Understanding Twitter

Posted on Feb 23 2011 in Technology Q&A by

This post is part of a series titled, “Technology Q&A.” The series features questions related to technologyand the answers! Have a question? Send it to Tech@HEAV.org.

Q. What is Twitter, and how does it work?

twittericonA. Twitter is a free “microblogging” service that allows a user to broadcast information 140 characters at a time. When it was first released in 2006, text was the only information that could be entered in a “tweet.” Since then, capabilities have been added such as including your location, websites, and even pictures. Messages highlighting other users, locations, and subject matter have added an unsurpassed level of efficiency to the service. Users can decide how simple or how complex they’d like their post to be. Let’s look at some examples.

The Simple Tweet
In this simple example, I would like to tell my “followers” that I’m really looking forward to the next HEAV convention. In addition, I want to ensure a new friend of mine, who has never been to the convention, doesn’t miss my tweet.

Getting excited! The HEAV convention is just down the road. Will @ConsideringHSing be going? I’d like to think so!

By including the user “ConsideringHSing” in my tweet in this way, he will get a special notification separate from the rest of his tweets. Now remember, I only have 140 characters. That particular message was 110 character, so I had plenty of room. What if I wanted to include the web address for the HEAV convention page at http://www.heav.org/convention/index.html? That’s 41 characters all on its own–and way over the 140 character limit.

The Url Shortener
Early on, there were users wanting to include websites in their tweets, but they took too much space. Url shortening services such at bit.ly and goo.gl made it much easier. By entering the HEAV convention website, one might get a shortened link like http://bit.ly/FwnzV. This link will hit a database that associates it with the normal website address and then redirect your Internet browser to that address.

Getting excited! The HEAV convention is just down the road. http://bit.ly/FwnzV Will @ConsideringHSing be going? I’d like to think so!

Now our friend “ConsideringHSing” will get a web address along with the message, but I’d also like to include other home educators who may be looking for additional information.

Another way to highlight the information is to use the “#” symbol before a subject. By clicking on “#subject,” users can read other tweets under the same subject–even by others whom they don’t usually follow. This is especially useful if searching for some home-education resources. The tweet might look like this:

Getting excited! The HEAV convention is just down the road. Will @ConsideringHSing be going? I’d like to think so! #homeschool #homeschoolconvention

What You, As a Parent, Should Know
As with any social outlet, you should be careful about allowing your teenager to use Twitter. One option is to set up the Twitter account for your teen using your own e-mail address. That way, you can keep an eye on new followers and block spammers as well as any unwanted attention. Another option is to set up an additional account for yourself and follow your teen. Regardless of what you do, you should be involved and interested in your teen’s activities.

How Does HEAV Use It?
HEAV uses Twitter
to send out useful bits of information that don’t always make it to HEAV.org, the Virginia Homeschool Update, or here as a blog post. The amount of homeschool information is growing at an amazing rate, and we don’t want you to miss any of it. So as it comes in, we send it out using Twitter, as well as Facebook. But that’s another post! For now, click on the Twitter bird at the top of the post to see what we’ve been working on in Twitter.

If you ever have any technology-related questions, please feel free to send them to tech@HEAV.org. We’d love to hear from you!

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