What is Twitter and how does it work?

As a few of you will know I have been “tweeting” on Twitter over the last few weeks (Follow me here).  Several people have asked me what is Twitter or how can I use it so I thought I would write an explanation.

What is ?

Twitter is a Micro-Blogging tool which allows you to send and read user updates – known as Tweets (limited to 140 characters a Tweet).

Following People

To get the most out of Twitter you need to follow people.  Then everytime they Tweet it will appear on your twitter homepage as an RSS feed.  Many people and companies are on Twitter.  Here are a couple that I am currently following and enjoy their updates

Stephen Fry – http://twitter.com/stephenfry – Stephen Fry’s Tweets are always worth reading, he always has insightful and unusual things to say.

Retail Week – http://twitter.com/retailweek – Retail Week – The Trade publication Retail Week uses its Twitter account to Tweet breaking news.  This is often the first place I hear the news as they Tweet it as soon as they get it!

How to read Tweets

You can of course log into the Twitter website to read Tweets.  However the best way to use Twitter (IMHO) is to use a Twitter client of which their are several.  A twitter client will keep checking your twitter account for new updates so they will just pop up on your desktop (or mobile device) also you have more functionality all on one place.  My favourite Twitter Client is Tweetdeck.

A guide to Tweetdeck and Twitter Etiquette.

Tweetdeck can be downloaded here http://www.tweetdeck.com


Above is picture of Tweetdeck.  As you can see it allows you to see several types of Tweets all at once in several columns.

As default it will show

All Tweets – Every Tweet you send, or someone you’re following writes

Replies – When you Tweet you can use the @ symbol to reply – eg @Charlesbarsley means that you have read one of CharlesBarsley’s Tweets and you are replying to him.  A reply will only appear on their Feed, eg if you reply to me it will show on my feed but people who are following either of us will not see it unless they go directly to our Twitter page.  Tweetdeck shows replies as their own feed which helps you to easily follow conversations.

Directs – A direct message is sent with the d symbol at the start of the message eg d Charlesbarsley.  A direct message can only be read by the recipient.

Retweet – If you enjoy someone else’s Tweet and want to share it with your followers you can Retweet it with the RT command eg RT @Charlesbarsley – (or just click the Retweet button in Tweetdeck) – By retweeting you can share the post while allowing your followers to see the original poster incase they want to follow them.

Those are the main twitter commands, you can write your own tweet, reply to someone elses, send a direct tweet just to someone or retweet someone elses tweet.

Other Tweetdeck  / Twitter functions

Shorten URL’s – Often you’ll want to include a URL in your post.  Tweetdeck has a function to automatically shorten it as it will be included in your character limit.

Favourites – If you want to save a post favourite it.  Twitter has its own favourite feed.

Groups – If you follow so many people that it’s hard to follow the messages or you want to group the people you follow you can create groups.  Then you can see a separate feed for each group of the people you follow.

Twitter Search – You can search the whole of Twitter for a word and see an updating feed on Tweetdeck of posts which include that word.  If you’re following a news story or subject this could be a great way to keep up to date.


So hopefully this post has helped you as an introduction to Twitter, I’m two week’s into Twitter and I am still not sure quite how I want to use it, I am very picky about who I follow as I want to read and enjoy every post but I am not sure what I should Tweet about myself.  At the moment some of my Tweets are quite random, I think I want to tweet more about retail / Computing News, and what I’m doing.  I also want to Tweet less about completely random things which people don’t want to hear about.

Follow Me on Twitter


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