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Technology

My New Life on Twitter

I've jumped onto this social-networking site. Don't expect minute-by-minute updates of my life, but I will keep you abreast of all the great things going on at Kiplinger's.

Twitter, the latest, and hottest, social networking phenomenon, has elevated the typical teen text message -- "What RU doing?" -- to a business model.

Twitter's premise is simple: You open a free account at http://twitter.com and post real-time updates answering that one simple question -- "What are you doing?" -- in 140 characters or fewer. Your message goes out to your followers -- users who sign up to receive your "tweets" -- and you can sign up for updates on other people's doings.

The basic idea is to give friends and family -- not to mention faceless strangers and other assorted hangers-on -- a minute-by-minute account of what's going on in your life. Depending on your point of view, this is either brilliant or bizarre.

Personally, I can't imagine that anyone cares whether I'm heading across the street for a slice of pizza or sitting down at midnight Thursday to watch The Amazing Race because I missed it on Sunday night. And as someone whose e-mail box is stuffed with hundreds of messages, the last thing I need is a daily deluge of tweets. Plus, if you spend all your time typing in what you're doing, when do you find time to actually do it?

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But professionally, as editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, I can't help wondering if I should jump on this bandwagon and start tweeting.

Getting started. I decide to consult with my chief technology adviser -- my 20-year-old son, Peter, a student at the University of Michigan. Turns out Peter has a Twitter account that he rarely uses ("I don't see the point," he says). But, hey, if Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez tweets about the Wolverines (to 3,000 followers), then Peter figures that I should use my 140 characters to sing the praises of my magazine. "Tell people about all the awesome stories you have coming up, Mom," he says.

So I take the plunge. It's fairly simple to set up an account, but there are the usual glitches. There's some initial confusion about my username and password. For some reason I'm randomly assigned to follow celeb Kim Kardashian, who has flashed the stunning news that she's just been on the jumbo-tron at the Knicks game. When I search for people who I know have Twitter accounts, many of them mysteriously can't be found. I'm finally told I've worn out my welcome on the search function and am being cut off.

As I suspected, tweets often don't transcend the teen text level: "Just started. Now what?" "Sitting here waiting for the great blizzard we are supposed to be having." "Enjoying being in my bathrobe at the moment." And not everyone is bowled over. "I don't find this very much fun at all, almost like talking to myself," complains one Twitterer. "Don't understand why this is so great, prefer e-mail," gripes another.

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Follow me. I've been told that one way to increase your following is to follow others. But I'm trying to be selective. Instead of signing up to be one of nearly 900,000 people hoping to get tweets from President Obama (last time I checked, his page hadn't been updated since March 25), I'm focusing on groups and individuals who have an interest in personal finance and whose updates can be useful to me.

In fact, leaving aside text-message trivia, Twitter turns out to be a handy way for investing geeks and others to plug into networks with similar interests.

And from my point of view, as editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, my son Peter has a good point. I can use my updates to tell my followers about the awesome stories we have in current and upcoming issues, hot topics we're discussing at staff meetings, noteworthy features at Kiplinger.com, or to give Kip Tips on managing your money (and once in a while maybe even a restaurant review).

To see what develops, follow me at http://twitter.com/JanetBodnar. Soon I hope to be a Twitter veteran. Or maybe a veteran twit.