How to Explain Twitter to Your Grandmother

The digital age is clearly here to stay. Most toddlers understand how to use a smartphone before they have mastered using the toilet, and you may struggle to remember what life was like before the Internet was always at your fingertips. Still, a huge generational gap exists between those people that grew up with computers in their homes and those who are still trying to master how to check their email. If your family is like most, you probably have at least a few relatives to whom technology is simply a foreign language. While they may have no real desire to become technological wizards, they likely still hear the latest computer trends being discussed on a daily basis. Trying not to be entirely out of the loop, one of your relatives may ask you to explain social networking sites like Twitter, but if you get too technical, they probably won’t understand your answer. If your grandmother doesn’t know the difference between a hashtag and a hash brown, therefore, here is a basic way to explain what Twitter is all about to someone who isn’t actually interested in participating.

Twitter is one of a number of websites called “social networks,” which allow you to connect with other people on the Internet. You create a free account, which you can access from the website or an app on your smartphone. Twitter users compose “tweets,” which are short messages that can be up to 140 characters. When you tweet, everyone who “follows” you on Twitter will have that message show up on his or her “Twitter feed.” Tweets can be random thoughts, questions, news, or anything else you want to write about. They can also contain links to websites, pictures, or videos.

Other users can search for and decide to follow your account so they can see your tweets. You can also search for the accounts you want to follow and add them to your Twitter feed. Whenever anyone you follow tweets something, it will show up for you to see. If you find a certain tweet particularly interesting, funny, or just enjoyable, you can choose to “favorite” that tweet. You can also “retweet” it, which displays the message to all of your followers, regardless of whether they follow the original account that wrote the tweet. The more followers you have, the broader your reach will be, and the more people you follow, the more interesting your Twitter feed will become.

If you want to direct a tweet to a certain account, you can type the “@” sign, followed by their user name. Twitter will then notify them that you have mentioned them in a tweet. You can carry on conversations with other users by writing “@” mentions back and forth.

Because Twitter is more of a “one-way street” than other networks like Facebook, you can follow people even if you don’t know them personally. Many celebrities and companies have Twitter accounts with millions of followers so they can disburse information to their fans quickly and easily. When you hear someone talking about news they heard on Ellen DeGeneres’ Twitter, therefore, you should know that they’re not “friends” with her, but rather they just follow her account.

The last bit of Twitter lingo you might be wondering about are “hashtags.” If you’re watching a TV show or reading a website, you may see mention of a phrase preceded by a “#” sign. These phrases are called hashtags on Twitter, and they are a stylistic way of letting people know what subject you are tweeting about. Each hashtag is actually a link, and when a user clicks on one, they will be taken to a list of other tweets with the same hashtag. If the popular event on a certain evening, therefore is an episode of The Bachelorette on ABC, you could click on the hashtag #TheBachelorette and see what people around the world are saying about the show. You can check what hashtags are “trending” in your area and around the country to discover the popular topics of conversation on a certain day.

While there are still several more intricacies about Twitter, this basic overview should hopefully help you or a loved one understand the gist. Twitter is a great way to feel involved on the Internet because you can connect with people who share your interests (or who you are interested in) even if you don’t know them personally. Though the number of people in the world is growing exponentially, social networks like Twitter help make like-minded people feel closer even if they’re physically apart by thousands of miles.

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