Ask a Geek: What can I do with Twitter?

Answered by John Mahoney, an editor at Gizmodo.
A flip phone with the Twitter logo on its screen, and some speech bubbles that say "5:10, close draperies," "Sue: I went shopping," "CNN news update," and "Car MPG."

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the October 2008 issue of Popular Science magazine and involves outdated services. For current advice, check out our regularly updated story about the best Twitter features and add-ons. Or, if you’re looking, six Twitter alternatives that still feel like Twitter.

To the unconverted, Twitter is just a way to deliver mundane details of your life to many friends at once. The free service is a social-networking site in which you post updates, or “tweets,” to a page where friends who “follow” you can view them. But since it lets users post and receive tweets via text messages, it’s actually a powerful platform for getting things done on the go.

To receive breaking news updates from cnn.com, for example, just follow Twitter user “cnnbrk“. Or send a message (“move car 30”) to user “timer“, and it will text back a reminder in the time you specify. Other functions are available through third-party sites: Enter your favorite RSS feeds on TwitterFeed.com, and you’ll get a text whenever the feed is updated. Send the mileage, price and gallons to fuelfrog.com each time you fill up your tank, and it will chart your fuel-efficiency trends. With i-Link home-automation software, it’s even possible to use tweets to turn on lights or open the curtains remotely (get details at hacknmod.com).

Dive in at twitter.com to find more useful tricks. Of course, you can still let everyone know that you’re thinking tacos for lunch.

  • John Mahoney is an editor at gadget blog Gizmodo.