Not written anything of a wordy nature here for quite some time (I'm sure you've all been heartbroken), but this has been festering in my brain for a while, so thought I'd ramble on about it to you all. Chances are you've heard of Twitter, and better than average odds are that if you've not yet given it a go, you're getting increasingly bored of websites and media outlets reading out "tweets" or encouraging you to follow them.
Hopefully you'll give this post a chance - as a Twitter convert I can appreciate both sides of the argument, and I'm not going to start ranting on about how it's the world's greatest invention and that everyone should be a part of it. That said, I'm going to try and explain how you can use Twitter for different things, and there's no right or wrong way to use it, meaning it's worth trying it for a while to find your level.
I started off thinking that Twitter was like a very cut down version of Facebook, and as such barely used it - practically none of my friends used it, so what was the point? Also, given the relatively mundane nature of a lot of tweets (I don't really like the word, but it's the generally accepted one, so go with it), there's not an immediate hook to drag you in - few things put me off more than expecting a flood of people saying "off to the shops now."
This is especially true if you're a casual internet user - if you tend to check your email, read the news, then log off, Twitter will probably hold little appeal, being just another thing to keep track of. By all means still give it a go, but it's easier to find your level if you're someone who's online most of the day for whatever reason, or has a way to access it when on the go.
The Iranian election was Twitter's coming of age, to a degree - people using Twitter to talk about what was going on when other avenues were closed to them was great to see. The news picked up on it, and that brought Twitter to the attention of a lot of people who might otherwise have passed it by.
I'd taken an interest in Twitter for a while, but not really used it - the election made me realise it was evolving and growing, but for me personally it was actually the death of Michael Jackson which helped me "get" Twitter, primarily because the news broke while I was at my computer. Over the evening a flood of different people I followed started linking to breaking news stories, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and inappropriate/appropriate (depending on your point of view) jokes - people writing their own reactions or repeating others', in the process introducing me to new users it was worth following. It made me realise that Twitter can be entertaining, informative, and social all in one.
Step one is to find people/sources you're interested in or who you find entertaining. Personally people I follow are largely film/technology/news websites, comedians, and actors/actresses. Then once in a while load up the Twitter homepage and you'll have a pageful of entertaining/amusing/informative/thought-provoking comments, some with links to read more, some self-contained. I've picked up on lots of interesting stuff I would have missed otherwise, like Jon Favreau posting pictures from the set of Iron Man 2.
If that's as far as your Twitter usage ever goes, that's no bad thing - don't feel you ever have to write anything yourself, or secure a certain number of people following you. Just enjoy the content, treating it as a news resource of sorts, occasionally picking up new people to follow based on your own discoveries, or recommendations from your existing followees (is that a word? It is now).
The ability to seach Twitter as a whole is a big appeal for me, news junkie that I am - the top 10 list of trending topics shows the most popular words and phrases being used at the moment, and is a great way to pick up on breaking news or what people think about certain things. For example, "Air France" became a trending topic as soon as the plane crashed in the Atlantic, even before most major news networks broke the story. And people commenting on the tone/content of "Bruno" via Twitter was blamed in part for the drop-off in attendance on the Saturday of its release. Search for any word/phrase and you can find what people are discussing at any moment.
Sooner or later you'll probably read something that make you want to reply, or possibly share it with anyone following you. If so, go for it! For me, this is one of the more unique abilities of Twitter - enabling communication between people who wouldn't normally contact each other. For example, in the last couple of weeks I felt prompted to reply to something comedian Richard Herring wrote - he was asking for suggestions on how best to make a fake moustache (long story). I fired off a reply, expecting it to just vanish into the ether, but to my surprise he wrote back to me. Hardly a dinner-party-worthy story, but it illustrates the immediacy and sociability of Twitter.
Last but not least, for us website-owners it's even more useful - much like a mailing list, but arguably more personal. When movies have lots of mistakes, or a great new picture gets posted, or even this blog entry goes up, I can post the link via Twitter, and through link-tracking services I can see that a reasonable number of my followers take a look, and some of them will reply to me commenting on it, or re-tweet it to their followers, sharing the love. It makes for a good community experience (and occasional traffic boosts!)
Thanks for making it this far through my slightly ill-planned ramblings - in an ideal world this may have prompted you to give Twitter a proper go, however you end up using it. Then again if it's helped you understand better what Twitter's about and reinforced your feeling that you have no interest in it, that's not necessarily a bad thing - at least you've made an informed decision!
If you want to get into it, might I cheekily suggest following me: http://twitter.com/moviemistakes. I largely tend to post film/TV-related stuff, links to areas of interest on this site, entertaining news articles, and occasional random thoughts. Hopefully the worthwhile stuff outweighs the wastes of time. Friendly chap that I am, if people send me a message or reply to something I post (achieved by posting an @ symbol followed by a username, ie. start your tweet @moviemistakes) I'll normally reply. In fact, if you start using Twitter as a direct result of reading this post, please let me know - why not make it your first tweet? I still don't like the word tweet.