I am always stunned whenever computing professionals (from CTOs to programmers!) tell me that they aren’t on Twitter. They always say this as though the qualifications and costs for having a Twitter account are prohibitive. Twitter is free(!) and it takes about two minutes to create a Twitter account. There are many free Twitter clients for virtually all operating systems, but Twitter’s own twitter.com browser-based client is fine for occasional Twitter use.

Perhaps Twitter isn’t used because it’s perceived as a youngster’s domain (it isn’t) or maybe because it seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth (again, it’s not). Or maybe Twitter is ignored because you don’t think you have anything to say. First of all, you probably do, but even at that, you don’t have to ever issue a single tweet to get value out of Twitter. You can use it simply as an input device for news and commentary.

I suspect that many aren’t using it simply because its inherent business value is misunderstood. Many who don’t have a Twitter account are probably thinking that everything broadcast on Twitter is simply white noise with little or no redeeming value. These folks may have peered at Twitter over someone’s shoulder once and taken away a bad first impression, perhaps thinking “I don’t care what others are having for lunch” or “I don’ t care if someone I don’t know is having a bad headache.” Indeed, there is a degree of unnecessary, superfluous white noise on Twitter. But, there is also a ton of great information. Computing professionals are missing out on a substantial resource by ignoring Twitter.

All the news that fits (in 140 characters or less!)

The concept behind Twitter is very simple: it is a push queue of thoughts, ideas, observations, humor, politics, and many other topics. The beauty of Twitter is that any one entry cannot exceed 140 characters (which may seem arbitrary but its roots are in the maximum length of an SMS text message). If you can’t say it in 140 characters or less, you can’t say it on Twitter! While that may not seem like enough characters to say anything meaningful, most tweets include a (compressed) URL or two,  linking to additional information. When you create your Twitter account (remember it’s free! and you only need a browser to check your account), you create your own Twitter “handle.” This is a unique identifying name that starts with an @sign. Since I was the first “Roger Pence” to ask, my Twitter handle is @rogerpence.

You tailor your incoming Twitter stream by subscribing to others with Twitter accounts. If a person gets unbearable for any reason, you simply unfollow (unsubscribe) them (that would be a great feature for meetings to have!). A couple of mouse clicks tells you who others are following. When I find someone tweeting interesting things, I look at who they are following. I add  two or three people a week to my Twitter stream that way. Many tweets have an embedded “hash tag” in them. Hash tags are community-defined labels you can use to find tweets; the generally accepted IBM i hash tag is “#ibmi.”  (Twitter hash tags always start with a “#” sign, thus the name).  For example, searching the Twitter stream for “#ibmi” returns all of the IBM i-centric tweets that included that hash tag (which, by the way, is part of the 140-character limit).

In addition to searching for subject-specific tweets, hash tags are also sometimes used to convey a subtle thought or tone. For example, let’s say you see a tweet marked with “#ibmi #ibmistepup.” In this case, the author was frustrated with some IBM i documentation so he used two hash tags. The first to identify the tweet as IBM i-specific and the second to convey his frustration. One of my favorite parts of Twitter is its ability to tag tweets as “Favorites.” I use this feature all the time as I am scanning Twitter to bookmark tweets, and their associated collateral,  that I want to spend more time on later.

Join the conversation!

There are many (and the list grows daily) active IBM i-centric Twitter users. Two notable ones are the IBM i’s Chief Architect, Steve Will (@steve_will_ibmi) and the all-around good guy and IBM i evangelist, Ian Jarman (@ianpjarman). You’ll want to follow these two Twitter users right away. You can check their lists of who they follow to start growing your personal list of IBM i Twitter mavens. All of the major IBM i publications are present on Twitter, as are many user groups, authors, speakers, ISVs, vars, and vendors. In short, if you are serious about the IBM i, you should be on Twitter.

There are many good books and introductions to Twitter on the Internet, but one of the best (which is, ahem, three years old) is from Scott Hanselman. If you need a quick introduction to Twitter, start with Scott’s How to Twitter blog post.

We created a Twitter account for ASNA tech support about three years ago. We were a little ahead of the curve back then and it didn’t get much traction with our customers. Since then, Twitter growth has exploded so we’re going to try to again. If you have a Twitter account, please follow us on Twitter at @asnainc (an individual long ago squatted the Twitter handle @asna, darn it!). We’ll be tweeting product news, product announcements, version/upgrade availability, live tweets from conferences, and other worldwide info on a regular basis.

Twitter is the highest value, free thing that ever came down the road. Get a Twitter account, read a few tutorials, and check your account every now and then. You don’t have to post any of your own tweets to get very high value out of Twitter. You’re missing valuable information by ignoring Twitter!