A Beginner’s Guide To Twitter : Part 2

Originally posted at Youthpad.

I recently did a post titled A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter : Part 1 in which I mentioned the basics of ‘tweeting’. Hopefully, you’ve had some time now to check out Twitter and give it a go. Or you were already on Twitter, and some terms confused you. This post is intended to go beyond the basics of tweeting and get you acquainted with a few other ‘advanced’ features of Twitter. There isn’t much ‘advanced’ you can go in service which allows you to enter 140 characters of plaintext, but each community has its own quirks.

  • RT (retweets): When you a tweet someone else made and want to share it with your own followers, you retweet it. The traditional way to do this is to add ‘RT @username’ and then repeat that tweet. So in case you liked this tweet of mine, you’d retweet this as RT @ankurb Let There Be Light. #photog. In case you want to rephrase the words used, then you can use another style which goes – mention what you want to say, then add ‘(via @username)’ at the end. For example, This is a nice picture! (via @ankurb).
  • #hashtags: You might have noticed when browsing your Twitter timeline that certain words are preceded by the ‘#’ (‘hash’) character. Why? Consider this – Twitter has no way of tagging ideas separately. Say you want to comment something about IPL or Formula 1. Now it’s not necessary that your tweet would contain those terms, so how do people searching for that topic on Twitter Search find out your tweet? To solve this the Twitter community came up with the concept of hashtags. Somebody or the other – sometimes the community collectively – settles on a short word / phrase to settle for tagging their tweets, add the # character before that tag, and include it in their tweets. You could tweet “Brilliant shot by Sachin. #ipl2” instead of “Brilliant shot by Sachin”. The former gives a semblance of context.
  • Twitter Search: On a similar note, Twitter Seach allows you to search certain topics or ideas on Twitter. Unlike normal search engines results are ranked not according to relevance but in reverse chronological order like a blog. You can search directly from your Twitter timeline by using the integrated search box in the sidebar, or use a slightly more advanced search option. Note that Twitter allows you to search tweets only seven days old at max. Beyond that time period, search results simply drop off the search radar. (If you have the direct link to a tweet you can still access that, but you won’t be able to find via search.) In case you don’t know what a particular hashtag which is trending means, look it up on What The Hashtag or TagDef.
  • Trending topics: This is related to Twitter search. You’ll see beneath the integrated search box that some terms are mentioned. These are the most-mentioned terms right at the moment that you’re viewing it. In a way this is the ‘pulse’ of Twitter. This will give you a good idea of breaking news or what topic is hot at the moment, but you might often find spurious results if you click on any of the trending topic links. What happens these days is that many spammers insert trending topic terms in their tweets; since Twitter doesn’t display results according to relevance your search results might often end up as garbage. You’ll just have to live with this. Twitter is working on a better search engine which also factors in relevance, which might be released in the future.
  • Follow Friday: I mentioned hashtags in this article earlier but Follow Friday deserves a special mention. Every Friday you might find some people that you’re following on Twitter mentioning some Twitter ‘handles’ with the tweet hashtagged as ‘#followfriday’. This ‘tradition’ started as an attempt to tell your followers about interesting people to follow. Say you find someone interesting on Twitter, and want to tell them about it. On a Friday you can mention that Twitter profile as tweet, optionally with a reason as to why you like the person’s tweets. You could also skip giving any reasons and just mention list of people. I’ll give two examples. One could be “My #followfriday recommendation is @youthpad for interesting articles for the youth”. The other type could be “My recommendations – @youthpad, @ankurb, @funnyoneliners #followfriday”. These are just examples. There’s no strict syntax or rule as such.
  • Short URLs: ‘Tweeple’ (as Twitter users sometimes call themselves) often use Twitter as a way to share interesting links with their friends / followers. With a 140 character limit on what you can enter, giving ‘full’ URLs to a page can be impossible or impractical. That’s why we use URL shorteners. What these do is that that it allows you to get a ‘short URL’ for a link you want to share that you can mention in your Twitter profile. When someone clicks on this, the reader is redirected to the original site. Some URL shorteners even provide extras such as statistics on who clicked on your links. My favourite URL shortener is; other popular ones are, TinyURL,, etc.
  • Twitpic (and other variants): You might want to share pictures that you have taken via Twitter. These are mostly snaps taken on a cellphone which you post via GPRS, but that’s not necessary. What you need is an image hosting service that provides you quick and easy uploading along with a short URL you can share with others. Twitpic is the most popular option, though there are others such as yfrog, – and even Flickr which provides a short URL for all images.
  • Tweetups: Tweetups are real-life meetings organized by Twitter users. This is done so that you can catch up with people you already know, meet new Twitter users, meet Twitter users you know online but not in real life, or if you’re interested in joining Twitter but want to know more about the service from existing users. Anyone can organize a tweetup – it’s not an ‘official’ gathering of any sort. There isn’t any schedule for tweetups as such either because anyone can organize a gathering anytime. The way you get to know about these is when one of your friends on Twitter tweets that s/he will be attending one. Popular services to organize and keep track of users who’re attending tweetups are twtvite and Upcoming.
  • Polls: Twitter is a great place to seek instant feedback on something you’re working on, or to ask a query on practically any topic. Once you have enough followers (a few hundred at least), chances are that you will get replies from someone or the other who knows something about what you’re asking. In case you want to conduct quick surveys, try out twtpoll or PollDaddy.
  • Bots: Aside from human beings, there are many Twitter accounts which are ‘authored’ by bots. These could be spambots on spam accounts pushing pr0n or some other website, or these could be more benign bots which retweet tweets in case they contain a particular term they’re looking out for (like hashgoogle). Then there’s swear_bot which admonishes you if you use ‘dirty words’ in your tweets. The list of bots is endless.

Those are the major terms you might not be aware of as a newbie to Twitter. I plan to do at least one more post in this series, on software and web apps for using Twitter. Do give your feedback on aspects of Twitter you want to know more about or terms you don’t understand; in case I’ve missed something significant I’ll do a fourth part in this series.

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