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Twitter Status Update

Back in April, I began playing around with Twitter, a Web site that invites its users to post very brief notes--as in, 120140 characters or less, spaces included--for anybody to read.

One of my initial motivations for this experiment was shallow and vain: All the cool kids were doing it, and I didn't want to get left behind. But I'd also grown to enjoy writing status updates on Facebook and, having seen how some colleagues were also making effective use of Twitter, thought it could be a neat little outlet for the same sort of compressed-prose creativity.

I wrote about my Twittering in early May. That started a slow but steady increase in the number of people following my updates on that site; at the end of last week, I hit the meaningless milestone of 200 followers. (That's not counting a couple of spammers that I blocked from following me--yes, spam has spread to even this corner of the Web.)

A little more than three months after that first "tweet," I can pronounce my Twitter experiment a success. Twitter has become my public notebook, in which I jot down the one- or two-sentence comments, quotes and reports that aren't yet worthy of a blog post, but which I don't want to leave buried in my story-ideas file. (Some of my Twitter updates do turn into blog posts, some of which themselves eventually evolve into stories--which can in turn provide for follow-up tweets and blog posts. There's a bit of a circular food chain here.) In addition, Twitter helps me stay current on the thoughts of other tech-industry types--the reporters, analysts, consultants, publicists, developers and other people whose updates I follow or who post replies to my own tweets. And Twittering's forced brevity has pushed me to be more efficient in my prose everywhere else.

I've settled on a rhythm of five or six posts on a workday, with none on nights, weekends and holidays unless I stumble across something tech-relevant. (Like, say, the time I saw a plant called "fiber optic grass" at Home Depot and could not stop myself from Twittering about it from my phone.) Much to my relief, this hasn't proved to be the major disruption in my schedule that I'd feared it would become.

I've also been amused to discover how many public-relations agencies now follow Twitter full time. For instance, when I complained about one PR firm's spam filter blocking an e-mail from me that quoted their own pitch back to them, a representative for Symantec called to make sure it wasn't their server at fault.

My biggest complaint about Twitter is the same as everybody else's--its chronic unreliability. Its "Twitter is over capacity" message has shown up so many times it's at risk of getting burned into the monitor--and the cute "fail whale" graphic that appears on that page has since spawned its own semi-sarcastic fan club. I've also had a few posts simply disappear after I click the "Update" button, something that annoys me to no end.

Then again, all this downtime does force me to focus on my day job every few hours, so perhaps I shouldn't complain much.

Have you taken to Twittering yourself? What do see as your principal reward for that effort?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 21, 2008; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Rob, I think you broke Twitter again. I just tried to get there to see if I could start following you, and I am getting the dreaded "....over capacity..." message.

Posted by: catester | July 21, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Rob didn't break Twitter today. USA Today's Jefferson Graham did with his story in this morning's paper.

I think it's an interesting commentary on the Post that Rob is one of the few Post reporters who use Twitter and the only tech writer on Twitter.

When over 9 million readers access the Post through and less than a million get the print edition, it's surprising that Rob's colleagues have been so slow to embrace technology like this, especially compared to smaller papers like Orlando Sentinel, St. Paul Pioneer Press and Houston Chronicle.

Any insight to offer on that, Rob?

Posted by: John | July 21, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Rob, I feel sort of like a creeper when I use Twitter....unless I'm following a sporting event. Anyone else feel similarly?

Posted by: rj | July 21, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm still new to Twitter but the weird thing is I feel more obligated to use it "responsibly" since many of my colleagues get their "tweets" via text message. I'm envious of those who tweet about running errands though (yawn) I could do with a few less of those. I don't feel the same "need" to post with the blog unless i have some news to communicate so I think Twitter is hurting my blogging output.

marianmerritt (on twitter)

Marian Merritt, Symantec/Norton Internet Safety Advocate (in real life)

Posted by: Marian Merritt | July 21, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

While I wait for this computer's Virtual PC-hosted copy of Vista to finish "configuring updates"--whatever that entails--I'll address a couple of points raised here.

@Marian Merritt: This may make me a bad guy, but I don't think I've thought much about the possible bandwidth cost of my Twitter updates. I guess I've always figured that anybody crazy enough to get Twitter updates via SMS either has an unlimited-messaging plan or will get one the second they see their next wireless bill.

@John: I can't speak for my colleagues about why they're not Twittering--I haven't asked them. But it's not out of any general online hangup; the bulk of the people in the cubicles around me update their Facebook status every day. We've also set up Twitter feeds linked to many of our blogs and features (see, for instance, ). That said, it has not escaped my attention that the personal-tech columnists at the NYT, WSJ and USA Today have made either minimal or zero use of Twitter so far. If my Twittering gives me some sort of competitive advantage, I'm in no position to complain.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | July 21, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

It also seems to be a bit of a throw back to the message boards which I find interesting. I use it to chat about the highlights of my day and various lessons learned about my startup

Friendfeed is out there as well and seems to be catching up quickly.

Posted by: Steve Driscoll | July 21, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

I sell beer and use Twitter as a tool in that regard.
* I alert customers to brewery and beer-related events in which I'm participating. And quick beer business updates.
* I post succinct beer reviews, particularly at beer tastings or festivals.
* I link the Tweets to my blog, website, and FaceBook account.
* My Tweets are public, so I limit their personal content. For personal messages, I text message or direct message.

Posted by: Thomas | July 22, 2008 7:13 AM | Report abuse

I signed up for a twitter account, but didn't write down the password. I know - dumb me. But they're password reset just doesn't work. I get a mal-formed link in the email that just takes me to the log in screen.

I wonder if Twitter grew too fast for its britches. :-(

Posted by: justsomeguy | July 22, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

I can honestly say Twitter brought the best and worst of me. I was twittering constantly, affecting my work and relationship. I had to stop twittering last week to fix the damage. But while I sort out my personal life, I know Twitter to be an effective way to update my work as a journalist in Venezuela and also to share some thoughts with a couple of friends. Meantime, I suggest you try our Friendfeed, Rob.

Posted by: Juan Carlo | July 22, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I've been fiddling with Twitter for about a week, and I'm finding that the most useful thing about it so far is the speed with which I can receive news updates. I'm subscribed to CNN, the CNN Political Ticker, Barack Obama's campaign updates, the Senate & House floor schedules, the NYTimes, etc...

I still don't know many other people who are using it, so I have yet to experience the social aspects of it. I'm really interested, though.

Lastly, I wonder how Twitter might negatively affect people professionally... the way that Blogs did a few years ago. Choosing what to tweet and what not to tweet could be a pretty key decision, especially if you keep your page public.

Posted by: therobotian | July 22, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

FYI: Tweets can be written up to 140 characters, not 120.

Thought you might want to make the correction.

Posted by: Natasha | July 22, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

okay, i signed up a few days ago. still have my password. invited a few friends to join.

now i don't know what to do. and the friends who got the invitations don't know either.

so, is there a link to a site that will walk us troglodytes through the process so we can become hip to twitter?


Posted by: tom rusch | July 22, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

In general, I avoid anything with the word twit in the title.

Posted by: Dawny Chambers | July 23, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

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