I've been on Twitter since the summer of 2007, and have noticed the number of local users increasing rapidly over the past few months. When I first signed up for Twitter, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to use it. After you sign up, you go to your Twitter page, and you see a question: "What are you doing?" Below the question is a blank box. You can type up to 140 characters into that box, ostensibly to answer that question. I dutifully typed my answers every so often, usually I texted them from my cellphone, but I kept asking myself, what's the point?
It wasn't until recently that I figured out that Twitter is most valuable when you use it to have conversations. Duh. It's not just a broadcasting tool — it's something you can use to talk with people, and, more importantly, listen to them.
People don't just use it to say what they're "doing," they use it to share the things that catch their attention — they post about the projects they're working on, they share photos and news tips, they offer recommendations. And as the number of local users grows, Twitter is turning into a vibrant virtual watercooler for Burlington's tech-savvy set.
Want a more in-depth tutorial? Check out this slideshow. I found it, of course, using Twitter.
I counted 16 people at today's tweetup. It drew a different crowd than the "Twestival" last week at Vermont Pub and Brewery, probably because that group met at 9:30 p.m. at a bar. The twitterers who showed up today were mainly PR folks, and representatives from local businesses and nonprofits. Social media mavens Elaine Young and Gahlord Dewald were also present — would any Vermont new media networking event be complete without them?
Claudia Renchy Morton, Public Relations Director at Kelliher Samets Volk, organized the event. Lots of KSV people representing there, incidentally. Claudia's Twitter handle is MonkeyHouseMama. What's with the monkeys? Claudia explained that she bought a cabin in Montgomery, Vermont, that is known as "the monkey house." "I just felt like putting out a fun name," she said.
Claudia had us all introduce ourselves, and talk about how we use Twitter. I'm following several of the people in the group, and it was good to meet them in person. I got some good tech tips from them, too, and a few leads on useful Twitter feeds to follow (i.e. conversations to listen in on).
It was also interesting to hear other people describe why they use the service. "I enjoy Twitter because it allows me to be hyperlocal for a change," said JohnCVermont. "Twitter is helping me to understand that there are things going on in Vermont that are just as cool and just as interesting as anywhere else."
"Dogs tweet so much more than people," said Callmelou. Cats tweet, too. And horses. "It's very entertaining," she reported.
Elaine Young explained that her students are using Twitter to connect with experts in the fields they're studying. They're having success contacting people who might otherwise be unreachable for them. "Because of the personal aspect [of Twitter], you can send them a message through Twitter and they'll respond," she said.
Toward the end of the tweetup, Mark Ray (MarkR_VT) added something that I think lots of people are feeling, too. He noted that it can be hard to keep up with the constant stream of information that Twitter generates. "It's frustrating, too, to be honest," he said. True enough.
I find that, with Twitter, as with any new media tool, it's important to set boundaries. You can't always keep up with everything, and you don't always want to. It's important to experiment with tools like Twitter, and play with them, but eventually you need to figure out why you're using it, what you hope to get out of it, and how to integrate it into your work (or your free time, if you're someone who doesn't use Twitter for work). It's not for everyone, but it can be useful.
Want to learn more about who's using Twitter locally? Follow some of these folks, all of whom attended today's tweetup: MonkeyHouseMama, ejyoung67, gahlord, JohnCVermont, markr_vt, callmelou (RogerDog), rnadworny, jstukey, Tursita, BirdDiva, BrewBetterWorld, ladolcevita5, Judyb007 and me, cresmer.
Ron Lewis from Computer Care was also there, but I didn't catch his Twitter feed (UPDATE: he's vtpcwizard). Anybody else that I missed? Please let me know in the comments section, and recommend other local tweeters to follow.