I have a Twitter account that I’ve used for the last couple years. I think I started in December 2007 or thereabouts. Whenever I started, it was long enough ago that I’ve published 7657 “tweets” since then, a word that I will now use perversely because the Serious Style Guides officially frown on it.
Twitter’s a bit of a potential time suck, and I’m not going to encourage anyone to use it if they’re not sure they want to. But every now and then you find some curmudgeonly person declaring — usually without any experience — that Twitter must necessarily be useless because of certain assumptions the curmudgeons hold. Those assumptions generally fall into two sets:
- Twitter consists of nothing but egotists who think the world wants to know that they’re eating a sandwich, and
- Nothing of value can be said in 140 characters.
That first class of assumption bears some truth to it. There are a whole lot of boring, self-absorbed people using Twitter. There are also a lot of interesting, witty and perceptive people using Twitter who will go through hours-long stretches of posting things you’ll find self-indulgent. There are people using Twitter who you will find fascinating and worthwhile who will be incomprehensible and boring to most other people. The thing is, following those people — signing up to receive their tweets, in other words — is voluntary. No one’s forcing you.
The second assumption — that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters — is bullshit. For one thing, people who say that seem to have forgotten the existence of hyperlinks. Here, for instance, in 140 characters, we have a sentence worth of important information and a link to a page where one might educate oneself further, with room left over for yours truly to append a stupid joke.
But even without links, if you can’t say something worth saying in 140 characters, I doubt whether you could with more. Sure, the length doesn’t allow for much detail, depth, or nuance. But is this (for instance) not worth saying? Or this? You can tell stories in 140 characters. You can write metareferential haiku.
I’ve used Twitter to keep in touch with people, to get messages to The Raven when I don’t have a cell signal, to announce new blog posts, to make plans with small groups of people, to stay informed on environmental and scientific news. I’ve also used it to ask the world for favors: getting copies of public domain scholarly articles behind JSTOR paywalls, advice on technical problems, opinions about software and hardware and the like. It’s a wonderful tool if you know how to use it.
All the above said, it’s a social tool and as is the case with any social tool, Twitter use can give rise to a misunderstanding here and there, and occasionally even drama. So in an attempt to manage some of that potential misunderstanding and drama, and because the list of people who are following me on Twitter has grown a bit past the point where I can say this directly to everyone involved, I append below what at the risk of seeming more formal and less nonchalant than is my intention, I will call my Twitter policy. So here we go, as informally and ad hoc as possible:
1) I warmly invite you to follow me on Twitter. My main personal feed is at @canislatrans. I also post on behalf of the Desert Protective Council at @DesertBlog. I have two inactive feeds at @AridCarnival (which will resume if the Carnival of the Arid revives itself somehow) and @WalkingWithZeke, which may become active again if there’s news to report about the book. The Clade also has a feed at @TheClade, which updates when someone posts a new post there, which these days is not often.
2) I do not think there is a “right way” to use Twitter. I don’t tweet every day. On rare occasion I tweet twenty times in an hour. I use Twitter as an adjunct to my blog’s RSS feed, to pass along links I think are interesting, to share poetry and observations, to crowd-source breaking news, and to tell strings of egregious jokes.
3) If any of the above-linked Twitter feeds turn out to be of less than sparkling interest to you, feel free to drop them. I won’t be hurt. I don’t use any of the apps available to see who has unfollowed me. That way lies drama. If I know you and I notice you’re refollowing me — implying that you’ve unfollowed me in the past — I’ll probably just assume you got tired of a string of bad jokes or earworms or something, and mainly I’ll be glad to see you come back. I do pay attention now and then to raw follower numbers, but primarily because statistics are interesting. I’ve lost significant numbers of followers all at once on a few occasions and figured that either Twitter culled invalid accounts or that I said something provocative. Either scenario is good news.
4) I don’t automatically follow everyone who follows me. I use Twitter for work purposes, in addition to all the rest, and keeping my list of people followed to a small mob helps make sure I don’t miss some of the important links and such. This is especially true given that there are times when I can only read Twitter on my phone, and it’s much harder to scroll through hundreds of tweets. Don’t feel bad if I don’t follow you back. If you unfollow me as a result, fair enough.
5) My unfollowing you, should I do so, is not intended as a judgment of your character or my fondness therefor. You might just be tweeting incessantly about the World Cup/American Idol/latest Blog Drama, or something else about which I could not care less, for a stretch of time beyond which I am unwilling to scroll down. I’ll almost certainly refollow you again once the World Cup/American Idol/latest Blog Drama is over.
5a) Unless you whine at me for unfollowing you, which is an easy way to make sure I don’t come back. This has happened.
6) I tend to follow people I know in real life, or who are regular commenters on my blog, or who are consistently smart and funny, or who link to fascinating topics — especially in the environmental and scientific realms. I tend not to follow people who do not fall into any of the above categories, though there are exceptions. I quickly unfollow people who appear to be permanently set on negative, especially of the snark or “poor me” or fanning the flames of online drama flavors, because you know what? Fuck that.
7) Even if I’m not following you, I do try to respond to all messages directed at me if they seem to ask for a response. If you’d like a response and I don’t give you one, nudge me again. It sometimes takes me days to reply to urgent (non-work-related) email, as my close friends will attest. So don’t take it personally.
8) Do say hello to me on Twitter if you like. It makes my day. I do always say “hi” back.