Friday, February 27, 2009

How to find contacts on Twitter

A recent tweet caught my attention; a former coworker and fellow tweeter Mike Duff was looking for a way to check to see if any of his outlook contacts were on twitter. It used to be that twitter provided additional tools for doing this, but those have been retired with no reinstatement date in site.

As an alternative, one can use a 5-step process to find out if your outlook contacts are on twitter. This would also theoretically work for any mail program with exportable contacts, such as Apple's Mail program or my beloved Eudora. (YMMV with Pico.)

Step 1: Log into a webmail provider supported by twitter, such as Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail or MSN. See for the list of supported services, which may change over time. If you have an existing account and are comfortable with using it for this purpose, you can use that. Or, you can create a specific account for this purpose only, then delete it when you're done.

Step 2: This varies by webmail provider, but find the contacts area of the service and import your contacts. Based on the service you use, read their directions for exporting a list of contacts from your mail program which is suitable for import for their service.
  • For Gmail, the address book is labeled 'Contacts' and they provide an 'Import' function. Google notes "We support importing contacts in the CSV file format (Comma Separated Values). For best results, please use a CSV file produced by Outlook, Outlook Express, Yahoo!, or Hotmail. For Apple Address Book, there is a useful utility called "A to G".
  • For Yahoo, the address book is labeled 'Contacts' as well. Once in the 'Contacts' area, click on 'options' to reveal the 'import contacts' option. Note: yahoo has a new service called ymail , but twitter doesn't seem able to work with ymail today. So this info is strictly for email addresses
  • Use another service? Please post the info in the comments to help your fellow twitterers.
Step 3: After your import has completed, log in to twitter and go to Log into the webmail service you picked to use in step 1. If you have security concerns in spite of twitter's assertions of righteous behavior in processing your emails, then stop here.

Step 4: As of today, twitter defaults to suggesting that you add everyone from your contact list who is on twitter, and I surely wish they didn't. You can send invites to all your contacts, but I wouldn't recommend it without serious pre-planning. The better use of the tool is to uncheck the 'select all' option and then scroll through the list to determine who you should follow. As a rule of thumb, I skip anyone who has a non personalized id - the mismatched O's in blue on a background of brown. If that argument isn't persuasive enough to get you to reconsider inviting everyone from Aethelred to Zebediah to connect, consider also that your follower/following ratio will look out of whack for a while if you send off a bunch of follower requests as it will take some time for the folks involved to respond. Small batches are better.

Step 5: You're done... for now. Twitter users sign up every hour, so you may want to try again another day! Alternatively, you may prefer to delete the account if you're not comfortable with keeping the webmail account. But if you do keep it, it is easy to check back regularly to see if any more contacts have joined up. Otherwise you'll have to repeat the export-import process.

Thanks @Duffgalleries for the inspiration to write these instructions up.

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