Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Decoding tweets: A brief introductory guide for my non-Twitter friends

Twitter allows you to keep tabs on the quotidian happenings and passing thoughts of not only your friends and colleagues, but also the far-removed rich and famous.

For example, this appeared about half an hour ago on my Twitter home page:

MarleeMatlin RT @Alyssa_Milano This day in history Feb. 2 1990 De Klerk dismantled apartheid in South Africa promised free Nelson Mandela >INSPIRATIONAL!

Let's unpack this. Follow along:

MarleeMatlin: The tweet (Twitter message) was sent by Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, whom I am following on Twitter.

RT: The tweet is actually a retweet, or a re-sending of another tweet by someone else whom the sender is following. Re-tweeting will send the original tweet to everyone following the re-tweeter.

@Alyssa_Milano: Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award winner Alyssa Milano is the author of the original tweet. (Because I'm not following Milano, I never received the original tweet, only Matlin's retweet.)

>: Usually used as texting shorthand for "more than," "better than," etc. In this case, it's an idiosyncratic flag that Matlin often uses to mark the beginning of her own comment added to a retweet.

So, in regular talk:

Milano sent a text to her followers noting that today is the anniversary of the end of apartheid and the release of Mandela by de Klerk. Matlin, who is one of Milano's followers, re-sent Milano's message to all of her own followers, adding that she finds Milano's original tweet inspirational.

It's unclear whether either de Klerk or Mandela has a Twitter account at this time.

There are several lessons to be learned from this; here's one: There is no guarantee that following famous, attractive, and talented people on Twitter will itself be an exciting experience. Absolutely none at all.

It's like observing them through the wrong end of a telescope.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to Twitter to unfollow, with some regrets, a person currently on my following list. I think you can guess what that means.

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