5 ways to make Twitter work for you

I’m a big fan of Twitter, the social presence site that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately. It’s an idea that was almost too easy. Provide a way for people to say what they’re doing right now. Allow other people to see it, in a semi-controlled manner. It’s kind of like away/available messages on MSN, AIM, Google Talk, etc., but separated from the actual IM accounts and put in a central place.

Now, Twitter as a lazy form of blogging seems silly to many people who just don’t want to share what they’re doing every minute with the world. Fortunately, Twitter’s power is in its simplicity, and it can be useful in other ways. Here’s five ways you can make Twitter work for you.

  1. Status reports

    Like many people, I’m supposed to submit a weekly status report to my manager describing what I’ve done in the week. I typically start writing it up on the day it’s due, trying hard to remember everything I’ve done. Sometimes I’m good and actually write these down as I go along, but then I spend too much time organizing it on paper, when I should be doing that when I prepare the actual status report.

    Alternatively, I could use Twitter to record things as I do them, and then look over my archive or at an RSS feed of my activity when I begin to prepare the status report. Entering data into Twitter is quick and easy, and it gives you enough room for a short description while at the same time limiting what you need to say. So in the end, you have a nice summary of your week.

    Depending on how public you want it, you could even inform other co-workers of your Twitter account, making it easier for people to know who’s working on what. Not long ago I posted a Twitter update about something I was doing and a co-worker immediately came in and asked about it. Pretty useful.

  2. Keep organized at conferences or events

    When at conferences or some sort of large gathering, it’s easy for people to get out of sync with each other. Dinner appointments may be missed, people may end up in different talks, or whatever. The solution I’ve been personally using in the past is to try to catch everybody on IRC or IM, or just call/text message the people involved. However, this can be a pain and can involve a lot of micro-management.

    Instead, get people to create Twitter accounts and add each other as friends. Set up SMS notification and communicate through Twitter posts. You can send a quick “This conference is ending in 10 minutes, so let’s meet at McDonalds for lunch at 2:30” post to inform everybody of the current plans. You don’t even need access to a computer, as you can send updates via SMS as well. For most phone services, sending this one SMS is going to be cheaper and easier than sending SMS messages to multiple people, so there’s a net win here.

    You can apply this to parties or to school as well.

  3. “Note to self…”

    How often have you thought of something you need to do or something to remember for later, or even a neat piece of info that you know you’re going to forget? I’d say a lot of us aren’t organized enough to have a central place for these notes. I typically use post-its, but those become disorganized quickly, and by the time I think about it later, I’ve lost the note.

    Give Twitter a try for anything of the “Note to self” variety. You can refer back to these notes later in your RSS reader or your Twitter archive page.

  4. News updates and release announcements

    Many projects maintain a news update or release announcements listserv or RSS feed, but Twitter is a pretty good alternative as well. Many people check their Twitter page throughout the day or are in some way notified (via a program or SMS message) when someone posts to Twitter. Take advantage of this by creating an account for your project and posting whenever there’s a new release. It might get to your users faster.

    A couple examples of projects making use of Twitter in this regard include WordPress and 30Boxes.

  5. Record your travels

    I often take a lot of pictures when travelling, but forget exactly what I did on what day. Makes it harder to write about it later or associate meanings to the pictures when I finally go to upload them.

    Given Twitter’s ability to post via SMS, it’s easy to make brief notes about your trip as you go. Others can see how your trip is progressing, and you can use those notes later to document your trip better.

For those who know me and use Twitter, feel free to look me up or add me. I’ll be posting a few other tricks I’m experimenting with in a future post, such as how to tag your Twitter posts and separate them into multiple RSS feeds.

Other interesting Twitter reads:

  • Twitter Lingo – Controlling Twitter through SMS
  • Twitterholic – List of the top 100 users of Twitter in order of number of followers
  • RSS2Twitter – Auto-converts RSS feeds to Twitter posts
  • Twitter Tools – Several tools, clients, mashups, and plugins for working with Twitter

Food For Geeks

I’ve been discussing a small site I plan to setup with some people. The site is called Food for Geeks, and is essentially a food donation system for Linux hackers. It works like other monetary donation systems, but instead of specifying an amount to send the person, you’re presented with their favorite foods. You don’t actually donate the food. Rather, you donate the money for a type of food, and it goes into the person’s PayPal account.

Really, it’s a wrapper for PayPal, but more geared toward rewarding food. I feel this would be more personal and fun, and gives the donator some idea as to what the person will be buying with the money.

The system itself will be easy to setup. I have the space and bandwidth, and developing the backend won’t be a problem. It’ll allow users to setup accounts with their portfolio, list of projects, and their favorite foods, along with the prices. They can then place a little button on their site, which other people may click. They’ll be presented with the food the donatee listed. Clicking a link will open up probably a PayPal Donation page with the price for the food and all the relevant information.

It might be crazy, but it’s not like it hurts to try. I just need some good graphics made, and I can do the rest. Failing that, I’ll do some mediocre graphics 😉