Looking to while away hours reading the musings of friends and complete strangers alike? Then Twitter is right for you.
Joking aside, having a Twitter account provides a great deal of convenience, opportunity, camaraderie -- and potential animosity -- when participating in the social network best known for its brevity. Whether you're one of Twitter's hundreds of millions of visitors who don't have an account or you've never even visited the site, opening a free account is the first step to writing posts and following the pulse of people on the Internet.
Lurking on the Timeline
In a 2011 report following the site's 100 millionth active user, Twitter announced that 40 percent of those users visit the site solely to read other people's posts. Most tweets on Twitter are open to the public, so you can browse the site and get a feel for its content without signing up. If you plan to stick around, however, you'll save time and effort by registering for an account. After you join, you can follow other members to have their posts appear on your timeline -- a chronological compilation of posts from those you follow. Even if you never write a tweet or gain a following, building a timeline makes Twitter membership a boon for anyone who visits the site.
Why Use Twitter?
If you've never used the site, the prospect of reading and participating in an endless stream of 140-character messages might seem unproductive. This impression isn't entirely wrong -- reading tweets can easily eat up your free time, and a large part of the site's appeal is keeping up with the personal lives of friends and celebrities. The number of people you know that use Twitter plays a huge part in whether you'll find the service interesting.
On the other hand, Twitter has also become a launching point for more in-depth reading and discussion. Thanks to automatic link shortening that condenses URLs to fit in tweets, a post on Twitter can serve as an introduction to a news article, blog post or other longer-form material. As Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey describes a tweet, "it's a headline for what else you can discover."
The Twitter Community
From the outside, Twitter looks like a disconnected stream of messages, but in practice, popular topics on Twitter bring together groups of members with similar interests and outlooks. Twitter doesn't provide the community framework of a message board, but follow and comment on topics that interest you on the site, and you can easily find yourself part of a group. Like any community, however, mutual followers on Twitter might have preexisting expectations and standards to watch out for, to prevent ostracizing yourself. With a 140-character limit, it's even easier than elsewhere online to unintentionally offend.
Twitter for Business
A 2013 study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that 77 percent of Fortune 500 companies maintained Twitter accounts. And for small businesses, a social media presence can mean the difference between obscurity and sudden fame. Whether you run a company or are looking to promote your own services, a company Twitter account provides a way to update customers, answer questions and give a personal face to your work. Twitter doesn't distinguish between personal and business accounts, but before you start using the site for promotions, read the rules to avoid getting banned for spamming.