December 06, 2023   7:59pm

Text Size

I just don’t “get” Twitter — a website that lets others follow you around.  Geez, one big reason I left home for the big city was because I DIDN’T want people to know my whereabouts.  To understand the Twitter phenomenon a bit more maybe this will help …

Here are highlights from the “Twitter Guide” to be found in “Birds of a Feather Twitter Together” from The Wall Street Journal’s personal technology area … 

BIRDS OF A FEATHER TWITTER TOGETHER, By Katherine Boehret for The Wall Street Journal

Social-Networking Service Connects Followers, Not Friends, on PCs and Mobile Phone

What is it? In short, Twitter is a free social-networking tool that keeps people connected with one another and with sources of information. Twitter users submit updates about whatever they’re currently doing, and these updates cannot exceed 140 text-based characters.

Lingo: Twitter is the name of the service. The term twittering describes the activity of updating a Twitter account. A tweet is an individual Twitter update. Twitterers are people who use the service.

Followers, not Friends: Social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace use the term “friend” to refer to people who are connected with one another, but Twitterers can simply follow one another’s messages by finding a person’s username and selecting a “Follow” option. This alerts the person that you’re following them, and they can reciprocally choose to follow you, or not.

Why use it? While some people primarily use Twitter to post updates about their activities or comments on the news, I use the service more as a follower, allowing me to see quick snippets of news as it occurs. Most tweets are written by real people, while others, such as updates from news organizations that you’ve selected, are automatically generated. Many tweets include the addresses of Web sites with relevant articles that tell readers more on a topic.

Where is it? Twitter works on your Web browser at, where user updates appear in a simple list form as they are submitted. After you’ve signed up and started following other people, those people’s updates, or tweets, will appear when you log onto using a username and password.

Twitter also works on mobile phones, where the 140-character limit allows messages to be sent and received via SMS text messaging. Tweets can also be sent and received via email. Users with smartphones like BlackBerrys or iPhones can use one of the many popular mobile applications for accessing Twitter, which offer much richer options than simple SMS does; I’ll get into these later.

Privacy: Unlike other social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter isn’t focused on holding and sharing personal information about its members. Indeed, the service operates with a majority (80%, according to the company) of users opting to keep their updates public, that is, follow-able by anyone, without permission. This openness encourages people to follow one another or to see who others are already following, and then follow the same people.

However, users can opt to protect their updates, meaning they must grant permission for others to follow them. If you’d like to sign up for Twitter, but aren’t comfortable putting your first and/or last name on the site, you don’t have to; instead, just tell others your username.

Twitter Page Personalization: Each user has a Twitter page showing all of his or her updates, or tweets. (Mine is, and you can follow me.) This page also shows the number of people a user follows, how many people follow her and how many total updates she has posted.

Twitterers can customize their Twitter page by uploading a photo to be used as the background…

Apps/Clients: Twitter works on any browser, and will also work on a mobile browser. If you have a mobile device like the BlackBerry or iPhone, you can jazz up the experience by downloading a third-party app like TwitterFon, TwitterBerry, Tweetie or Twitteriffic. Twittervision, another mobile app, plots points on maps to show where tweets originated. Desktop clients also abound, including Twhirl and TweetDeck. Twitterfeed will set your blog to automatically post content to Twitter.

@Replies, Direct Messages: Each tweet that appears in your Twitter feed can be replied to using a shortcut arrow that appears beside the tweet, and these responses to tweets are called @Replies. So if JoeSchmo tweets to say he saw the new James Bond movie and hated it, you can reply to this with a tweet of your own that says, “@JoeSchmo I still adore Daniel Craig.” These @Replies appear for everyone to see, and must start with @ plus the username of whomever you’re responding to.

Direct Messages differ from @Replies because they can be sent only between people who are following one another. These messages aren’t posted publicly. They appear on your page in a right-side section labeled Direct Messages and will also be sent to your mobile device if you have one registered with Twitter.

Favorites: If you read a tweet that you really like, you can save it as a favorite by selecting a small star beside the tweet, thus adding it to a Favorites section on your homepage. Anyone can see anyone else’s Favorites, regardless of whether or not they’re following one another.

Problems: Twitter’s bare-bones approach gets to the point quickly, displaying tweets in a simple, quick-read format…

Twitter lacks the ability to sort tweets according to what the user wants…

Twitter users aren’t notified when someone responds to their tweet with an @Reply…

If you’re adding a Web address to a tweet and the characters in the URL take up too much space, Twitter will automatically use TinyURL behind the scenes to shrink your long link into a shorter one when you post your tweet. But this works only if you have enough remaining characters in your tweet to fit the long version of your link…

…Twitter does a good job of giving people simplified news about others and the world around them. If you’re often in a rush, Twitter can be a great resource for fast information.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg who you can email at

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D8

| Share your thoughts