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This is a special week at MediaShift as we are all a-twitter about micro-blogging and Twitter. We also have a special Q&A with the Twitter founders, and Jennifer wrote about her life on Twitter as well. But first, here’s a basic guide to help you learn all you need to know about micro-blogging so you can try it out.

What is Micro-Blogging?

Micro-blogging allows you to write brief text updates about your life on the go, and send them to friends and interested observers via text messaging, instant messaging, email or the web. The most popular service is called Twitter, which was developed last year and became popular among techno-gurus at the 2007 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. Part of the magic of Twitter is that it limits you to 140 characters per post, forcing you to make pithy statements on the fly.

Media companies such as the BBC, The New York Times and Al Jazeera are trying out Twitter as a way to send headlines and links to stories. The campaigns for presidential candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama also have Twitter profiles, with thousands of “friends” and “followers” who check out updates.

In one of the more interesting media experiments, the director of the Fox show “Drive,” Greg Yaitanes, had a live Twitter commentary during the show. At one point Yaitanes let his Twitter followers know how the text-messaging made him feel: “Thumbs are killing me!”

For geeky humor, there’s even a satirical feed from Darth Vader, too. One of his recent posts: “Palpatine wanted to go clubbing tonight, but I just didn’t have it in me. Chasing rebels all day is great for cardio, but it wears me down.”

Most reviews of Twitter and similar services such as Jaiku are split between people who consider micro-blogging to be a breakthrough form of communication and people who think it’s an annoying distraction and the ultimate form of navel-gazing. The key to using Twitter is knowing which feeds will be useful to you and which ones will overwhelm you with too many posts. Luckily, there are ways to turn off text-messaging alerts or particular feeds in case of inundation.

How to Start

While you are not required to have a mobile phone with text messaging to use micro-blogging services, you will get a lot more out of them if you do. Twitter, in particular, constantly wants to you to answer the question, “What are you doing?” So if you are at the cafe, you might Twitter your friends to tell them that. Or if you just watched a particularly good movie, you could micro-blog about that. The ease of micro-blogging is that you can do it on the go on your phone in a few moments.

To get started, you can register for a free Twitter account or a free Jaiku account online. With both services, you can upload a photo of yourself and make your micro-blog private or public. As when using all social networking services, be careful what you are willing to share with the public when it comes to your location and what you’re doing.

In order to post to Twitter, you send a text message to the short code 40404 in the U.S., 21212 in Canada or the U.K. long code: +44 7624 801423. Depending on how you pay for text messages on your cellular phone service, you may be charged for each text message you receive or send via Twitter. Twitter actually pays for each message that they send out and receive as well, and have yet to make revenues outside of a few Google ads on their website.

You’ll want to invite a few friends to start following your Twitter micro-blog posts, and also add them so you can follow what they’re doing. At the moment, Twitter does not have a search engine, so it’s a bit more of a closed network for finding people. If you don’t want to follow people’s Twitter feeds or post to Twitter with text messages on your cell phone, you can read and post via Twitter’s website.

Tips

Here are a few basic tips to help you get the most out of micro-blogging without being overwhelmed — or overwhelming others:

> Consider your audience. If you are writing for a group of close friends, you might be able to share more personal details — though be careful if your feed is open to the public. As with all writing, remember who is reading what you’re writing and make sure it’s something of value to them.

> Post regularly but not too often. Bloggers often feel the need to update their blogs regularly and the same applies to micro-blogging. Twitter has a “nudge” feature that reminds you to post if you haven’t done so for awhile. So keep the posts coming, but don’t inundate your audience. Remember you can send private messages to people on Twitter by using the D + username command.

> Don’t include personal details in an open broadcast. If your feed is public and you have a lot of “followers” or “friends” who you don’t know well, you might consider leaving out some specific details about where you are and what you’re doing. “I’m at the grocery store” might be better than “I’m at the Wal-Mart on Grove St.”

> Turn OFF phone alerts for feeds that don’t feed you. If you start to feel like you’re getting too many text messages from Twitter feeds that aren’t relevant to you, you can use the command “LEAVE + username” to stop getting text alerts from that person. Or you can use the command “REMOVE + username” to completely remove that person from your friend list and not follow them even on the web.

Mash-Ups

One of the great things about Twitter is that fans can create their own add-on applications or visualizations. Here are some of the more popular and useful mash-ups:

Twittervision lets you see each Twitter as it happens based on the location of the Twitterer. The web page literally scrolls around a world map to point out where the user is sending the post, and includes the text of the post and profile photo.

Twitterholic is a Top 100 Billboard-like chart for the Twitterers who have the most “followers.” Most of the chart is dominated by tech personalities such as Robert Scoble (3,690 followers) and Twitter founder Evan Williams (2,487), though CNN Breaking News has a decent showing as well (1,664).

Twitterment allows you to search for specific terms such as beer to see who has written a post with that term. You can even see a graph that shows the hours of the day when that term is used most (beer comes in on the later side, naturally), or compare terms such as Mac vs. PC.

Basic Twitter Search helps you search through Twitter blog posts and even search for people. Because Twitter doesn’t have a search engine (yet), PR blogger Steve Rubel created the engine using Google Co-Op tools.

Twitterrific and Twitteroo are computer programs that let you post to Twitter from your Mac or PC, respectively.

You can find a more comprehensive list of Twitter mash-ups on the special Twitter Fan Wiki page.

Glossary

mistweet: a micro-blog post someone regrets. You can delete posts from your Twitter profile page but you can’t edit them or take them back.

tweet: a micro-blog post via Twitter.

Twitterer: one who Twitters.

Twittermob: a group of people who organize a spontaneous real-world gathering via Twitter.

Twitterrhea: sending too many Twitter messages.

Twitterverse or Twitosphere: the universe of Twitter users.

You can find a more comprehensive list of Twitter lingo on this special Twitter Fan Wiki page.

Resources

To learn more about micro-blogging and Twitter, check out these articles, blog posts, guides and Twitter competitors:

Guides

Basic Twitter Commands from Twitter

Twitter Fan Wiki

Twitter FAQ from Twitter

Twitterati blog

Articles and Blog Posts

A Lesson Learned Twittering by Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion

Atwitter Over Twitter by Kelly Heyboer of the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger

Friends Swap Twitters, and Frustration by Andrew LaVallee at the Wall Street Journal

From Many Tweets, One Loud Voice on the Internet by Jason Pontin for The New York Times

Hyper-connected generation rises by Darren Waters at BBC

Jaiku: Like Twitter, But With More Features by Mitch Wagner at InformationWeek

Prediction: Diller/IAC InterActive Corp. will buy Twitter by Russell Shaw at ZDNet

The Top 5 Ways Smart People Use Twitter
by Sharon Sarmiento at 9:01am blog

Twitter vs. Blogger Redux by Jason Kottke

Web is a-Twitter with self-indulgence by Loren Steffy at the Houston Chronicle

“What Is Twitter?:“http://www.technologyevangelist.com/2007/05/what_is_twitter.html by Ed Kohler at Technology Evangelist

What Twitter Means for Marketers by Mark Silva at iMedia Connection

10 Twitter Hack Start-Up Ideas by Steve Poland at Tequila Shots blog

Competitors

Jaiku

Loopnote

Dodgeball

Please send along any missing resources and I will update this blog post with any glaring ommissions. Also, you can get the MediaShift feed via Twitter here, read my test run on Twitter here or follow MediaShift associate editor Jennifer Woodard Maderazo here.

What do you think? Have you tried micro-blogging and what are its pluses and minuses? How do you think media companies will use a service such as Twitter to keep readers in the loop? Share your thoughts in the comments below.