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Paul Graham is now tweeting (twitter.com)
204 points by sferik on Aug 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments

It's interesting how different it feels from commenting on HN. The box is so tiny, and you can't edit stuff afterwards. But you also don't have to deal with replies or worry about getting downvoted if you say something unPC.

I'm still not sure what to use it for, to be honest.

You could do some tweets about your amazing, beautiful and talented wife.

He'll tell you he can't do that in only under 140 characters!

A rule that is obvious, but which most people on Twitter don't follow, is that it's best to share information that is simultaneously (a) interesting and (b) not already widely shared by others. Most people aim either for (a) or for (b), but not for both. csallen's suggestions elsewhere in this thread are useful, as with one exception they fulfill both (a) and (b).

This rule can be tipped upside down: it's best to follow people whose tweets mostly fulfill both these criteria. This rules out a very large number of people. It's amazing how many people fill their tweetstream with the news of the day from TechCrunch (or HN). It may be interesting, but it's already widely shared.

Personally, I find twitter most useful as a highly tailored source of links. That makes it sound similar to news sites such as HN, but the experience is different because you choose which people to follow. For instance, I get a lot out of following @NicholasGruen, who ran the Australian Government's Gov2.0 taskforce, @rjlipton, a leading theoretical computer scientist whose blog was the main clearinghouse in the scrutiny of the recent claimed proof the P is not equal to NP, @gnat of O'Reilly Media for an eclectic collection of tech-related links that for the most part fall outside the purview of the standard sources (TechCrunch etc), etc. Of course, those particular sources are just ones I find interesting, and they may not interest you. The point is that if you choose people whose tweet streams match your informational needs, Twitter can be very valuable.

I prefer Google Reader for this stuff, the ability to have a threaded technical discussion is useful and not available with Twitter. Of course you can follow Twitter feeds with Reader, but these days I just follow Reader feeds of a few people that tend to satisfy (a) and (b). Note that @rjlipton hasn't made any Twitter updates in months, all the activity was on his blog, which would be in your news feed if you're at all interested in the problem.

I prefer Reader as well. My information gathering preferences are (1) Reader; (2) Delicious; (3) FriendFeed; (4) Twitter; (5) etc...

Allow me to express a contrarian viewpoint. I get the feeling that this information gathering strategy leads to an amplified echo-chamber effect. You mostly only find out about stuff you already have an interest in and rarely stray from your comfort zone. Even coming to HN already limits your horizon to certain types of narratives and _also_ guarantees a limited response to those narratives because certain ways of responding to events are down-modded.

Added to the above effect is the pervasive misplaced hero worship and tech fanboyism that is formed based purely on peer pressure and not on merit.

IMHO , IANAL , posted in good faith , blah blah blah :)

In disagreeing with the rule I stated, you're advocating reading tweets which are either (a) uninteresting, or (b) contain only information already widely shared. Are you really advocating that? (And if so, which part?)

I agree with you about the echo chamber. But it's virtually impossible to live inside an echo chamber when you follow people who share mostly information that is not widely held. By definition, that means those people aren't merely echoing the crowd, and this will take you away from people with me-too tweets about iPhone antenna issues (or whatever the news of the hour is).

Hi Michael, I could be advocating not following anybody at all, I could be advocating the avoidance of micro-blogging services in the first place :) At least though if you are going to follow somebody then you are indeed right, you should follow somebody like Stephen Fry for instance who is nice erudite chap or the people you mention also sound cool. Or if Wittgenstein was still around, I'd totally follow him (not that he'd be seen dead "tweeting" I'd imagine).

The same goes for me though. I get my political info from a handful of blogs that all share the same bias. I have to remind myself to check out the opposition from time to time to get some well-needed perspective. I guess you could say the same for cable news except that somebody is preselecting the bias for you.

Maybe I'm weird but I have never felt the urge to "follow" someone on Identi.ca or Twitter or whatever's the flavo(u)r of the day ... :)

Thanks for the clarification --- I had misread your previous comment as advocating a different information-gathering strategy, not as avoiding the particular information source (Twitter) entirely. Of course, I have no problem with that, even though I personally find Twitter quite useful in this regard.

The great thing about the box being so tiny is that expectations are correspondingly low. To write an essay or even a blog post, you need to think through an issue in a fair amount of depth. Among other things, Twitter is for those half-formed thoughts or opinions that, given infinite time, you might one day write an essay about, but in real life they get dropped on the floor and never shared.

It's also a surprisingly effective place to solicit feedback, advice, or information (or get those unsolicited). For example, I don't know if you check your replies, but several Twitter engineers responded to your offhand comment about tweets being immutable.

Just trying out tweeter. My first impression is that Signal to noise ratio seems so low... It feels like a waste of time or a productivity drain.

It's hard to waste much time on 140 characters though.

It's easy. You just waste it 140 characters at a time.

I'd disagree with that: I often find Twitter the best way to spend 30 minutes when I have a spare 5 minutes :)

You could keep us updated on...

1) the status of any essays (or RFSes) you're working on

2) startup-related insights and musings you have throughout the day (like the one about editable tweets)

3) links to HN stories or comments you find particularly interesting

4) your sleeping, social, and dietary habits

Yes 1, 2, 3! Avoid 4 :-)

"Sandwiches fall upon a continuum of tastiness, from the tastiest, all the way down to egg salad sandwiches, which themselves vary in tastiness"

4 characters too long

Just delete "all the way".

change "tastiness" to "tasty"

Wait, what do you have against egg salad sandwiches? That's my favorite sandwich!

There seem to be at least four distinct uses of Twitter I can make out, though I'm relatively new to it as well.

1. Random unimportant things you're doing or thinking during the day. Only your parents care, don't do this. If you must, get a separate Twitter account for it. Don't sabotage your primary public account's signal:noise ratio.

2. Carrying on twit conversations with people you follow/your followers. For the sake of your tens of thousands of other followers, please eschew the small talk and try to make it interesting to eavesdrop on.

3. Retweets of relatively high-value content from people you follow. Could be a link to a great essay/article/paper/breaking news, or an announcement, that you're helping circulate. This is all good.

4. High value original content of your own. Links to new essays or YC announcements, or condensed wisdom, etc. Also all good.

Anyone see any categories I missed?

I use it to communicate with other software devs pretty regularly. It gives me quick instant access to experts in different areas. It has been most useful for me in that way.

I think that falls under doing #2 the right way - interesting on-topic discussions of potential value to your followers, not just for the content but also for referring them to other twitterers they may want to follow.

Tentatively awaiting the sequel to "Startups in 13 Sentences"...

"Startups in 140 Characters"

How much time do you spend being worried about getting downvoted on HN? :)

I don't worry in the sense of caring about karma points, but I do have to think constantly about it. A lot of HN users get excited at the idea of contradicting me. So when I make comments I have to be careful not to leave any room for (innocent or willful) misinterpretation, or it will often breed some long and meretricious counterargument to something I didn't say. Which then gets upvoted while my original comment is downvoted, which gives people the impression that I actually did say whatever strawman is being attributed to me.

It's a weird problem. Person B's reply can change the apparent meaning of what person A writes. And the weirder thing is, this happens dynamically. If I take the trouble to reply quickly to the bogus counterargument, the pattern of the voting is usually the opposite, and the apparent meaning of what I said reverts to what I meant. But that is a huge time suck.

I've often wondered if there is some way to fix the design of comment threads to mitigate this, but I haven't found any answers yet, except not displaying points.

I am glad Avi helped you figure out a good name.

About editing: I think you can get away with deleting the tweet and reposting it. Not sure you can remove it entirely, as people can retweet you or favorite your tweet if you are not fast enough.

You write amazing blog posts, with great points of view (e.g. recent Yahoo post). One thing I've heard, and it strikes me as true, is that the best people on twitter are great writers. Why? When you write a post, you have a perspective, a point of view. That's the frame for your article. You then fill it with analysis, facts and perspective.

Twitter forces you to focus on the frame itself. And likely, just a part of it. Great for putting forth a central idea that can be pursued in greater detail elsewhere.

Your tweet on startups... "Startups in 137 chars: Make something someone specific needs, launch fast, let users show you what to change, change it, repeat last two."

...is a great example. There are multiple articles that could be written in relation to that observation. They help clarify and deepen the argument. But you managed to distill the essential elements of the idea into 137 characters.

I'd say think of the things you're seeing, the discussion you're following out there. Share your perspective, drawn from your own interests and activities, and the (possibly wrongheaded) points being made by others.

The box on HN already feels tiny!

> But you also don't have to deal with replies or worry about getting downvoted if you say something unPC.

Or getting banned ;)

Use Chrome. Textboxes are resizable. Ridiculously useful feature that you never knew you needed until you're given it.

I think this is a (full-sized computer-) WebKit feature, also available on Safari, for example.

A feature I used a lot when I still used Chrome. Still, I prefer to open Vim or Emacs when I need to type anything of length into a browser.

I just resize it in chrome so it's bigger.

What did you have for lunch? Inquiring minds want to know! http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/4/23/

I've found my writing, particularly on email, has gotten a lot more terse since I started tweeting. Probably a good thing.

Startups in 137 chars: Make something someone specific needs, launch fast, let users show you what to change, change it, repeat last two.

More like these please.

> I'm still not sure what to use it for, to be honest.

I was in the same boat for a while, I'm just starting to get into the swing of it. You need to have some people you're mutually following that you respect and then it's a way to quickly send links and short ideas back and forth. It's a chicken and the egg problem for most people, but you should be able to get a pretty good crew mutually following you easily.

I'd be interested to hear about YC companies: their status, progress, problems, etc.

It's also interesting how one of your first tweets was that you made a mistake and you wanted to edit your tweet. I get that all the time, and I wish Twitter included an 'edit within the first 60 secs' feature.

You can delete tweets, and it seems not that uncommon to quickly delete an erroneous tweet and replace it with a fixed version. This is mildly frowned on, because some people's clients will poll before you manage to delete/replace, and then they'll get notified twice if they have some sort of "buzz my phone on tweet" kind of setup. (I think that setup is getting less common, though.)

Connect it to your FriendFeed account. You can edit FriendFeed posts afterward, and aren't as length-limited. Just check a box to cc twitter when posting to FriendFeed.

"if you say something unPC" or if you say something unPG ;-)

"... you also don't have to deal with replies or worry about getting downvoted ..."

downvoted you will get - saying something unPC on twitter is like singing the Blues in a Country & Western bar without the mesh to protect you. Twitter really is the trolls natural habitat.

Surprising that it took this long. PG's quotes page includes several by "Tara Ploughman", an anagram for "Not Paul Graham". When this was discovered, PG lamented the lack of a socially acceptable way to publish "single sentence essays". Twitter fills the gap nicely.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb (author of The Black Swan) uses Twitter for exactly that purpose: http://twitter.com/nntaleb "(I use twitter to test philosophical aphorisms/epigrams)."

"This person has protected their tweets."


You have to be logged in to Twitter to see NNT's tweets. I think that has something to do with scraping/copyright and that his aphorisms are going to be published as a book.

Be still my throbbing heart

(down-vote me all you want, this title was hero-worship lame)


it's just so funny how they use the same verb for it. God bless Pythons for Life of Brian!

  "Well I say you are and I should know, I've followed a few."

For those who might be confused by this comment, the original title ended with "... be one of his first followers."

I think it is cool his web tweets are "via web"... very close to viaweb...

His first tweet: http://twitter.com/paulg/status/22300310058

Pretty sure he meant @avibryant, not @avi.

If only I could get @avi for myself as easily as I got @paulg for Paul.

Any idea when the process to claim inactive accounts is going to be fixed? My startup owns the domain associated with its name (which is pretty unique), but someone is squatting the relevant Twitter account without any activity. I already contacted Twitter but they said basically they can't do a thing unless I trademark the name, which is cost-prohibitive.

The cost of obtaining a trademark in North America is well under $500. This is very much doable for any "startup" unless it's a disposable toy project of some kind.

$500 for something non-essential? Startups are launched with a budget of $5000, and you think spending 10% on a trademark should be possible?

Twitter is starting to take back and re-release inactive accounts. You can sign up to be notified when the ones you want are made public via Tweetclaims (not my startup, but I did write about them).

How did you do it? Just emailed the owner?

i saw a demo-day interview where pg said he doesn't use twitter because he couldn't find a suitable username (based on his real name).

i thought "if i was twitter, i'd find him one". guess that really happened :)


Though I hope/suspect @paulg was merely inactive/unused rather than yanked away from an active user. It would be alarming if Twitter got into the latter (except for considered trademark issues, of course).

I would have loved if you landed him @pgtips.

How'd you get paulg?

@avibryant works at Twitter.

Now if only we can get a way to claim inactive usernames when we aren't famous ..

Pretty much. I've seen this with Angelina Jolie and pg (how's that for company, Paul?), but not with any of us mere mortals.

I also have an account that has never been active that fits my domain - and site - name. It's not the end of the world, but the floodgates have already been opened.

An auto-purge feature would also work.

You can obtain a registered trademark on your own name. I, in particular, would enjoy becoming Phil Welch®.

fwiw, because of this discussion, i just got "@jcs" from a user that had it since 2007 and only had one tweet (the account was obviously fake).

i opened a support ticket with twitter and asked them about reclaiming the username. their auto-responder said they will only take an active account if it's due to a trademark claim, but if the account is inactive (meaning no logins or other activity on the backend in a long time), they will free up the username. they won't directly assign the inactive username to you, they just make it available for registration.

the auto-reply said they will investigate how inactive an account is if you ask them to, so i asked them to for this account. two days later they replied and said it had been made available, so i quickly went into my settings and changed my username to it. all of the followers and everything migrates to the new username, but any old links or tweets referencing the old username don't forward. hopefully my old username is not released back into the pool for at least a while.

I don't know if this would work, but couldn't one theoretically just get a large number of people to mark the desired account as spam?

I have no idea how Twitter deals with their spam reporting, but ostensibly Twitter would deactivate the account and once again make it open to registration.

I have no idea how Twitter deals with their spam reporting, but ostensibly Twitter would deactivate the account and once again make it open to registration.

I've had some experience with this, and I don't think so. I wrote customer support not long ago to request a name be released (clear spam account) and was told, "Nope, we don't do that any longer." The account is gone now. But if you try to sign up with that name, it's reported as "taken" anyhow.

Short version: they seem not to release names, even after the accounts go away. Maybe there's a waiting period. I'm still hoping.

Damn. What an alarming medium.

So much for the stealth approach I guess ;)

The interesting part is not who follows you, but who you follow.

You can't edit tweets, but you can delete them. Mouse over the tweet in question and you'll see a trashcan icon and a 'delete' link.

Hmm. Twitter needs tab completion.

That wouldn't have helped here -- @avi is a valid username, too.

Edit: It should definitely autocomplete based on who you're following, but pg wasn't yet following anyone when he sent his first tweet.

It could also autocomplete based on who just tweeted to you. I guess there's only so far that you need to take these things, and twitter was designed to have a simple interface.

Complex autocomplete logic doesn't have to make it any less simple in it's interface. I had a greasemonkey prototype that autocompleted on friends, followers, googled usernames etc and sorted on relevance given current timeline/replies. And non-intrusive if you want to ignore.

That's either pretty prescient or they followed your suggestion to the letter.

Or pretty obvious ;)

It's funny to watch the follower count shoot up.

A lot of HN'ers are out of 'stealth' mode on twitter after this.

the human addiction to statistics :-)

I know... I'm really bad. If I see a counter somewhere I start tracking it. Professional disease.

You should post a plot of it somewhere 8-)

(That's not creepy, is it?)

http://twittercounter.com/paulg should do that, although its not updated yet

The interesting part would have been the first couple of hours.

After a week it's neat but no longer as interesting because you can't really see how fast the news spreads within seconds of making an announcement like this. I really am a dunce for not timestamping.

Looks like the old owner was a Paul Gardi.


much better. didn't think of google cache.

If I had thought of that earlier it would have been useful, but I did not save the timestamps, sorry!

That would have been an interesting experiment to do.


Get pg's tweets pushed to your phone with Push.ly and Notifo :)

Or just use Twitter's SMS feature.

Good timing, just days after announcing a deal with Facebook :-)

The day after, in fact.

how do we know it's him?

A verified account would be nice.

pg has now responded in this thread at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1640658 which is solid evidence that this is real.

I hope he didn't put a real email address on his twitter account cause that just got flooded ;p

Not really, being mailbombed with 1k emails was a dramatic and painful experience in the early 90s, tho. Some ISPs had only POP3 access back then, and many MUAs didn't had a "delete without retrieving" feature.

I'd like to think I had some small hand in this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1640314

i.e. I offered the "thepaulgraham" account, since deleted.

Write Haikus with it:

Start a company / listen to your user base / create destruction

Twitter is great to share links and short messages/news. It is not intended to be used as a conversation tool or long comments. Use it you feel the need for it, or don't.

Wow I don't think I have seen follows grow by double digits live before. Might be a first. At 4pm was just over 300

Pretty sure http://twitter.com/oprah was well in the 6 digits in her first day.

You could have seen even more digits: http://twitter.com/billgates

I remember following PG long time ago.. and then finding out he was a fake.

As long as it wasn't a fake account a la @fakecarolbartz or @fakeparamount I'd guess PG wouldn't have that much of a problem with it.

He should use identi.ca :)

Wonder how many of those followers are real and how many are spam...

This is awesome news! I hope Paul will have the time to tweet often

I wonder how many are people, and how many are followbots.

Even that will not make me create a twitter account ...

30 new followers in one minute? PG gets the HN effect!

I now know about convertible notes, so there you go.

Some of the 600 best friends you'll ever have! ;)

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade... but how do we know this is the real Paul Graham?

Call me a wee bit skeptical.

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