As parents, you probably are familiar with using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook but have you heard about Twitter? Twitter is a relatively new free social network that allows family, friends, and co-workers stay connected via mobile texting, instant messages, or on the web.
Twitter offers an easy way to stay connected with the people in your life, by asking the simple question, "What are you doing?" People can respond with short messages or "tweets" that are under 140 characters to keep their friends and family updated on their latest interests or everyday happenings. By default, your Twitter profile is public and all your updates can be seen by anyone. However, you can control who sees your Twitter messages by selecting the "Protect my Updates" box in the Settings area. By doing so, your profile becomes private and only approved followers can see your updates. Otherwise, anyone can read your updates, without your permission.
You can find your friends or make new friends on Twitter by using people search (find people by their first name, last name or username), Twitter search (find people using keywords, location, interests, and more), Address Book import (find people on your other networks like Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, MSN). To "follow" someone means that you can see their updates on your Twitter homepage. You can control whose updates you receive, when you receive them, and on what device you see these updates (cell phone or on the web).
To get started with Twitter:
1. Go to Twitter.com. Click on the "Join the Conversation" button.
2. Create an Account. Provide your full name, preferred username, password and e-mail address. Remember that the user name is what people will see with an "@" symbol in front of it.
3. See if your friends are on Twitter. After you create an account, you will be prompted to look for friends in your Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail or AOL accounts so you can begin following them if they're already using Twitter.
4. Setting up your profile. Click on "Settings" in the upper right hand corner of your Twitter home page. You will be brought to a tab-based menu that helps you build your profile and modify your settings, including setting up your mobile phone to use Twitter.
5. Start looking for followers. Regardless of your immediate circle of friends that you have added through e-mail search or using people search, start looking around for people who may have similar interests using search.twitter.com.
Even though Twitter says that the site is not directed towards persons under the age of 18, it doesn't ask for the user's age when creating the account. So, your teens could be using this service without understanding the site's policy. As with any other social networking site, prudent judgment is needed when posting updates and be aware that what you post stays there forever (even when you are offline).