Twitter failures/Twitter ninjas

A few months ago, I began spending a lot of  time on Twitter.

Part of the reason for this was that my mother joined Facebook, and I started being a little more careful about my posts there. (Sorry, Mom.) Part of it was that I’d attended a conference that made great use of the micro-blogging site, and I wanted to explore the many uses of Twitter. Part of it was that Facebook was beginning to annoy me. Why? The Oatmeal has a great cartoon, How to Suck at Facebook, about that.  I thought Twitter might be less abrasive. I was wrong. You can suck at Twitter, in 140 characters or less.

All kinds of folks are bad at Twitter. Random people who take part in giant, misspelled hashtag-driven conversations like #thatswhyyourmyex.  Celebrities who use the medium to feed their own bloated egos, and who use the RT feature to trash the fans who disapprove. People who blatantly use the medium to promote their businesses without giving their followers anything extra for following them. People who have decided to start repeating their tweets, just in case we missed them the first time.

I was tempted to prepare a list of actual people who are failing at Twitter, but that’s not fair, or helpful, to anyone. So I thought it might be better to point to five people (and organizations) who are really skilled at using the site. These tweeps are advancing their personal agendas, of course. But they are also giving an added value to their followers. I enjoy following these people because I feel like I’m getting something out of their tweets. Either I’m getting to know them, or I’m laughing, or I’m learning something. And because they clearly care enough to put some thought into their tweets, I care about reading them. Is this a complete list of all the talented Twitterers out there? No. This is a list of five users I admire.

NASA - NASA has many, many Twitter accounts. The Mars rovers are each on Twitter. The Cassini mission is on Twitter. The Hubble Space telescope is on Twitter and I get something from following each of them. I get updates on the space program. I get pictures from Saturn. Several months ago, when the current Mars rover was still operational, I got updates from the surface of Mars every day. That’s just awesome.

Kevin Smokler - I don’t know exactly why I enjoy following the founder of BookTour on Twitter. I just do. It could be the fact that he seems to be on Twitter 24 hours a day. It could be that he’s always sharing some fascinating piece of information (Bob Marley has 106,000 followers on Ping; more than half the houses in Venice, Italy aren’t occupied; there is an iPhone app that reminds men to groom themselves. What doesn’t the man know?) Or it could be that every tweet is written with such a genuine voice that I can’t help but read his feed. Follow him (@Weegee). It’s worth it.

Electric Literature – Electric Literature had me at “Rick Moody.” Last year in an experiment that I don’t think they have ever repeated, Electric Literature spent a week tweeting 140-character installments of a short story Moody had written for them. Every few minutes, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , for five days, someone tweeted part of the story. I’ll be honest. It wasn’t a great story. And I can see how tweeting a whole short story can be wildly impractical and labor intensive. But the experiment made me so happy. I had something to look forward to every few minutes. I was able to read short installments  when I was stuck in traffic or at work. It was like being on a morphine drip, except instead of getting morphine, I was getting original fiction. So even though the editors may never do it again, and although the magazine’s feed has not been very exciting of late, I’m including Electric Literature on this list.

George Takei - Who is better than George Takei? And what’s better than a 73-year-old man who wields Twitter as Mr. Sulu once wielded his fencing foil? Sure, George is using Twitter to advance multiple agendas: Gay marriage equality, an end to bullying, aid for Japan, and, of course, his own career. But he’s not an agenda-advancing machine. He also uses Twitter to get his fans to send thousands of Valentines to little old ladies, and he’s just funny. George, I will read whatever you tweet. Even the shameless self-promotion posted below. And not just because I had a crush on Mr. Sulu as a kid. (File that one under the hastag #brokengaydar.)

Susan Orlean - I think, for an aspiring writer, author Susan Orlean is the most inspiring person I follow on Twitter. She’s also funny, personable and uses hashtags the way some writers use parentheses. In the last year, I’ve read her tweets as she worked on her book about Rin Tin Tin.  We’ve never communicated directly, yet I’ve felt united with her as we’ve tried to make our daily word counts. I’ve watched her procrastinate online, take pictures of her pets instead of writing, and finally finish her manuscript. And I’ve identified with her every tweet. Well, except for the tweets about chickens. Apparently she shares her home with chickens and the occasional waterfowl.