Twitter has been compared to email, RSS, and even the web itself in terms of its impact on communication and the sharing of information. Yet many IT pros have shrugged Twitter off as a professional resource in much the same way that they would dismiss a chat room full of teenagers.
Yet Twitter continues to grow at astounding rates - its ranks swelled primarily by adults.
Is Twitter Really All That?
For IT professionals who know how to use it effectively, Twitter is an extremely powerful medium that is like having a local-user group on tap whenever needed. Of course, like any medium, Twitter can also become a time-sink. It's also, sadly, prone to spammers and even porn-bots. Interestingly enough, the fact that both of these nuisances pay attention to Twitter helps highlight how important it can be as a communications medium.
At the most basic level, Twitter bills itself as a micro-blogging site - where posts (or Tweets) are restricted to 140 characters. Users both Tweet and subscribe (or Follow) the Tweets of other users. Users (especially peers) will frequently follow each other - enabling asynchronous communication and interaction. But, just because you follow someone, doesn't mean they'll follow you. Instead, following someone means that you're interested in what they have to say.
Tweeps (or people who Tweet) can, by convention, address each other by merely placing the @ sign in front of the name of the person (or persons) that they wish to address. This, in turn, enables full-blown conversations between users that can even spill over into other parts of the Twittersphere as other people get involved. The result, however, is that Twitter provides a powerful form of asynchronous communication that allows users to talk about upcoming releases of Service Packs, best practices for backups, troubleshooting tips or help, or funny pictures of cats.
Like other mediums, Twitter has its own culture, jargon, abbreviations, and idioms. Commonly used abbreviations on Twitter OH (Over-Heard) and RT (Re-Tweet of something someone Tweeted). Tweets are also frequently decorated with tags that help make it easier for other users to identify or search for content they're interested in - such as the #sql tag.
Likewise, since URLs typically take a large number of characters to publish, Tweets also frequently feature shortened URLs from services like http://bit.ly and so on. In fact, many Twitter clients include URL shortening features to make tweeting that much easier when linking to sites, blog posts, white papers, job postings, news articles, and so on.
Be aware too that Twitter moves at the speed of consciousness. Just as blogging tends to be less polished and formal than articles, Twitter tends to be even more relaxed and informal than blogging. As such, if you follow someone because of what they say or do technically, don't be surprised if they Tweet something personal as well. Following them is your choice. In their universe, they're just using Twitter to communicate ideas and keep friends and family up to date with what they're doing.
Putting Twitter to Work
In order to really take advantage of Twitter (and really 'see' how it works), you need to stop using the Twitter site and start using a Twitter client. A huge number of client applications exist - targeting a large number of devices and systems (see http://twitter.com/downloads). Common choices include TweetDeck, Tweetie, twhirl, and a host of others. There's even a full-blown Twitter client implemented using T-SQL (http://www.tweet-sql.com/).
By using a Twitter client instead of the Twitter site, you'll start to quickly see how Twitter really allows asynchronous communication between large groups of people. Furthermore, with some Twitter clients (such as TweetDeck), you can also set up searches for key topics that you care about. For example, if you're interested in SQL Server Backups, you can define a search for those terms, and EVERY tweet with those terms in it, will be displayed in your client - regardless of whether you're following the person who Tweeted or not. I've found this to be a phenomenal way to keep up on topics I'm interested in.
Twitter is also a fantastic way to network with people, and it's very common to see job postings pushed out to Twitter - especially when you have searches configured for SQL Server related topics. So if you're looking to upgrade your skills, stay abreast of recent trends, or maybe change jobs, Twitter can be a powerful tool when used correctly.
Finally, if you'd like to get a jumpstart on a list of SQL Server Professionals to follow on Twitter, there's an excellent directory you can use out at http://sqlserverpedia.com/wiki/Twitter.
NOTE: This ‘post’ was originally an article that I wrote for SQL Server Magazine almost 2 years ago. Due to scheduling problems (or maybe the article just sucked) this article never made it into print. So, while this content IS old, the concepts outlined above still apply – twitter is a great tool for SQL Server Professionals.
NOTE ALSO: If you’re interested in more on SQL Server and Twitter, then make sure to check out Brent Ozar’s (blog | twitter) posts on Twitter #SQLHelp Has Tags Dos and Don’ts – as it’s a great resource on how else to use Twitter as a SQL Server Professional (and it contains links to some of Brent’s other posts on Twitter – including a free eBook).