What is Twitter and how can you use it?

Our mini Twitter FAQ introduces you to the basics of the microblogging service

Since its creation in 2006, Twitter has exploded to become one of the most popular social networking and microblogging services in the world. But despite its popularity, only a minority of the Twitter's registered members use it regularly. We've prepared a short guide to explain what Twitter is and how you can make the most of it so you, too, can be part of the microblogging revolution.

What is Twitter?

Twitter was originally based on the idea of a "mobile status update service", with users sending updates of 140 characters or less about what they were doing. However in 2009 it changed its slogan from "What are you doing right now?" to "What's happening?" The reason, according to Twitter, is that the "fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates. Twitter helps you share and discover what's happening now among all the things, people, and events you care about."

You can use Twitter to make updates that are broadcast to your "followers". In turn, you can follow people and receive their updates. People can reply to each other's updates, as well as send "direct messages" — short, private messages.

How can I use Twitter?

As long as you have a PC or mobile phone capable of Internet access you can use Twitter. If you're using the Web interface it is as easy as creating an account then "tweeting" by typing into a text entry box.

What are the benefits of Twitter?

You can use Twitter to stay in contact with friends, view what people are saying about hot topics (including events as they are unfolding) or get the latest inane babble from your favourite celebrity.

What’s a follower and how do get them?

A follower is someone who simply receives your tweets on their Twitter page; it's (loosely) the Twitter equivalent of a Facebook friend. To follow a Twitter user using the Web interface you just have to navigate to their page and click the 'follow' button. Generally people will follow people who they know or who tweet things they are interested about. So the best way to get followers is to tweet interesting things! You can also register at the Wefollow.com Twitter user directory, which categorises people by the topics they are interested in and their location.

What's trending?

The hot topics of the moment are all featured in an easy-to-access fashion on the Twitter homepage. A simple click will take you to all tweets which feature that popular subject. Whether it is the BP oil spill, Mel Gibson’s umpteenth phone tirade, or Lindsay Lohan's spell behind bars, Twitter has you covered.

What's a hashtag?

A hashtag is an easy way of following tweets on a particular topic. People tweeting about a particular event or topic will often append a hashtag that #looksabitlikethis. (For example, check out our roundup of tweets on the Gillard-Rudd leadership "#spill".)

Who are popular tweeters?

Many of the top tweeters are celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga.

What does RT mean?

"RT" stands for "retweet". It's when someone repeats what one of the people they follow has said. For example: "RT @PCWorldAU New review: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G2 digital camera http://idg.to/8B" would be a retweet of one PC World Australia's Twitter updates. It lets you share a tweet and acknowledge the source at the same time.

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