Note: This article was published in 2007. For the latest about how to use Twitter to follow the Tour de France, read TDFblog Publishes Comprehensive List of Pro Cyclists Who Use Twitter on this website.
I started using Twitter as a test on Wednesday and Thursday while simultaneously listening to the audio feed from Eurosport. On Friday I used Twitter exclusively for live action updates because Eurosport's audio feed wasn't available.
It took me a little while on Wednesday to figure out how to use Twitter for the purpose of following what other people say. This is because Twitter is designed to be a two-way communication service. You have the option of communicating with it in messages of 140 characters or less at the same time as you receive messages from one or more other Twitter users. The purpose of this is really for you to be able to communicate with your friends or the public in real time. However, Twitter can be used for live blogging all kinds of events as well, and this is what the people who are providing updates during Tour de France stages are doing.
I got started by creating an account for myself on Twitter.com. After I did that, I found my friend Frank Steele from TdFblog.com on Twitter at the following URL: http://twitter.com/TdFblog. It's very difficult to find someone inside the Twitter service. It's much easier to obtain the URL for someone's Twitter account from an external source than to try to find it using Twitter.
Once I found TdFblog on Twitter, I made Frank my friend and started "following" him. This means that messages from him would start appearing on my Twitter page. From there, I could have those messages simultaneously be sent to my mobile phone via text messages, or to an IM account of my choice. I chose to use one of my IM accounts because my Twitter page doesn't automatically update itself and I wanted to see the messages in real time.
The TdFblog page on Twitter shows Frank's messages plus any messages from other Twitter users that he's following. That's how I found TdF_Updates, a Twitter user in London. I added him/her as a friend and followed his messages as well.
The biggest issues I've seen with using Twitter to get real time updates on Tour action are:
- People say the same thing or something very similar when they are relating action that they see on their televisions.
- Twitter sometimes gets behind in reporting updates. At the end of Wednesday's stage, the Twitter messages were 10 to 15 minutes behind the Eurosport audio feed. The updates were on time on Thursday. Not sure about Friday.
Twitter could turn out to be more useful in the future, particularly if people begin using it at races in the USA and Europe where there is no live TV coverage, or if websites start integrating these live feeds into their pages.
Update on July 16, 2007: There's an article on early Twitter uses by TV networks in today's Wall Street Journal. Perhaps Versus and other rights holders will start using Twitter to connect with viewers who are at work during the 2008 Tour.