Some people are turned off by Twitter because they think that it is a bunch of self absorbed narcissists sending messages about who is with them in the VIP section of some exclusive nightclub. Well, there may be an element of that (and some stuff that is even less useful), but Twitter is also a very rich source of useful or entertaining information which you can tailor to your own interests and needs.
As I write this article, twittercounter shows the following people as the most popular on Twitter (each with over three million followers): Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, John Mayer, and Kim Kardashian. Although some of these people's tweets ('Tweets' are what Twitter messages are called) may be interesting, it is more likely that you have some specific interest which you can use Twitter to stay informed about. Some of the topic areas which are particularly rich with Twitterers are: Music, Technology, Writers, Business, Education, Politics, Actors, Journalism, and many others.
An Overview: Twitter is a status sharing and messaging tool which was initially created in 2006 at Odeo in San Francisco, and spun off to Obvious Corp in 2007. It was designed as a broadcast medium based on 140 character SMS (Short Message Service) messages. The original question that Twitter was designed to answer was 'What are you doing now?' - This was later changed to 'What's happening?' - But Twitter users are not constrained by questions or answers.
Developers can access certain Twitter functionality and data via several documented APIs. The openness of Twitter has resulted in the development of numerous related external tools and applications. Examples of tools and applications: Platform specific Twitter clients, Photo Applications, Toolbars, Integration Tools (RSS, Facebook, Bathroom Scales, etc.), Data Management, Usage Statistics, and many other types. Location based services which use GPS information from your phone or other mobile device are rapidly evolving.
Since Twitter is virtually 'real time' it is useful for sharing information during natural disasters, organizing ad hoc protests, or notifying people about late breaking events (such as the location of the Korean BBQ Truck).
How to Start Using Twitter:
1. Get a Twitter Account - It is free and easy. Just click the green 'Sign up now'. Follow the simple instructions. You can use a variant of your name or a pseudonym as your name.
2. Find some people to follow. You can use the 'Find People' function or a directory such as wefollow.com. When you click the 'Follow' button on a person's profile you will see all of their messages (until you unfollow them).
3. Start slowly. You are not required to Tweet anything. If you choose, you can use Twitter as a 'read only' medium.
4. Enable your mobile phone as a device for Tweets from your good friends.
5. Have fun and adjust your Twitter usage to meet your unique needs. Don't feel that you need to catch up on all unread tweets (like you might feel that you need to do with unread email messages).
(Photo credits: Kim Kardashian - David Shankbone, Ellen DeGeneres & Oprah Winfrey - Alan Light... Thanks!)
Update On Mar 04, 2010: Twitter hit 10 billion total tweets today! (March 4, 2010)
Check the current total number of Tweets at:
Twitter is growing fast, but nothing rivals the growth of US debt.