What is Twitter?

I’ve had a lot of questions in the past days about what Twitter is. Friends know I use it and they want to know why. So, here’s my feeble attempt to explain.

Twitter, Inc. [www.Twitter.com] has been around since March of 2006 and is located in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Twitter is used for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing. For some friends you might want instant mobile updates—for others, you can just check the web.

You can update Twitter using mobile text (SMS), the web, email or your chat client. You could probably even mail them a letter through the USPS and update your Twitter that way if you cared to, but what’s the point?!? The whole purpose of Twitter is to stay in touch instantly. These instant updates [status messages for you Facebook people] are called Tweets.

Twitter sends your update out to your group of friends and posts it to your Twitter page. Your friends might not have phone alerts turned on so they may check your web page instead. Likewise, you receive your friends mobile updates on your phone, if you choose to. Personally, I choose to see my friend’s updates on my Twitter page. And I have my account set up so that it also updates my Blog and my Facebook status.

Basically, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send updates [otherwise known as tweets as I wrote previously] which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. That’s it in a nutshell.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends [delivery to everyone being the default]. Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via email.

As of July 2008, over 2,200,000 accounts were registered. I’m just one of them 🙂

Twitter initially began as a research and development project [as many of our techno must-haves] inside a San Francisco start-up company. It was initially used internally by the company’s employees.

The service rapidly gained popularity. In March 2007, it won the 2007 South by Southwest Web Award in the blog category. Jack Dorsey, widely acknowledged as the man behind the concept of Twitter, gave the following playful acceptance speech at SXSW: “We’d like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!” he he… that’s funny!

In April 2007, the service was spun off as a separate entity under the name Twitter, Inc.

  • Businesses such as Cisco Systems, Whole Foods Market, Dell, Zappos.com, and Comcast use Twitter to provide updates to customers.
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department put the technology to use during the October 2007 California wildfires.
  • NASA used Twitter to break the news of discovery of what appeared to be water ice on Mars by the Phoenix Mars Lander. [I am currently following the Phoenix Mars Lander. See my Blog about it here.] Other NASA projects, such as Space Shuttle missions and the International Space Station, also provide updates via Twitter.
  • News outlets such as CNN and the BBC have also started using Twitter to disseminate breaking news or provide information feeds for sporting events.
  • Westwinds Church in Jackson, Michigan uses Twitter as a part of its weekend worship services and introduced the concept of Twitter Church. Westwinds runs training classes for Twitter and encourages members to bring laptops and mobile devices to church. On occasion, the Twitter feed will be live on the screens in the auditorium and everyone is encouraged to give their input, make observations, and ask questions in an interactive worship format. Interesting!
  • LenderFlex right here in Atlanta is using Twitter to deliver risk based mortgage pricing to mortgage loan professionals and real estate agents. Using TwitterFlex these professionals are able to get information when and where they need it by simply twittering a few codes to @lenderflex.

Twitter has been used as a “social justice tool” to connect groups of people in critical situations. On April 10, 2008, James Buck, a graduate journalism student at UC Berkeley, and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested in Egypt for photographing an anti-government protest. On his way to the police station, Buck used his mobile phone to send the message “Arrested” to his 48 “followers” on Twitter. Those contacted UC Berkeley, the US Embassy in Cairo and a number of press organizations on his behalf. While being detained, Buck was able to send updates about his condition to his “followers”. As a result of the message and the efforts of his Twitter friends, he was released the very next day from the Mahalla jail after the college hired a lawyer for him.

Research reported in New Scientist magazine in May 2008 found that blogs, maps, photo sites and instant messaging systems like Twitter did a better job of getting information out during emergencies such as the shootings at Virginia Tech than either the traditional news media or government emergency services. The study—performed by researchers at the University of Colorado—also found that those using Twitter during the fires in California in October 2007 kept their followers [who were often friends and neighbors] informed of their whereabouts and of the location of various fires on a minute by minute basis. Additionally, organizations that support relief efforts are also using Twitter. The American Red Cross uses Twitter to exchange minute-to-minute information about local disasters, including statistics and directions.

My Blog post “Turning to Twitter after China quake” has interesting observations on the use of Twitter during natural disasters.

I even Twittered during my last marathon 😮

So, I hope that explains Twitter to all you wondering folks. It’s probably more than you really wanted to know anyhow, but you asked 🙂

Oh, BTW, I basically use Twitter because it updates my Facebook, Blog and those following my Tweets all at the same time in one simple TM.

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1 Response to “What is Twitter?”


  1. 1 Brian Humphrey August 18, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Thanks for mentioning the LAFD on Twitter in your blog post.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department


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