Suggestions for getting started with Twitter

twitter As a fan of Twitter, I often find myself telling others about the service (you might argue that me being a fan is not as relevant as me being addicted). I do my best to explain that you can’t really explain Twitter. It’s one of those things that you have to experience before you get it. Michael Martine does a good job of describing this in his post Twitter is like sex.

I also try to offer some advice on how to get started. The most important thing I mention is actually #8 on this list, but I wanted to approach it from the perspective of just registering for the site.

Here are my top ten suggestions for getting started with Twitter:

  1. Pick a good username. If you already have a username you tend to use around the web, stick with that. If you’re coming up with something new, make it easy to type and to say verbally. Try to avoid names that might look “spammy”, such as “john351” or something like that.
  2. Keep your tweets public. I’m not really sure what the point of joining Twitter is if you’re just going to keep everything private. Besides, Twitter truly shines when it can aggregate everyone’s tweets together, and it can only do that with public tweets.
  3. Change the default background/theme. I see that there are a bunch of new defaults, but I still think it’s a good idea to personalize your profile a little. It makes a difference when others are looking at your page deciding whether or not to follow you. Don’t go overboard here though. Some services let you create a background full of text and other information, but I think those look messy.
  4. Enter your website URL if you have one. One of the first things I’ll do when looking at a new profile is click the web link. It’s a great way to learn more about the person. It won’t drive a ton of traffic to your site, but it doesn’t hurt either.
  5. Set your location correctly. It might seem funny to set your location to something random like “my room” but setting your location properly makes it easier for others to find you. I think the format “city, state/province, country” works best because then others can search by all three criteria.
  6. Post some tweets before you follow others. Shortly after you follow someone, they’ll likely be looking at your profile. If it is empty or contains only a tweet or two, chances are they won’t follow you back.
  7. Go easy on the following at first. If you try to follow hundreds of people all at once, you’ll likely be flagged as a spammer by Twitter. Even if you aren’t, it looks bad to be following 500 people without any followers of your own.
  8. Follow users who live where you do. This is my favorite suggestion, because I think it’s the quickest way to get value out of Twitter. People often complain that a tweet like “Calgary Trail is a parking lot” seems mundane, but to others in the area it can be really useful (that’s a busy road here in Edmonton). By following other locals, you’ll reduce the number of tweets that seem mundane.
  9. Learn the lingo and etiquette. It’s quite simple really. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, an update is called a tweet. If you start your tweet with @username, then it’s a reply and it’ll show up on the replies tab for that user. Something like #yeg is called a hashtag, and it’s basically a way of categorizing your tweets. If someone tweets something that you’d like to reshare, start your tweet with RT @username (or you can use “retweet” instead of “RT” if you like).
  10. Start using Twitter Search right away. I can’t stress this enough – Twitter Search is what really makes Twitter useful. I always have a tab open with a search for “mastermaq”, so that I can see any tweets that reference me. I also use it to find out what people think of the latest movie, or to find links on a topic I’m interested in. Make Twitter Search your best friend – you won’t regret it!

Those are my suggestions. The only other thing I would mention is to be interesting, but that’s harder to define. I think the most interesting users on Twitter post a combination of random tweets, replies, and links. As with anything else, you can learn a lot by simply paying attention and observing others.

Have I missed anything? What are your suggestions? Let me know!

Happy Tweeting 🙂

Simple advice for acting on your software ideas

Post ImageJustice decided to play the “hypothetical situation” game today, with a post asking what you should do if a great idea hits you. I started out writing a comment, but it got ridiculously long, so here’s a post instead. First, I’ll answer the questions Justice included in his post, then I’ll suggest some of my own questions. Not that you need to be reminded, but I’ll say it anyway – I’m not an expert on these matters, so take this advice with a grain (or jug) of salt!

Okay, so you’ve got a great world-changing idea for a software application/business. What now?

Do you even tell *anyone*?
Yes! This is the easiest of the questions to answer. I think you have to tell someone, preferrably many people. You might think your idea is amazing, and maybe it is, but you won’t know until you get someone else’s opinion. Be prepared though, an honest opinion from someone can have you hitting the ground hard.

If/when this occurs to you, what do you do?
Well, tell someone first. Get another opinion. After that, decide if you really want to proceed. I don’t like doing things half-assed, and I’m sure you don’t either, so this is really an “am I all in or not” kind of decision. It’s not quite the point of no return, but once you commit, you had better follow through.

How do you get started?
In the case of software (or most things of a technical nature), you need to help people visualize your idea. That means getting a prototype or mockup or something going as quickly as possible. It’ll help you refine the idea, and it’ll make it easier to attract help later on. If you don’t know any programming languages, I guess you should learn one of those first 😉

Do you quit your job immediately and begin laboring intensely to bring this to fruition?
This is a difficult question to answer. It comes down to opportunity cost I suppose. It really depends on your individual situation. If you can quit your job and still manage to keep a roof over your head and coke, er, food on the table while working on your idea, I say go for it. Be prepared to give up any social life you might have however!

One caveat is to make sure you have something else going on in your life. If all you do is work on your idea, you’re going to burn out. You need to be able to take a break every now and then.

Do you immediately rush out and try to gather every talented and qualified person you know to begin building what you understand will eventually end up altering the world for the better?
In short, no. First, get that prototype/mockup going. Once that’s done, you can think about adding to the team. Here are some of the things you need to consider:

  • A large team can actually slow you down!
  • Waiting too long to bring in other developers may mean they spend all their time learning what you’ve already done before they can become productive.
  • Make sure you’re ready to share the glory if you decide not to go it alone.
  • A small number of people with specialized, complementary skills can be excellent for development.
  • How will you pay everyone?

What other questions should you be asking?
Well, there’s a bunch. Here are some that came to mind for me:

  • What problem am I solving? This one you need to be able to answer right away.
  • Do I want to be rich or do I want to change the world? This will have an impact on how you decide to pursue the idea. If you’re lucky, you’ll get both.
  • If you decide to go for it, will you get a Pareto efficient outcome? Of course it won’t be perfectly Pareto optimal, but that should be the goal. If your family has to suffer greatly for this to work, maybe reconsider.
  • How much is this going to cost me? In dollars, time, etc.
  • Are you prepared to hear “no”? Because you will, a lot.
  • Do you value sleep? You’ll get less and less if you go after your idea.
  • If this becomes a real business, are you ready to give up control one day? You’ll likely need to bring in outside help, investors, etc.

There’s dozens of other potential questions you could ask. Most of them don’t need to be asked right away, however.

So, what now?
I really believe you need to do two things: create a visualization of your idea, and get as many opinions as you can. After you’ve done those two things, you’ll have a better handle on the idea, and you’ll be in a much better position to answer any questions.

Read: Gray’s Matter