Scott Hanselman

How To Twitter - First Steps and a Twitter Glossary

February 05, 2009 Comment on this post [22] Posted in Musings
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tour_1UPDATE: Want more advanced Twitter Tips?
We're having loads of fun over on Twitter. I've blogged about it before and how it's a conversation starter, a message bus, a subject tagger and conference organizer and a link sharing service. It's a river of uselessfulness and truthiness. It's a permanent cocktail party where you know some folks, and don't know others. Some are famous, some are your friends. There's a the constant background of overheard conversations, except on Twitter, it's socially acceptable, nay, encouraged, to jump in. No need to say, "oh, I couldn't help but overheard, excuse me but..."

A Twitter Glossary

UPDATE: Readers point out there's also a very good "Twictionary" that's much more complete at so check it out also!


When you say something on twitter, it has to be under 140 characters. That's a hard limit. What you say is called a tweet. It's a noun and a verb. "Oh, I saw this tweet..." and "He was tweeting all day."

Alternatively, some folks say "twittered" as in "I am twittering" and "I sent a twitter." I would say this is not typical.

Twitter is permanent (so far) so every tweet has a permalink. That means that every single tweet you put out there is now something that can be linked to, for example, this one: This immediately makes twitter different from IRC or other chat systems. That tweet is public and it's out there and it's web searchable.

I have always said, don't give bile a permalink. If you're a jerk on Twitter (and you care) it's in the record. Tweet positively.


A twoosh is a tweet that is exactly 140 characters, no more no less. You've maximized the size of your tweet. Some folks believe this is a sign of skill. You'll tweet and learn that it's usually luck.


People on Twitter. 'Nuff said.


When Tweeple meet in person.

Twitter Client

While you can read tweets and tweet yourself at and on your phone, most folks use a Twitter Client that talks to the Twitter API. Just like you can read your email on the web, but many folks use an email client.

There's lots of's the top 100 twitter clients.

Me, I like:

  • Windows Mobile - Tiny Twitter - fast and small and basic.
  • iPhone - TwitterFon - simple and clean, lets you do everything you can on the web and more.
  • Power User - TweetDeck - powerful as it lets you have multiple columns for search terms you want to monitor.
  • Most Pretty (Vista) - Chirp - Missing some functionality, but it's gorgeous.
  • .NET Educational - Witty - A free open source client for XP and Vista written in WPF

I use TweetDeck the most.

Followers and Following

When you "follow" someone, you are saying you want them to appear in your "timeline" of friends. I follow something like 500 people. It's like subscribing to a blog you're interested in. However, I have more than 500 people following me...but (here's the important part) I don't need to follow everyone back.

If you follow everyone and keep some 1:1 ratio between who you follow and who follows you, that will render your main timeline useless. Follow who is interesting to you, but make sure you can see the @replies from folks you don't follow. This leads me to:


When you want to reply to someone, you hit the little reply arrow in your client or on the web. The client will insert that users name with an @ sign, like @shanselman. It will also populate some hidden metadata indicating which tweet you were replying to. It's helpful to reply to specific tweets as it makes the conversation easier to follow later. Often newbies reply to the most recent tweet, but then make reference to tweets from days before.

For maximum social-ness, the first setting you should change when you sign up for Twitter is your @replies setting. Set it to show replies from anyone rather than just the replies from people you follow. Otherwise you'll miss out on a lot of the conversation.

I can see your replies even if I don't follow you. You don't need permission from me or anyone to reply and jump into a conversation.

If you want to watch the replies for a Twitter user that is not you, you can use or a new column in TweetDeck. For example, here's me: By searching for the string "shanselman" you can see both replies as well as mentions, like Often new folks try to reply but mention your name rather than correctly using the @shanselman syntax.

You can also subscribe to an RSS feed for queries. But it's not just for ego-surfing. I also watch for diabetes and You get the idea.

Retweet or RT

When you see a tweet you really like, you can "retweet" it. Usually newbies will over-retweet, so watch for that.

The idea is that if @foo has 100 followers and @bar has 100 different followers and @foo retweets @bar's tweet, the idea is magnified, and may go viral.

If you care, there are tools to measure and track retweets. I don't care. I'm in it for the conversation and the sharing. If something strikes you as awesome, retweet it. Many Twitter clients have a "retweet" button now that will do this for you.

Twitter #Hashcodes

Sometimes you'll see a tweet like

Having fun at #mix09


bill gates mosquitoes / unleashed on #ted audience / where is the 'green' deet #haiku

The hashcode is an informal way to "tag" something to a category or categories. For example, the second tweet there refers to both the Ted conference and marks the tweet as a Haiku. (Haiku on Twitter are called "Twaiku" but that's pretty geeky. ;)

Hashcodes can help you be social at a conference like #oscon or #mix09 but they can also create informal "chat rooms" like for the show #lost or to find folks that share a common interest like:

any #women out there who are #runners? Trying to get some more ideas for my blog.

When I got to a conference I always ask around for the conference hashcode, then create a search so I can find out where folks are hanging out. It really enhances the experience.

Tiny URLs

image Since you've only got 140 characters for a Tweet, it's really important that you not share large URLs. Nearly everyone on Twitter will use a URL shrinking service like or or Funny, TinyUrl is positively HUGE!

Make sure your client will automatically shrink URLs. Most do.

Sharing Pictures with TwitPic

There are a lot of services that "orbit" Twitter. They aren't Twitter, and they usually aren't affiliated with Twitter, but they enhance the service, like the tiny URL makers above.

One of these services is TwitPic. It has an API that lets you attach a photo from your client, then it'll include a tiny link to that photo. Some clients can even extract the photo seamlessly. British entertainer Stephen Fry used Twitter and Twitpic and a mobile phone recently to tweet his way to safety whilst trapped in an elevator, er, lift.

Direct Messages

These are exactly what they sound like - private tweets between two people. The only trick here is that you can only "DM" people who follow you.

Integration with Facebook and other Social Sites

Facebook has "Status Updates" and my friends think I update my status all the time. In fact, there's a Twitter Facebook application that you can add to your Facebook Profile so that your Facebook Status is updated with your Tweets.

I find this to be fun as it allows topics to fire up inside Facebook and lets folks who aren't on Twitter get in on the conversation. Other social sites like FriendFeed and have similar features.


Most people try out twitter, follow a few people, tweet some, get confused or bored and never come back. Totally understandable, as it's all a big secret handshake.

Here's what I suggest.

  1. Sign up
  2. Pick a Twitter Client (see list above)
    • Don't set the client to bother you (sound, notify, etc) every time something happens. You'll go nuts. I set mine to notify on replies only. I check the "river of tweets" whenever I feel like it. It's an interrupt, remember. You'll never keep up with all the tweets. You'll never have fun if you try to drink from the firehose, so don't. When it bothers you, shut it down. When there's a fun topic happening, jump in.
  3. Pick at LEAST 20 people or more to follow.
    • Mix it up. Follow people in all of the things you're interested in. For example, don't just follow programmers, or famous people, or news sites.
      I've seen folks follow just a few people, then get frustrated because they feel one person is dominating their "tweetstream." If you follow just me and @codinghorror, you'll immediately hate us both because it'll seem like we tweet all day. (I don't, honest) If you have enough people, it'll seem more like a cocktail party with lots of folks talking, as opposed to a lecture by two obnoxious dudes.
    • There are many famous people on twitter but there's also lots of useful bots and news services. For example, @cnn, and @npr, but also companies with Twitter specific discounts like @DellOutlet.
      Another example: I wrote a Twitter-bot that posts funny things that my 3 year old says (or yours!) and cute things that are OverheardAtHome using the totally automated Twitter name @overheardathome.
  4. Watch for other interesting people to follow.
    • If someone you follow seems be having a conversation with someone you aren't following, why not use the "Follow" feature of your client to listen to that new person. You can always unfollow them.
  5. Tweet smartly.

Have fun! See you on Twitter. I'm @shanselman.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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February 05, 2009 11:19

Add Twisation to the list which is a ter I use for Twitter Conversation ;-)
February 05, 2009 11:59
Great list, I'm glad you put it out there so I can send people to it!

I disagree with your suggestion that new users signup and then pick a twitter client. I think new users should stick to the web interface for a few weeks and get a feel for things. That way they fall into a usage pattern and can then pick the client that best suits their needs. Plus, its just one less step and hopefully less overwhelming.
February 05, 2009 12:03
Twid, a person's Twitter ID (user name).
February 05, 2009 12:13
I found that is a must service after about a week on Twitter to join. It gives you a recommendation list of people to follow based on what you say and who those you follow follow, like traditional social sites (yes, they have been around so long they are now traditional) can give.
February 05, 2009 12:47
I'm definately in the used it, got bored of it, stopped using it camp.. but I think maybe I just wasn't following anyone interesting :-)

I think the clients have moved on significantly since I last played with it (@messages weren't "supported" way back when), so maybe I'll give it another go.
February 05, 2009 15:13
Gets quite addictive. I think it's a good outlet to see new blog posts, thoughts of people with common interests. I think it's a good way for getting help/helping people too. Lots of nice people out there who are willing to help if stuck....

Couple of well known celebs on twitter: Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross. Always good to see some banter. Alot more celebs out there but again depends on your tastes :)
February 05, 2009 17:45
I want to setup a couple of twitter accounts. One for our website and one for a client to announce site updates, maintenance, and hopefully receive some positive feedback.

Does the web interface handle multiple accounts? If not what is the best client to handle multiple twitter accounts?
February 05, 2009 18:56
This is a ploy to get more followers, carefully concealed in a helpful and informative blog post. I see right through you, Hanselman!!
February 05, 2009 19:20
Thanks for the "twitter in a nutshell" post. I only recently joined, but have been having a great time with it so far. I think it is quite addicting, in a good 'n fun kind of way.
February 05, 2009 21:14
Brian: Right now, Twhirl is the best client for handling multiple Twitter accounts.
February 05, 2009 23:10
I would like to submit; "twitiquette" for your consideration.

This describes the tiresome, Victorian-esque hang up with so-called proper twitter manners held by some users to indicate their nerdly status.

These individuals could be called alternately, "Twits" and/or "Twerps".
February 06, 2009 2:37
I would add a couple of utilities like Ping.FM and HelloTXT to this post. These really help a lot to simultaneously post to multiple social network sites, bookmarking sites, and twitter.
February 06, 2009 3:17
Surprised to not see Twictionary mentioned - - as it could have saved a lot of work on this post. Plus, some Portland folks got it started. But, it's not like you need the sleep right? ;-)
February 06, 2009 11:39
The main problem I found with Twitter in the early days is finding people to follow - this disappears once you've found a few people - a "critical mass" if you will, as you then start to follow people based upon conversations you see happening.

But initially tools such as TweeterTags - and Mr. Tweet can be useful in finding new friends.
February 06, 2009 12:33
Hey Scott, one correction. According to the help page you will always see @replies to you in the "replies" tab on the home page whether they are from people you follow or not. Changing the setting for notices only affects whether you see other peoples @replies to people you do not follow
February 06, 2009 12:55
You have to check out PockeTwit for windows mobile its undoubtedly the best looking client for WinMo. Bonus the codes there to peruse too.
February 06, 2009 13:26
Hey Scott,

Wanted to thank you for the .NET User Group presentation the other day. Can't think of anyone I'd rather have a crash course from in MVC. I keep seeing the same great tools in your demo's and presentations. What do you use to zoom and highlight certain areas of the screen?

Thanks in advance!
February 07, 2009 1:50
Hey Scott,

Surprised to see "Most Pretty (Vista) - Chirp - Missing some functionality, but it's gorgeous."

"chirp" is renamed to "blu" & now has all the functionality (e.g. tiny url support). Check out the updated "blu" -
February 07, 2009 10:30
Cool! I'm still waiting for "blu" to have Replies support and be re-sizable.
February 07, 2009 10:30
Tyler - That's ZoomIt.
February 08, 2009 23:37
Hey Now Scott,

Nice Post

Catto's On Twitter

Thx 4 the info,
March 18, 2009 3:00
enjoyed it and learnt a lot, thanks scott

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.