Twitter Is What You Make It.

Last month, my co-workers discovered Twitter. They didn’t join it — far from it. In fact, they seemed not to grasp the usefulness at all, decrying it as self-serving and stupid, and leaving me to defend it during one of our weekly lunch outings. I think I fared well in Twitter’s defense, as I got some conciliatory nods before the subject veered in another direction.

I can totally see where the Twitter haters are coming from. I really didn’t get it myself until I was more mobile: first with my lame-o pay-as-you-go flip phone (which, unbeknownst to me, couldn’t text to short codes or international numbers, which totally foiled my plan to Twitter our Hawaii vacation last year), and now with my iPhone.

Twitter can be stupid. I’ll grant you that. Depending on how you use it, it can be a tool of complete drivel and juvenile chatter. With a little thought and research, and occasional pruning, it can also be useful, informative, and a much-needed diversion at times. It all depends on who you choose to follow.

As for me, the people I follow tend to fall into categories:

  1. Friends and Acquaintances. These are the people who can tweet pretty standard things like “back to work for another monday,” and I’ll continue to follow them, just because. They’ll occasionally tweet a piece of important personal news, and I’ll be glad I was on the front lines to see it and respond (if appropriate). Friends and acquaintances (both IRL and online) comprise about one-third of my flock.
  2. Industry Experts. I consider myself a web design hobbyist (I get the occasional word-of-mouth freelance gig), as well as a fairly recent convert to Business Intelligence. Most of the “industry” people I follow are web designers whose work I’ve admired for years, although I do follow a couple of businesses that would count for this category. Industry folks make up maybe one eighth of who I follow.
  3. Hobbies and Interests. I try to spread these out; I find that if I follow multiple people who tweet about a particular interest of mine, one or two tend to rise up about the rest, content-wise, and the others get weeded out. Currently, I follow a couple of diet/fitness coaches, some atheists, a local record store, a couple of GTD experts, a nerdcore rapper, a sci-fi author, a couple of bloggers, and Wil Wheaton, among a few others. My varied interests make up something like almost half of the people I follow.

Some people fit into multiple categories, like acquaintances and industry experts, or industry experts and interests, so it’s hard to come up with an exact breakdown of who I follow and why.

You may notice that I don’t have a category specifically for “celebrities,” although that seems to be what the media is latching onto about Twitter lately. I follow some “internet celebrities,” like Heather Armstrong and her husband Jon. I’m sure that Whil Wheaton would fit into the celebrity category, too, although I tend to think of him as a writer who acted in a movie and a TV show I like, and as just a slightly different brand of geek than I am.

Just because someone I know or a company I like has an account on Twitter, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll follow them. This isn’t a popularity contest — not to me, anyway. For the most part, I try to follow people whose tweets are relevant, interesting, thought-provoking, funny, helpful, newsworthy, or any combination of these. Sometimes it’s a LOL-inducing twitpic; other times, it’s a software announcement or links to little-known and under-publicized news stories.

(Next week, my contribution to the Twitterverse will include massive amounts of photos and observations from Japan. Look for it.)