Late to the Party? Getting Started with Twitter

With Twitter in the news because of a public stock offering, you might be deciding it's finally time to start tweeting. But what exactly is Twitter, a tweet and the etiquette for using the popular communication tool?

Here are the basics. Keep in mind that the company's service isn't expected to change in the short term after it starts trading publicly. Twitter Inc. is pricing its initial public offering of stock at $26, valuing the company at more than $18 billion. It's the most-anticipated IPO since Facebook went public last year.

To begin your presence on Twitter, you first need an account, which is free. Go to Twitter.com or its mobile app to create one. Pick a username, or handle, which is how people will refer to you. Try to find something unique that tells the world a little bit about you. I like to travel, so I picked (at)GlobeTrotScott as my handle.

Once the account is set up, just click in the box that says "Compose new Tweet..." and type whatever is on your mind, up to 140 characters. On the mobile app, look for the small box with the feather to compose your tweet.

But Twitter isn't just about broadcasting what you had for lunch -- though you can do that. It's about learning what other people are up to. You can start following other people by using the "find friends" feature. You can also search for various celebrities, news sites or whatever else might catch your interest.

You don't have to know somebody to follow that person. Just click the little follow button. It's very voyeuristic.

This is probably a good point to talk about privacy. There really isn't any on Twitter. Unless you lock your account, anybody can follow you and see what you have tweeted. And those you follow know...

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