Twitter Timeline Tutorial

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Twitter Timeline Tutorial: Get the Most out of Twitter Timeline Views

Twitter timeline
A Twitter timeline typically shows incoming tweets in a column format. © Twitter

What is a Twitter Timeline, Anyway?

A Twitter timeline, as most Twitter users quickly realize, is simply a stream of incoming tweets arranged with the most recent at the top. Since the Twitter timeline is the heart of the popular social networking and messaging service, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various types of timelines, and learn all you can about how each Twitter timeline works.

The Home Timeline

One important thing to know, especially if you're just starting out on Twitter, is that there are different types of Twitter timelines. The default one that users see whenever they sign into Twitter on the Web is the home timeline, which shows the latest tweets from all the people they follow. It is pictured above.

Search Timelines, List Timelines

Other timeline views show tweets that match a particular search you run on Twitter, or tweets from all the users on a particular Twitter list. The Twitter list could be one you compiled yourself or one that someone else created and made public. Regardless of which type of list it is, the purpose of most Twitter lists is basically to give users additional tweet timeline views.

What Does a Twitter Timeline Look Like?

Visually, a Twitter timeline resembles the news feed on Facebook, with a long vertical column of messages (think "status updates" on Facebook) along with tiny profile pictures of the people (your Twitter followers or Facebook friends) who sent them. You can see that view above; the profile image of the person who sent each tweet appears to the left of the message.

Since it launched in 2006, Twitter has revamped the home timeline a few times in an attempt to make it more powerful and show more information about incoming tweets and additional ways to interact with them.

If you mouse over particular tweets, a time-stamp appears for when it was sent, along with a menu of actions you can take. Expanded views of each tweet also are available; Twitter is often tinkering with ways to change the expanded views of tweets.

For years, Twitter relegated your expanded view of each tweet to the right sidebar of your home page. When you clicked on a specific tweet, related information about it appeared in the right sidebar. But in late 2011, Twitter began testing a new timeline view that expanded your view of tweets directly in the timeline.

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Twitter Timeline Gets a Facelift

tweet view
Tweet views in timelines looked like this; a detailed view of the tweet highlighted at left appears at right. © Twitter

The new Twitter timeline, still in beta testing in November 2011, changes the way you interact with individual tweets by offering a new tweet interface in your timeline.

The new timeline offers an option to "open" a tweet or expand your view of it to display more about that tweet right in the timeline itself.

Before November 2011, details about a tweet, including related photos, had been displayed only in the right sidebar, not directly in the timeline.

Once a tweet is opened, the new timeline shows more about who's interacting with that message through retweets, @replies and the like. It also shows related photos directly beneath the tweet, rather than in the right sidebar.

Another change in the new Twitter timeline is that buttons for interacting with a tweet, which have long appeared directly below the message, move above the message, presumably to make these interaction tools more prominent. They include a "details" button which expands the tweet view to see various twitter conversation threads involving that message.

The revamped timeline appears to be part of Twitter's efforts to add more contextual information and social interaction around those short messages that have become a major way people communicate.

The New Twitter Homepage Has Two New Timeline Tabs

Also in the second half of 2011, Twitter rolled out two new homepage with two new timeline views -- @UserName and Activity. Each is accessed through a tab beneath the tweet box and is designed to let people see new timelines with just one click.

The @username tab shows activiting on Twitter relating to your user name in a vertical timeline. And the Activity tab shows you a timeline consisting of what the people you follow are doing on Twitter other than tweeting. You can read more about both of these tabs in this guide to your Twitter homepage.

Search results are another powerful way to create timelines. Click "Next" to find out more about how to use Twitter's search timelines.

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Twitter Timeline: Alternative Views and Power Tools

Twitter Saved Searches menu
The drop-menu of your saved searches on Twitter appears directly beneath the tweet box. © Twitter

Searching Your Twitter Timeline

Running a search on Twitter automatically creates a timeline of matching results. Twitter offers a "Saved Searches" tool that lets you save particular searches for keywords or user names so you can run them again with one click, and thereby create a timeline of matching tweets.

To create a saved search, just click "save this search" after you run a search. The search will then appear in a drop-down list under the "SEARCHES" button below your "What's Happening" tweet box, as shown in the picture above. This guide to Twitter saved searches explains more about how to use these valuable timeline views.

Searching the Tweet Archives

Searching your own Twitter timeline can be challenging, because Twitter doesn't archive your tweets very far back in a searchable format.

That's why most people who use Twitter regularly wind up using third-party search tools, such as Topsy and Snapbird. These search tools typically let you search not only your own Twitter timeline, but those of other Twitter users, too.

The reality is that Twitter's high-volume messaging traffic usually translates to a lot of tweets that are of little interest to you. Often, that means a cluttered timeline.

Using Twitter search tools smartly is one of the best ways to get the most out of your Twitter timeline.

This article on Twitter search tools offers more guidance for how to search for tweets and save those searches using Twitter's own tools. You can also learn about independent Twitter search services in this Twitter search tool guide.

Other Twitter Timeline Tools

Finally, many independent developers have created tools that interact with your Twitter timeline and let you do different things with tweet streams, both the ones you create and those of the people you follow.

These range from simply applications to more advanced apps.

An example of a simple one is Twit Cleaner, a tool that analyzes your tweet stream and the actions of people you follow and presents you with a summary report. The idea is to help you decide who you should continue to follow. It makes it easy to see who's following you back, who's providing original content, who's mostly retweeting others, and so forth.

Tweetbot is another specialty timeline tool. It has a lot of common features in most Twitter dashboard, analyzing your tweet stream and telling you information about who's doing what. But one nifty feature that lets you basically use a Twitter list as your primary tweet timeline; basically you opt to make a particular list your default timeline view in Tweetbot.

Twitter List Timelines

Twitter lists--basically a collection of user names that you compile and can keep private or make public--are a powerful tool for creating interesting timelines focused on niche or special topics that you can follow apart from your master home timeline. This Twitter list tutorial explains the basics.

There are other kinds of timeline tools, too. Stwutter for Mac, for example, will read your timeline tweets to you out loud and invite you to interact with spoken replies.

Think of it as a spoken Twitter timeline.