Dealing with Twitter

I love Twitter because it is an ever-flowing source of information. I can choose to follow sources that interest me, rather than to rely on someone else to filter what I am exposed to (we are accustomed to this–traditional news outlets (television, print, and radio) have filtered content for years, with bias. Why are Americans so out of tune with world events and opinions? We make no effort to learn any more than news media spoon feeds us.

With Twitter, you can follow companies, news outlets, blogs, organizations, individuals, and more. Those Twitter accounts “tweet” news, updates, and general information that can include web links, images, or videos. Often times, Twitter users will “retweet” tweets from other users, which is a great way to find more people to follow. All of this comes in 140 or fewer characters per tweet…you have to either focus your thoughts, use abbreviations, or use multiple tweets.

Twittter can be a wonderful way to embed announcements for your music program into your webpage…students (and parents) don't usually want to read more than 140 characters anyway. I do prefer Remind 101 (free) for direct communication with parents and students using their personal devices.

Twitter allows you to see who other people follow, and who follows them. If you have a unique interest, such as technology in music education, you will find other users with that interest, who will follow and be followed by people that share that same interest.

There are times that you will follow someone who you no longer wish to follow. One example in my life, is Sean Junkins, an Apple Distinguished Educator from North Carolina. He has a number of good things to say, but he continues to retweet those that are the most powerful, and he has also tweeted incorrect information as well as controversial tweets. When you unfollow Sean, he sends out a twitter message to his followers, encouraging them to follow the person that just unfollowed him. It sort of causes you to refollow him because you feel guilty about his positive things to say about you and the fact that you unfollowed him.

Tweets like this really bothered me:

The truth is that it doesn't matter if you follow someone or unfollow them. And if it does, either you or the person followed/unfollowed is tweeting for the wrong reasons.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard KFAN (a sports talk station in the Twin Cities) feature a full discussion of Twitter and “Twitter protocol.” The conversation was held between two guest hosts that were filling in for one of the station's high-powered regular hosts. Basically, they hated personal tweets, they hated multi-sequenced tweets, and they didn't understand the power of favorite tweets.

I don't really care what someone tweets about. If they tweet (regularly) over issues that I disagree with or that I find annoying, I will unfollow them–and I would expect that they would do the same with me. However, as a teacher, you never want to tweet anything that you wouldn't want brought back to your classroom. Or as someone else put it, “If you wouldn't want you grandmother to see it, don't tweet it.”

There is great power in favorite tweets. Favorite tweets allow you to save your favorite tweets, and other Twitter users can see those, too. I will “favorite” a tweet if it resonates with me and I want to remember it later, or if I am going through my Twitter feed and someone links to a webpage that I want to read later. It makes sense to clear out your favorite tweets–for your own personal sake–and that is something I will do again before the end of this summer.

I also maintain two Twitter accounts, one for this blog, and a personal account. For the techinmusiced Twitter account, I follow Twitter users who I need to retweet on a regular basis (e.g. MakeMusic Twitter accounts, forScore and unrealBook, and so on). I follow many more users on my personal account (289), which can lead to a Twitter feed of thousands of tweets a day. There is a point–and I am very close–where you simply can't stay on top of all the tweets anymore (and that means scanning rather than reading many of them, paritcularly during large conferences (ISTE), sporting events, or Apple events).

In addition to tweeting, you can reply to other Twitter followers (this impacts the number of characters you can send in your tweet) in a public reply (@Twitter User) or in the case they are following you, a direct message. Public replies can be seen by everyone; direct messages can be seen only by you.

There was a time when all deleted Twitter messages disappeared from the “live” Twitter stream, but continued to exist and could be searched through some secondary websites. I believe this is no longer possible.

There is also the danger of annoying, spam, or even threatening tweets. Should you ever receive such a message, you can use Twitter's block or spam reporting to stop such tweets from those users. Twitter is also embedding advertisements these days, but they have to pay for the service somehow. I also wish you could take over unused Twitter handles (my personal Twitter account has an underscore (_) because someone else used my usual name to send one tweet years ago. I have asked Twitter for that name, and have never received a reply).

A number of Twitter users also use hashtags, which start with a # (which we call a “pound sign” but is really an octothorpe). These allow a tweet to be associated with the term following the # symbol, which is also searchable (e.g. #howtousetwitter). I just don't use hashtags very often.

There are dangers with Twitter–from improper use (think students and bullying) to revealing your location (Tweets can be geotagged). But for most users, it is a wonderful way to quickly scan through news and thoughts from people with the same passions as you, even if you do not agree on all the topics.

There are a number of good Twitter clients available for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Windows RT. My personal favorite is Tweetbot, which has a lot of features and uses iOS gestures to access additional features, such as to see conversations between Twitter users in context (this comes in handy more than you would realize). Twitter, of course, offers its own clients for its service.

If you aren't on Twitter, I encourage you to try it; if you have tried Twitter and gave up, I encourage you to try to find people worth following (this usually makes the difference). And always be careful about what you tweet! Happy tweeting!



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