Twitter for Learning

September 14, 2012

Twitter is the service consistently and vigorously mocked by people I know in person. “What’s the point?” they ask. “People only use Twitter to talk about their sandwiches” they quip. While Twitter is an easy target for snark, misconceptions such as those mentioned above simply aren’t true. The knowledge that can be gained by using Twitter outweighs every sandwich tweet, and I aim to prove it with a few use cases and examples.

GENERAL Q & A

There are a ton of experts on Twitter in almost every field, and even if not professionals, there are a lot of enthusiasts who know their stuff. If I don’t know something I find someone who does and ask them. For example, the new iPod touch’s display; I didn’t known if it wasn’t as good as the iPhone’s, so I asked Nilay Patel of The Verge

@reckless Does the iPod touch have an IPS display? It didn’t in generations past.

and he responded a few minutes later

@MGLeet It certainly looks like it does. Apple says it’s the exact same display.

To be clear, when Nilay says “exact same display” he’s referencing the display on the iPhone 5. But anyway, that was it. I had a question, I asked an expert, and he answered.

One problem which I’ve noticed is that popular people like Nilay don’t respond to most people, as they receive so many queries. In other words, I was lucky to receive a response. However if you find people who know their stuff but aren’t flooded with questions every minute, you’re probably likely to receive answers to your questions. Just a tip.

TECH SUPPORT

This one is where I’m a benefit to others. Somehow, someway, I’ve become the go-to-guy for Apple support for a lot of people on Twitter — some people outright recommend me to others that have issues or questions about Apple products. The funny thing is that these people come to me before they even try Apple’s customer support. The reason is that I’m usually as good as Apple support, and I reply to people almost instantly.

Being unofficial (therefore unpaid) on-call Apple tech support for Twitter users can get irritating, but it’s humbling and I dig the appreciation. Meaning that in the end, everything works out for the better!

INTERNATIONAL ANECDOTES

If you’re unaware, one of Twitter’s features is Trending Topics. It’s really cool because it shows you what topics are popular either worldwide or in a select region. If you view Trending Topics worldwide, you’re very likely to see topics in a language which you don’t understand, and that’s where the fun begins.

I keep my Trending Topics set to worldwide, and every so often I decide to learn something — even if just a tiny little thing — about another culture. This morning one of the topics was #FollowCumanNANYA, and a part of me wanted to know what in the world that was. So I tweeted

Someone explain to me why I should #FollowCumanNANYA.

Soon after some girl named Valeska whom I didn’t know responded

@MGLeet literally, “cuman nanya” means “just asking”. it’s an account that asks random stuffs to its followers. like, really really random..

A Malaysian colleague of mine at Unity Bond, Ahmad, chimed in and mentioned that it’s an Indonesian language.

In 35 minutes — between 6:03 and 6:38 AM PST — I learned an Indonesian phrase, and that someone somewhere in Indonesia has a sense of humor (one question translated was “who’s your favorite chairmate?”). I received this information from two different people in two different Asian countries, one of whom I didn’t even know. That’s interesting stuff and all I did was type and publish eight words.

I’m sure that people scoff at anecdotes so trivial, but I now know something about Indonesia which I would never have known otherwise. Prior to this morning I had no interest in learning anything about Indonesia — I still don’t — but I’m a tiny bit less ignorant about the world outside of the USA and UK than I was yesterday. I’d like to see someone object to that.

(IF YOU KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT TWITTER: HOW THE ABOVE HAPPENED)

Read this part slowly.

The way that worked, and how Valeska found my question, is through something called a Hashtag. Notice the topic #FollowCumanNANYA has a little # symbol at the front; that isn’t part of the topic, that’s what turns FollowCumanNANYA into a link which is called a Hashtag. Hashtags becomes clickable links within published tweets which have the Hashtag inserted. Clicking the Hashtag within a published tweet takes you to a page displaying every single tweet which has that Hashtag inserted.

It’s way more simple than I make it sound. Just think of Hashtags as user-created links in tweets, and clicking those specific links in published tweets takes you to a page where all similar tweets are aggregated. If you’re still confused, just check out my tweet in question, and click the link at the end of it.

In other words…

Valeska probably clicked on a #FollowCumanNANYA Hashtag within one of her friend’s tweets, which took her to a page which displayed my tweet. As a good person who knew the answer to my question, she simply replied to me and told me what I needed to know.

INSPIRATION

Twitter has inspired me to write a lot of my articles, this one you’re reading is a fantastic example. I wanted to write a tech-related piece, and that exchange about #FollowCumanNANYA seemed like a great thing to go off of. My “Real” Friends 2 entry from earlier this week was inspired by my relationship with a Twitterfriend. My review of Clue was a direct result of me mocking the idea of making a movie based on that board game, and having a mountain of people on Twitter telling me that I need to see it.

I wrote my How I Use iPad (And How You Can Too!) article because one of my Twitterfriends was curious about how I can get away with being iPad-only. I’m guessing that at least one or two of the articles I write next week will have stemmed from Twitter, as with the weeks and months and years following.

The information I receive on Twitter is extremely useful for (slightly) unkommon in more ways than just inspiration. For example, Twitter has taught me how to write to an audience — I don’t know how good my writing is, but I know it would be a whole lot worse without Twitter.

PEOPLE ANECDOTES

This is actually my favorite one. There are indeed some people who tweet about their sandwiches, and I love reading about it. To me, knowledge is knowledge, I don’t care what it is. Your eating a BLT is effectively useless to me at face value. However, it supplies my brain with information I didn’t know, and that’s learning. Taking in and processing information — even someone’s trip to Subway — keeps my brain active which is healthy.

The people who get on their high horse about sandwich tweets don’t understand the value of brain activity. Further, nothing stops you from replying to the Sandwich Tweeter and talking about the sandwich! Or maybe you can recommendations for good sandwiches! And that dialogue enhances your social skills, even if just a little bit. The sandwich might even work as an easy ice breaker if you’ve wanted to talk to that person but didn’t ever know what to say.

Also, this article wouldn’t exist in its current form without the sandwich tweets of the world. They deserve a little respect.

Aside from sandwich tweets though, there are tons of random things that we don’t need to know but keep our brain active. Today I learned that my Twitterfriend Tom’s sister is getting married and that my Twitterfriend Bryan received a watch from his dad. There’s no compelling argument which says that knowing about the wedding and the watch is bad for my brain.

FIN

I want to be clear, Twitter isn’t auto-magical. You can’t receive every benefit I mentioned above right after you sign up. You need to commit yourself, find people with similar interests to talk to, talk to them, and don’t stop. Be interesting (or at least pretend to be) in your own tweets and exercise proper grammar and don’t make many typos. Tweet regularly because people will forget about you if you don’t talk. Follow most people (AKA interactive individuals) who follow you and don’t be a jerk. Oh, and don’t forget to have a profile picture and create a bio.

I can’t emphasize enough, to get the benefits that Twitter offers which I’ve outlined, you need to care. It takes time and commitment and pays off if you’re patient. If you aren’t interested in any of what I’ve discussed, one thing I know that some people do is just use Twitter to read tweets. I think that’s a little bit boring — to just follow and read — but hey, it’s still learning, and that’s what counts. :-)

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