Alternate Uses of Twitter

TwitterAh, the rise of social media – it seemed almost inevitable that I would do a post on Twitter.

Anyway, I first started using Twitter early this year, not because Oprah uses it, but rather because my previous server, where my blog was hosted on, crashed and I felt a need to share my views of the world. Hence I decided to give microblogging a try – apparently I didn’t really like it as a microblogging platform, so that’s why I still maintain a proper blog here.

But I am still an active user of Twitter (by the way, check out some cool statistics provided by Information is Beautiful about Twitter), not truly because it’s a great social media platform (in my opinion, you can beg to differ), but for the 5 reasons below. And these reasons (except for the first perhaps) show some alternative ways people can utilize Twitter for.

1. Get away from the annoying applications on Facebook
I was actually a big fan of Facebook, but it seems that starting from this year, many of my friends started to doubt their personalities and had to take quizzes to find out what kind of person they are (as judged by the results of the quizzes). Every few minutes, I have updates ranging from “What does your birthday tell about your personality” to “What color of hair should you dye based on your personality” popping up in my news feed. Then there are those quizzes created by your own friends who suddenly seemed so insecure that they need to know how well you know them. I have received countless invitations from “applications” that are named “How well do you know XXX”. Yes, of course you can hide those applications from your news feed, but every quiz are separate individual applications, so sooner or later, it would seem as though you are manually updating a virus definition list/email spam list everyday (by hiding the quizzes from the newsfeed). Of course, more recently, there are more and more junk applications appearing in my newsfeed such as “Who is stalking you” even though Facebook’s TOS clearly states that no application would be provided with access to data on who visited who’s profile. All in all, Facebook has seemed to have become a major mess and Twitter provided some relief from all that carnage. Of course, Twitter is plagued by it’s own problems – Twitterbots – the most harmless merely following you while smarter ones try to get you to click links (through a variety of ways such as retweets and @replies) that will help generate advertising revenue for their masters – but that’s another thing altogether. For one, they don’t fill the front page with useless junk and secondly, they generally don’t bug you – sooner or later you would learn to ignore them. You can also block them, but it’s quite pointless as they take the form of individual accounts and so it gets irritating trying to block these individual accounts. But still, Twitter provides a cleaner gateway to the information I am truly interested in, be it updates from my friends or information I am tracking, which brings me to my first alternative use of Twitter.

2. Twitter as a tracking service
I use Twitter as a tracking service to keep myself updated on stuff that interest me. Many companies/people/artists are actually on Twitter now, and you can follow them for the latest updates without having to check their individual websites for updates. For example, I am a big fan of Pilot Speed, so I simply follow their Twitter account to keep track of when and where they are having performances or when their new album is coming out. Similarly, I follow many of the developers of iPhone/Mac applications that I use (for example, Dave Castelnuovo, the developer of Pocket God (App Store Link)) to keep myself updated on the development progress of these applications. Twitter provides a medium to aggregate all these information easily and hence its effectiveness as a tracker service. To be truthful, Facebook also provide this functionality somewhat, through “Pages” where you can become fans. But frankly, thanks to the load of crap quizzes and applications, it became nearly impossible to filter out what you want to know from all that junk.

3. Twitter as a RSS feed aggregator
While many Twitterbots in the Tweetosphere (cool, I coined a new word) are actually spambots who are just out there to irritate you, there are a few bots dedicated to tweeting RSS articles (thanks to twitterfeed and the likes). You can actually follow them as an alternative to RSS. Well I am guessing these bots exist because RSS didn’t really take off (at least not among the truly mainstream users) and these bots provide an alternate take on RSS on a popular platform. Well, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (@tuaw) keeps a Twitter account that is updated with its feeds, and so does Engadget (@engadget) and many other popular newsblogs etc. Many news sites, such as New York Times (@nytimes), and magazines such as The Economist (@TheEconomist) also keep their own Twitter account that tweets based on their RSS feeds and so Twitter can actually act as a viable RSS feed aggregator. However, due to the 140 characters limit, a tweet would probably be just the title of the post with a link to the article – you still have to click it and visit the actual website to read the article in detail.

4. Twitter as a communications platform
I admit it, out of the over 700 tweets so far, probably half of them are @replies that are part of a conversation. Given the wide availability of clients to access Twitter (I am a big fan of Tweetie that is available for both iPhone and Mac, though that are many cross platform desktop clients such as twhirl – if you don’t mind these Adobe AIR applications chewing away at your CPU cycles.), many people generally access and check their Twitter account on the go. Hence I generally prefer to use Twitter over SMSes to send non-urgent messages (using the @username tag) that do not require immediate attention. This is because Twitter messages are generally non-intrusive, as they usually do not pop up an alert etc. and only appear when the person checks their Twitter account. For short and informal messages, I prefer to use Twitter over email as it feels more personal and is also more convenient (and count the fact that some people check their Twitter accounts more often than emails). Sometimes, Twitter is also the preferred medium of communication over Instant Messaging because, well, it’s non-intrusive. People can choose to ignore the tweet for a while and reply later, unlike Instant Messaging, where the other person may feel compelled to provide an immediate answer. Recently, this has become especially more important to me as I use it to carry out online conversations with my friends who are studying (yes, I know I am supposed to be studying too) for their exams without disturbing them with IM messages or SMSes. Of course, the downside is that @replies are generally not private (unless you chose to limit access to your account) and can be viewed by everyone (it even appears on the newsfeeds of people that that following both of you), so discretion is advised. Of course, there are also direct messages (DM) for more personal messages, but those generally send an email notification (which can be turned off in Settings), which can be quite annoying if you are engaged in a long conversation.

5. Twitter as a GTD client
Yup, Twitter as a Get Things Done client. Again, due to the easy availability of Twitter through numerous clients on countless platforms, Twitter becomes a great place to store personal reminders and notes. Yes, I know, you can do that with your phone, laptop, netbook, pen and paper etc. but sometimes, we don’t even remember to check for new notes and todos. Well, the advantage of storing notes and reminders on Twitter is that once you check Twitter, you would be instantly reminded of those errands you have to run. I usually start a new reminder with @wuxiaotian, so that it would show up under Mentions, which is generally less cluttered than the newsfeed if you are following hundreds of accounts. But again, it’s for public viewing, so maybe reminding yourself to get a pack of condoms and a bottle of wine on Twitter might not be the best idea. And of course, 140 characters can be quite limiting sometimes. Also be aware that Twitter only keeps 3200 of your newest tweets, so if you need to reference tweets that are beyond that range, I am sorry but it cannot be done. That’s why I would advise you to only use Twitter for minor, non-important reminders that are of no loss. And of course, it’s always a good idea to back up your tweets.

Well, I have shared with you 4 alternative uses of Twitter, feel free to voice out in the comments below if you use Twitter for other purposes.

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