site at http://LindenAMueller.com. Here’s a screenshot from an iPhone just for fun (thanks, Daniel!). Click to see it full size.

Twitter Nation? Give It a Whirl!

fail whaleLike many before him vehemently raging against a new idea, Alexander Zaitchik has obviously not used Twitter. So often, criticals consider the newest demon only long enough to find fault.  They don’t maintain a curious or open mind to give it a fair chance. Twitter is quite often likewise written off immediately without any exploration.

I don’t even need the “excuse” Zaitchik cites as a common cry of Twitter lovers, the “wonderful personal and social benefits of regular Twitter use,” because  I have found that Twitter offers so much more than the “birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity” he claims it to be. I simply do not follow people who write about mundane details of their lives in a boring, matter-of-fact fashion. No benefit to me, no reason to spend the coin of my life on such time sinks. I follow tweeters like @scobleizer, @problogger, and even @sarahjoaustin and @tweeples_guide who share useful information about the world and niches I’m interested in. I access news through one site, Twitter, by following @nprnews, @nytimes, and others, which saves me time and makes me more productive.

Twitter is not about shortening my attention span. It is, for me, about giving certain things only 140-characters, because I have more important things to spend my time on. I don’t want to waste it searching for the news in the endless mass of headlines, ads, and other distractions on individual websites. RSS went a long way to solving this problem, but I find Twitter much more deft at solving this problem for me.

And don’t even get me started with the amazing benefits to our writing that forcing an entire story, sometimes spanning hours or days, into 140-characters can produce. I teach (preach?) brevity, conciseness, and get-to-the-pointedness to my writing students; no one likes a rambler. I can already feel the developments in my own writing that have come from carefully crafting my tweets to fit as much information as @penelopetrunk does (I’ve always felt she somehow got more than 140-characters because her stories are always so full).

I know that I, and those like me, might be in the minority on Twitter, but if that is what you want, then follow only that type of people. Don’t follow the vapid, boring, play-by-play of my boring day tweeters.  You are only as good as those you surround yourself with.

And limiting yourself to only 140-characters is just as liberating as it is restrictive. Sometimes, your message truly only needs 50 characters. You initially felt you needed pages, books, to contain the story, but once faced with that tiny box and the character counter, you see the issue clearly, concisely.

So, before you bash Twitter, or any new development, dip your toes in, experience it for yourself and honestly–just give it a try.

And when you dive in, follow me. You’ll find me enjoying the waters at @xgravity23.

Edit: People who make cartoons like this just don’t get what Twitter has become. They’re stuck on out-of-the-box Twitter.

It’s All Foreign to Me: Grocery Shopping In Germany, an International Experience

Today was like many other Saturdays we’ve enjoyed in Germany: wonderful! Saturday is the day we do most of our fresh food shopping, and the last couple weekends, we’ve been trying some new things.

We started out at Aldi where we find cheap salami, Gouda, potatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, cereal, yogurt, and other sundries.

Next stop, Perfetto, which is in the basement of Karstadt, a department store. Parfetto is an upper-end grocery store, and we have recently discovered–and taken advantage of–their fresh fish market. Every Saturday, we pick out something that’s on sale: fresh salmon, trout, shrimp, muscles, calamari, red snapper, anything you can imagine! and it is our dinner on Saturday an Sunday. Today, salmon and trout were on sale, so we asked for those. The trout was really fresh: it was swimming in the tank behind the counter! The fishmonger caught one, killed it, and deboned it for us.

Parfetto also has a nice selection of fruit, and today, they were offering samples of pineapple, which is, incidentally, my favorite fruit ever. The sample tasted like liquid gold, so I bought one. Again, delicious.

We live right down town, so we walked back home and dropped off our purchases, then headed back out. Our favorite Turkish market, Varli’s, the one right around the corner, closed last week, so we were on the hunt for a new place to buy one of our favorite snacks, sheep’s cheese spread with tomatoes and garlic. We checked out every Turkish grocer between our place and Marburger Strasse.

We stopped by the market and visited this little antipasto stand. I have always wanted to try their offerings, but never had before, so today bought some freshly made green pesto so I can try a spaghetti recipe Christina made for me last week.

No luck at the Turkish markets, though, so we took the long way home and stopped by the Russian market, learned our weekly Russian from the best and friendliest saleswoman I’ve ever met, enjoyed warm, home-made Pierogi and tea (€0.69 per Pierogi, and the tea was free if we ate in). We also checked a Persian market, just in case. Finally we found something close to the sheep’s cheese spread at a Turkish bakery, one we had skipped on our first trip by: the day was a success! Across the street is a cute little Asian store (Kim-Phat), and I bought some soup. It’s like Ramen Noodles, but way better. I came home with Kimchi, duck, curry, and Thai suki.

Dinner tonight was fresh trout with just a little salt and pepper inside and flour on the skin and with mushroom risotto, and it was delicious. Simple and delicious.

I love the food variety here, in this small, unassuming town of 70,000 in the heart of Germany.

Passions: How to Be Happy Despite/Because of Them?

Long and Windy Road

Lorraine wrote about this topic first in her post called “Passions: How to Put Them To Use?“, and while this post takes a decidedly different journey than her post does, it does follow in her footsteps and was indeed inspired by her post. Feel free to write your own chapter on your blog!

My heart has always been pulled in several directions. As a senior in high school, I was seriously considering at least three different career paths: I wanted to be a doctor, a virologist, or a teacher. At the heart of all these interests was a deep-seated belief that no matter which path I chose, my family would be most important, and in the end, my career choice would have to make sense with who I wanted to be as a wife and mother. After being accepted to UMKC’s unique 6-year medical school program and receiving a full-ride scholarship to what was then Southwest Missouri State University, I had a very difficult decision.

After weighing the evidence around me, after considering very carefully what I knew about relationships, parenting, and being a child, after getting advice from my father, a family practice doc, about the direction in which the medical field was progressing, I turned down my admission, my one spot out of the 100 accepted each school year, to med school and turned instead to SMSU and a career as a teacher.

I have never looked back. The human body never ceases to amaze me, but I know that being a university instructor provides me all the freedoms I will want as a mother and will continue to challenge me day after day, semester after semester, year after academic year.

But that hasn’t stopped me from questioning other career paths.

I love working with technology: explaining how to get the most from Microsoft Excel to fellow colleagues; coaching my grandpa in using a flash drive, sending emails, or troubleshooting; and discovering and exploring the emerging social networking sites (like Orkut, Twine, Twitter, Plurk, and others) and web applications (Google Calendar, I Want Sandy, Diigo), then making them work for me and sharing them with my friends who are also excited by all of the possibilities that technology gives us. But this is a hard market to get into and with two degrees in English plus wanting to settle down in Springfield, Missouri, the likelihood of me switching to this career seems slim.

I love figuring out how to be organized, how to be efficient with my space. I have not yet achieved it, but I am enjoying determining how I work most efficiently, how my brain works in order to eliminate most procrastination, how to get things done. I have come a long way in that department in two years, and it will only get better. I would make a good secretary to an executive who needs a warm, friendly, focused, organized person to keep all his ducks in a line. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would get a job like that in Springfield, Missouri. Apply, I guess? But no summers off and a very set schedule, unlike teaching.

I love learning about, thinking about, observing space. I read NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day every day after learning about it in an astronomy course in college. I’ve read Black Holes, Wormholes & Time Machines twice and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, all on my own accord. I stay up all night to wonder at eclipses and meteor showers. But getting into this field would require, at the least, a move, and definitely more schooling.

I love taking pictures, love learning about cameras and how complex they are, love discovering that I have taken a breathtaking image, even though this doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. Yet. I could be a photographer I suppose, but it will be years before I have the skills and equipment necessary to make it a career.

Of course I love writing, but dreaming of making money on writing is like dreaming that I’d make it big in sports or music.

I need and want the stability of the life I’ve chosen. I am, despite all dreams of the opposite, very ready to settle down in Springfield and live the life Rob and I are imagining right now, one that will begin when we step off the plane on September 10, or maybe sooner.

All those other dreams are always beckoning me, the What Ifs haunting me at night when I can’t sleep. I imagine I’d be happier as a techie, an astrophysicist, a writer. But I know that “the grass is always greener” and that I cannot imagine right now what might disappoint in those professions, only what is disappointing in this one.

I must continue to find happiness in what I have chosen. I love working with students, I love being challenged on the first day by a new mixture of personalities and needs. I love being challenged by trying to explain something that has always come so naturally to me to people who have other strengths and talents. It is beyond rewarding to hear a new spark of passion in a student’s voice once they have understood a concept or been hooked on a new idea, by me nonetheless.

I enjoy the long breaks from the classroom. What other profession affords summer, Christmas, and spring break, plus weekends and holidays off (or mostly off, as grading or planning often intrudes into that time reserved for family)? What other profession will allow me to schedule my classes around the combination of when my children have school or other activities and when Rob has to work?

In then end, while I will always derive pleasure from my job, it should never compete for the passion I have for my family, my extended family, my friends. Those people will always be more fulfilling than work. They will always bring more joy.

I am convinced that most PhD candidates (and 20-somethings, and 30-somethings, and mid-life crises people, and . . . ) have this same mental struggle. The work ahead seems endless, monstrous, monotonous at times, so why not change, try something new? Surely something else will be more fulfilling than this, and easier. But I’m sticking to it.

There are other ways to pursue my passions, but they just don’t involve a career change. I think they will be–and are, in some cases–hobbies. I write every day. Sometimes here or on one of my other blogs, sometimes creatively, and sometimes only in my journal. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go and have renewed my photoblog as incentive to work harder at composition. I read, observe, wonder to satisfy my curiosity about the heavens. And I write and teach about technology whenever I get the chance.

Hm. Sometimes I wonder why all that doesn’t fulfil me. I think it’s because it always leaves me wanting more. No matter which interest I pursue, I want more than than hobby status allows.

What interests and hobbies do you have that you wish you could pursue as careers? Or just pursue more regularly?

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Image from Andrew.R.W. Thanks for releasing it under a Creative Commons license!