Twitter for [Geography] Teachers: Intro & Signing Up

I just returned a few days ago from a great week in Cincinnati, reading AP Human Geography exams with 400 colleagues from all over the country. In our conversations during the reading, I've come across a number of these folks, many of them high school teachers, who are interested in using Twitter but have no idea where to start.

What I'm hoping to do in the next few entries is give a beginner's guide to using Twitter, specifically geared toward folk who are completely lost at how to begin. I'll also be working toward some "best practices" once the basics are out of the way.

The First Four Entries of This Series Are Posted

More entries will follow soon!

What is Twitter?

Twitter is, of course, an online social networking platform. It started in 2006 as a "microblogging" platform that allowed users to post entries of 140 characters or less. At the time, most Tweeting occurred via text message from mobile devices. What came from that is, today, the world's second most-popular social network (after Facebook) and one that provides users with some interesting and unique opportunities for creating, sharing and consuming information.

When trying to understand what exactly Twitter is, we have to use a non-wired metaphor.

In essence, it's a giant, public, widely accesible worldwide billboard, on which all entries are....

  • Searchable - Users can type in any keyword to see every Tweet that includes that word.
  • Customizable - People, companies and organizations can be "Followed," creating a customized news feed of entries based on a user's interests.
  • Highly connectable - The very public nature of @-messages encourages discussion, not only with the user to which the message is directed, but others. This is the part of Twitter that allows the wide collaboration that we've seen in the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street movements.
  • Sortable - Users can create lists of accounts that cater to variety of interests, ultimately creating a distinctly customized newsfeed from each.

  • and...

  • Brief - One of Twitter's unique attributes is the requirement that users are brief and concise with their message, limiting each to 140 characters. It also means that, as you read your newsfeed, you can take in a lot of information from a wide variety of sources.

  • Assumedly, if you've read this far, you're interested in getting involved with this network. Let's go sign up...


    Signing Up

    We are in the age where signing up for a new website or social network isn't much of a challenge for many of us, but for sake of completeness, we're going to start from scratch. Navigate your browser to Twitter.com

    In the New to Twitter panel on the bottom right, choose a Twitter username that is unique and identifies you. Use an email account that you check on a daily basis so that you can get the notifications of people adding you or messaging you. Then, click "Sign up for Twitter" to get to...

    ...this screen:

    Get everything set up the way you should. Top line is your real name, bottom line is your username. I usually say yes to keeping me logged in (only do this on a private or personal computer) and unclick the one that tailors Twitter. Agree to everything you want to, then click "Create my account."

    First thing they'll bring up is the Twitter Teacher, who isn't terribly effective, but....

    ...he's still worth paying attention to as you click "Next" to go through.

    Like Facebook, Twitter makes money from connections, so they'll want you to follow people from day one, and they will PUSH you to do so. Resist! (At least for now.)

    [IMPORTANT NOTE: I recommend taking your time with choosing followers and generally skipping Twitter's push for followers here by just clicking through on the "Skip..." options. If you follow a lot of people that are not useful to your objectives on Twitter, they will clutter your stream and make it overwhelming because you'll be getting too much information. Obviously, it's your account and you can do whatever you want with it, but I firmly believe that temperance at this stage will help you ease into the Twitter world.]

    First thing they'll offer you is celebrities.

    I only follow a few celebrities. Unless you're into what they do specifically, I would avoid the clutter at this point and hit "Skip this step" in the bottom left.

    Next, you'll get categories of things to follow:

    Again, choose who you follow carefully here because you're building a newsfeed and all posts of everyone you follow will show up there. Unless there's someone or something that really meshes with your objectives on Twitter, I recommend again hitting the "Skip this step" on the bottom left of your screen.

    Then, they'll want you to search your contacts.

    Depending on your situation, this one might be something to skip, or not. It really depends if: 1) your email client is supported; 2) you have contacts on e-mail you're interested to connect with on Twitter; and 3) if you want to take the time to do this now or later. In my case, my e-mail fails on parts one and two, so factor three is a no-go as well.

    Now, it's time to create your basic profile. (There will be more options we can work on later.)

    Twitter recommends putting an actual picture of yourself as your avatar, but this is completely optional. I think it makes the discussions a bit more personable, but I have no problem talking to faceless avatars and I don't think anyone else does either. I'd lead more toward the actual picture when you're getting started to help you be identified as who you are. It will help your face-to-face acquaintances connect the dots of who you are.

    Your bio is also important. You get 160 characters to say what you're going to say. Don't need a location, that'll come later. If you're in a sensitive employment situation, you might mention that tweets are your own opinion. Once you're done with that, click done in the top left panel of the screen, and...

    ...you're now on Twitter. But crap, there's one more thing we need to do to finish the registration process:

    You see the yellow bar at the top? You still need to confirm your account is legit by activating your email.

    So, go to your email:

    Hit the link to activate...

    ...and presto!

    Your account has been confirmed! Congratulations?

    You've officially got a fully confirmed Twitter account, but there's still some other business to take care of. Let's deal with these one by one... in the next entry of the series, which will finish the set-up and explore the interface a bit more.
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