Monday, 4 March 2013

Demystifying twitter

It is amazing how social media has crept up on us, and how most of us pick up the basics as we go along. I guess that all of us of a certain generation (AKA old!) struggle to keep pace with it. Its hard to keep abreast of everything, if we did we probably wouldn't have time to do what we term 'real' things. I personally have got into twitter but have never devoted the time to facebook - it is a mystery to me. However for those who are the reverse way round, below is a potted guide to twitter. @ - the @ symbol has a very specific meaning on Twitter, as opposed to its use within an email address where it signifies the recipients domain. On Twitter, every single username is prefixed with the @ symbol, which is then used to mention or reply to another user in turn. # - the hashtag symbol started as a way of categorising tweets; tweets with the same hashtags would be viewable as their own list, allowing people to track popular subjects. The hashtag has now moved beyond this to something more creative, that people use to make amusing allusions, hint at a subtext, or to mount awareness campaigns. A key example of this is the #kony2012 campaign aimed at combating child violence in Africa. The hashtag has become more than a means of making tweets searchable; it is more about sharing values through language and affiliating with values. RT – RT is an abbreviation of the full term to Re-Tweet; this is where a user can distribute somebodies tweet on their own timeline; in some ways this is similar to forwarding an email, but the discourse features of twitter are sufficiently different to make this an entirely different orthographic approach. HT – This is an abbreviation of ‘hat tip’, where somebody wishes to acknowledge the contribution of another to their own tweet, or the source of some particular information. MT – a modified tweet, whereby somebody has not just retweeted something somebody has said, but altered it slightly as well, often for reasons of brevity. PRT – a partial retweet; often retweets have to be shortened to accommodate additional usernames, or they may be edited for clarity. Shortform URLS – because of the limited characters it is often not possible to include full form website addresses for linking; Twitter and other services offer an automatic shortform redirect, which takes on peculiar combinations of characters; this has broadened beyond twitter now, particularly in cases of extremely long web addresses that are better communicated more simply ‘Follow’ is an unusual feature of Twitter; in this context it means to subscribe to someone’s, or something’s, tweets. This sounds a very straightforward action, and the action itself is. However, great currency has been afforded to how many followers a Twitter user has; as a means of demonstrating their popularity, and indeed their power, among people who can self-select to subscribe to their output. As a consequence of this, a great deal of energy – both honest and deceitful – is expended in trying to acquire a large amount of followers, particularly now by companies. This has gone to the point where someone with a large amount of followers will try and leverage that support to get others many followers; it’s a strange lexical feature to imbue the simple word ‘follow’ with such importance. Trending is another lexical feature that is much more complex than it first appears. This is entirely related to the #hastag tool; Twitter automatically tracks which people are using which hashtag and where, and then provides lists of popular topics based on different geographies. It did not take people long to realise the exposure implications of getting a hastag onto a prominent national or global list. Thus, getting something ‘trending’ has become a major preoccupation for marketing companies, charities and television shows. There are a number of discourse features that are prominent upon Twitter as well, some that are native to it, and some that are not necessarily so, but take upon a new form through this particular media. The most noteworthy of the discourse features is the way that tweets form into conversations, or threads, as people retweet or reply to tweets, which creates a much more interactive form of communication. In part this is similar to a group text, as that is where Twitter ultimately owes its technical inspiration from, but Twitter has actually gone much further with the possibilities. The key element is that each conversation is publicly accessible, and anybody can contribute to it at any point, which means it has a greater degree of interaction than a group text.

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