The real, too long for URL title for this is “Why Matt Barton and Other Equally Smart and Witty People Should Twitter More,” and I stand by my conviction that Twitter is more than just a transplanted Facebook status or away status from chat days. No, Twitter does much more, but it can’t without some effort and innovation on your part.
A good way to start making Twitter more than just a placeholder for what you’re doing at a given moment is to shift focus away from self and realize, it’s not all about me. It’s about them. The translation of that idea into action is to add as many people as possible that you think would be interesting. I started by adding all the rhet/comp people I could find, and quite a few comm studies people too since we overlap so well. I’ve learned a lot about the rhythms of highly successful academics this way–how they track projects, how they guard their personal time, making time for exercise–all useful, mentoring things to know, but quite different and more convincing when shared in 140- characters interspersed throughout the day over an extended time. I don’t think I really got how Twitter could work until I followed more than fifty people. I follow a bit more than 140 now, and it works fine–no overload. I don’t think 1000+ would work for me, but I do think that in order to get the most from Twitter, you need to follow more than the people you see every day in person.
One of the best things you can do in order to make Twitter worth doing is to download and use one of the many Twitter clients. I’m far from the first to say this, mainly because it’s true: if you only experience Twitter through its own web service, you’ve missed out on most of the experience. I currently use Twirl and use Twitterificon my iPhone. Both fetch tweets automatically and can chime (or not) when a fresh batch comes in. Twirl also has a retweet button and that all-important URL-shortener. If all you know is the web-version, you’re dependent on your own, probably flawed, attention span to manually refresh the site. Also, if you keep more than one account for classroom and personal use, apps like Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop make following multiple strands easier.
Finally, instead of thinking of Twitter as a status indicator, think of it as a place, a hallway perhaps. There are a lot of doors with some pretty smart people behind some of them as well as a few jerks here and there. Every once in a while when you’re doing your research or just finished teaching or saw Watchmen and feel a duty to prevent others from making the same mistake, you pop out of your office and say something brief about it. Not too much–after all, we all do things and don’t have a lot of time, but under 140 characters is enough to cover the eureka moment. It’s enough to share the new thing you tried while teaching that turned out to be awesome. It’s enough.
There are other things that Twitter does well such as commenting on live events that many people share, but this is a good start. Increase the number of people you follow and pop out into the hallway once in a while when you have something to share. Oh, and in answer to the title, Matt Barton should start twittering more because he has interesting things to say and St.Cloud is too far away for me to hear them in person.