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Twitter - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Twitter, Inc
San Francisco, California, USA
Key people
Jack Dorsey, Chairman
Evan Williams, CEO
Biz Stone, Creative Director
mobile social network service, micro-blogging

The twitter bird logo often seen around the website
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others' updates, known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to other users - known as followers - who have subscribed to them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. The service is free over the Internet, but using SMS may incur phone service provider fees.

Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained notability and popularity worldwide. It is sometimes described as the "SMS of the Internet",[2] as it provides the functionality—via its application programming interface (API)—for other desktop and web-based applications to send and receive short text messages, often obscuring the Twitter service itself.

Through SMS, users can communicate with Twitter through five gateway numbers: short codes for the United States, Canada, India, New Zealand, and an Isle of Man-based number for international use. There is also a short code in the United Kingdom which is only accessible to those in the Vodafone network.[3]
Alexa ranks the site 27th in terms of web traffic.[4] Estimates of the number of daily users vary, because the company does not release the number of active accounts. However, a February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranked Twitter as the third most used social network,[5] which puts the number of unique monthly visitors at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visits at 55 million;[5] however, only 40% of users are retained.[6] In March 2009, a Nielsen.com blog ranked Twitter as the fastest-growing site in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had a monthly growth of 1382%, Zimbio of 240%, followed by Facebook with an increase of 228%.[7]




A circa 2000 blueprint sketch by Jack Dorsey, envisioning a SMS-based social network.
The birth of Twitter materialized out of a "daylong brainstorming session" where board members of the podcasting company Odeo, in an attempt to break out of a creative slump, broke up into teams to come up with ideas. During this session, Jack Dorsey introduced the idea of a service that used SMS to tell small groups what an individual was doing, partly inspired by TXTMob[8], an sms group messaging project which is now defunct.

The working name was just "Status" for a while. It actually didn’t have a name. We were trying to name it, and mobile was a big aspect of the product early on ... We liked the SMS aspect, and how you could update from anywhere and receive from anywhere.

We wanted to capture that in the name -- we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word "twitch," because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But "twitch" is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word "twitter," and it was just perfect. The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was.
The original product name/codename for the service was named twttr; inspired by Flickr and the fact that American SMS short codes are five characters. The developers prototyped with “10958″ as short code, later changing it to “40404″ for "ease of use and memorability."[8] Work on the project started on March 21, 2006 when Dorsey published the first Twitter message at 12:50 PM PST: "just setting up my twttr".[10]
The first Twitter prototype was used as an internal service for Odeo employees, later launching publicly into a full-scale version in July 2006. In October 2006, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Dorsey and other members of Odeo formed Obvious Corp and acquired Odeo and all of its assets - including Odeo.com and Twitter.com - from the investors and other shareholders.[11] Twitter later spun off into its own company in April 2007.[12]
The tipping point for Twitter's popularity came at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. During the event, usage tripled from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000.[13] According to Laughing Squid blogger Scott Beale, Twitter "absolutely rul[ed]" SXSW. Social software researcher Danah Boyd said Twitter "own[ed]" the festival.[14] "The Twitter people cleverly placed two 60-inch plasma screens in the conference hallways, exclusively streaming Twitter messages," according to Newsweek's Steven Levy. "Hundreds of conference-goers kept tabs on each other via constant twitters. Panelists and speakers mentioned the service, and the bloggers in attendance touted it. Soon everyone was buzzing and posting about this new thing that was sort of instant messaging and sort of blogging and maybe even a bit of sending a stream of telegrams."[15] Also at the festival, Twitter won the SXSW Web Award. The team said, "We'd like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!"[16]


Twitter's San Francisco headquarters located on the 4th floor of 539 Bryant Street.
Twitter has raised US$57 million from venture capitalists. CEO Evan Williams raised about $22 million in venture capital.[17] Twitter is backed by Union Square Ventures, Digital Garage, Spark Capital, and Bezos Expeditions (led by Jeff Bezos of Amazon).[18] Institutional Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital backed Twitter in 2009, investing an additional $35 million. The Industry Standard has pointed to its lack of revenue as limiting its long-term viability.[19] On February 13, 2009, Twitter announced on its official blog[20] that it had closed a third round of funding in which it secured more than $35 million.[21] Twitter board member Todd Chaffee forecast that the company could make money from e-commerce. Chaffee noted that many users are already using Twitter to get product recommendations and companies are using the service to promote their products so it would follow that people might want to buy items straight from the site.[22]


Twitter's San Francisco offices on 539 Bryant Street.
Twitter has been described as akin to a Web-based IRC client.[23] The Twitter Web interface uses the Ruby on Rails framework[24] and from the spring of 2007 until 2008 the actual messages were handled by a pure-Ruby persistent queue server called Starling.[25] Starling was replaced in 2008 with a new persistent queue server written in the Scala programming language.[26] The Twitter API itself allows the integration of Twitter with other web services and applications.[27] Twitter allows the use of hashtags, a word or phrase prefixed with a #, such as #beer.[28] This enables tweets on a specific subject to be found by simply searching for their common hashtag. Similarly, the @ sign followed by a username, such as @example, allows users to send messages directly to each other.[29] A message preceded by the @username prefix can still be read by anyone, but is primarily treated as being directed at the user in question.

Privacy and security

Twitter collects personally identifiable information about its users and shares it with third parties. The service considers that information an asset, and reserves the right to sell it if the company changes hands.[30]
A security vulnerability was reported on April 7, 2007, by Nitesh Dhanjani and Rujith. The problem was due to Twitter using the phone number of the senders of SMS messages as authentication. Nitesh used FakeMyText to spoof a text message, whereupon Twitter posted the message on the victim's page.[31] The vulnerability could only be used if the spoofer knew the phone number registered to their victim's account. Within a few weeks of this discovery Twitter introduced an optional personal identification number (PIN) that its users could specify to authenticate SMS-originating messages.[32]
On January 5, 2009, 33 high-profile Twitter accounts were compromised after a Twitter administrator's password was guessed by a dictionary attack.[33] Falsified tweets—including sexually explicit and drug-related messages—were then sent from the accounts.[34]
Twitter launched the beta of its Verified Accounts service on June 11, 2009 allowing famous or notable people to make it clear which Twitter account belongs to them. The home pages of these verified accounts displays a badge to indicate this special status.[35]


A Twitter profile
Twitter's popularity exploded in 2007 which resulted in outages from traffic overloads.[36] The Wall Street Journal wrote that social-networking services such as Twitter "elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been their early adopters. Fans say they are a good way to keep in touch with busy friends. However, some users are starting to feel too connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they're having for dinner."[37]"Using Twitter for literate communication is about as likely as firing up a CB radio and hearing some guy recite ‘The Iliad,’" said tech writer Bruce Sterling.[38] On the other hand, Steve Dotto opines that part of Twitter's appeal is the challenge of trying to publish such messages in tight constraints.[39] "The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful," says Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet law at Harvard Law School.[40]
According to Nielsen Online, Twitter has a 40% retention rate of users, who tend to drop the service after a month, meaning the site could potentially reach only about 10% of Internet users.[41]
In 2009, Twitter won a Webby Award in the "Breakout of the Year" category.[42][43]



Twitter experienced approximately 98% uptime in 2007, or about six full days of downtime.[44] Twitter's downtime was particularly noticeable during events popular with the technology industry, such as the 2008 Macworld Conference & Expo keynote address.[45][46] During May 2008 Twitter's new engineering team implemented necessary architectural changes to deal with the scale of growth. Stability issues resulted in down time or temporary feature removal.

In August 2008, Twitter withdrew free SMS services to users in the United Kingdom[47] and, for approximately five months, instant messaging support via a Jabber bot was listed as being "temporarily unavailable".[48] On October 10, 2008, Twitter's status blog announced that instant messaging (IM) service was no longer a temporary outage and needed to be revamped. Twitter aims to return its IM service at some point, but says this requires major work to be completed.[49]
When Twitter experiences an outage, users see the "fail whale" error message created by Australian artist and designer Yiying Lu,[50] a whimsical illustration of red birds using nets to hoist a whale from the ocean.[51] The message reads: "Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again."[51]
On 12 June 2009, in what was called a potential "Twitpocalypse", the unique identifier associated with each tweet exceeded 2147483647, the limit for 32-bit signed integers. While Twitter itself was not affected, some third-party clients were, and had to be patched.[52]


In the media

In March 2009 Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip began to satirize Twitter, with the strip characters ironically highlighting the triviality of "tweets" and Roland Hedley defending the need to keep up with the constant-update trend or else lose relevance.[53] SuperNews!, similarly, satirized Twitter as an addiction to "constant self-affirmation" and said Tweets were nothing more than "shouts into the darkness hoping someone is listening".[54]
During a March 2, 2009 episode of The Daily Show, the host Jon Stewart negatively portrayed members of Congress who chose to "twitter" during President Obama's address to Congress (on February 24, 2009) rather than pay attention to the content of the speech. The show's Samantha Bee satirized media coverage of the service saying "there's no surprise young people love it—according to reports of young people by middle aged people".[55]
Another episode of The Daily Show on February 26, 2009, featured host of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams (a journalist and guest on the show) deriding "tweets" as only having subject matter which refers to the condition of the author in any given instant. Williams implied that he would never use Twitter because nothing he did at any given moment was interesting enough to publish in Twitter format.[56]
During a February 2009 discussion on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Daniel Schorr noted that Twitter accounts of events lacked rigorous fact-checking and other editorial improvements. In response, Andy Carvin gave Schorr two examples of breaking news stories that played out on Twitter and said users wanted first-hand accounts and sometimes debunked stories.[57]

Prominent users

British comedian Stephen Fry is one of the most followed celebrities on Twitter.
British comedian Stephen Fry is well known for having a large number of followers and was reported in The Times as being the celebrity with the most followers on Twitter in April 2009.[58] The most followed celebrity today, however, is Ashton Kutcher, the first Twitter user to reach the one-million-follower mark,[59] with comedian Ellen DeGeneres and singer Britney Spears in second and third place respectively.



Several 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns used Twitter as a publicity mechanism, including that of Democratic Party nominee and President Barack Obama.[60] The NaderGonzalez campaign updated its ballot access teams in real-time with Twitter and Google Maps.[61] Twitter use increased by 43 percent on the day of the United States' 2008 election.[62]
On April 10, 2008, James Buck, a graduate journalism student at University of California, 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 followers contacted U.C. Berkeley, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and a number of press organizations on his behalf. Buck was able to send updates about his condition to his "followers" while being detained. He was released the next day from the Mahalla jail after the college hired a lawyer for him.[63]
Research reported in New Scientist in May 2008[64] 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 minute by minute. Organizations that support relief efforts are also using Twitter. The American Red Cross uses Twitter[65] to exchange minute-to-minute information about local disasters, including statistics and directions.[66]
Media outlets use Twitter as a source of public sentiment on issues. During the CBC News television coverage of the Canadian federal election on October 14, 2008, the CBC cited a graph, produced by the Infoscape Research Lab, of items mentioned on Twitter, along with Tweets regarding Elizabeth May and Stéphane Dion, with the majority of the Dion Tweets calling for him to step down in response to the election results.[67]
In October 2008, a draft U.S. Army intelligence report identified the popular micro-blogging service as a potential terrorist tool. The report said, "Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives."[68][69]
During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, eyewitnesses sent an estimated 80 tweets every five seconds as the tragedy unfolded. Twitter users on the ground helped in compiling a list of the dead and injured. In addition, users sent out vital information such as emergency phone numbers and the location of hospitals that needed blood donations.[70] The use of Twitter by victims, bystanders, and the public to gather news and coordinate responses to the November 2008 Mumbai siege led CNN to call it "the day that social media appeared to come of age".[70]
David Saranga of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that on December 30, 2008, Israel would be the first government to hold a worldwide press conference via Twitter to take questions from the public about the war against Hamas in Gaza.[71]



In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 experienced multiple bird strikes and had to be ditched in the Hudson River after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Janis Krums, a passenger on one of the ferries that rushed to help, took a picture of the downed plane as passengers were still evacuating and sent it to Twitpic before traditional media arrived at the scene.[72][73]
In February 2009, the Australian Country Fire Authority used Twitter to send out regular alerts and updates regarding the 2009 Victorian bushfires.[74] During this time the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, also used his Twitter account to send out information on the fires, how to donate money and blood, and where to seek emergency help.[75]
On 7 April 2009, thousands of young anti-communist protesters stormed the presidency and the parliament building in Chişinău, the capital of Moldova, accusing the government of electoral fraud. Information about these events was disseminated widely and on a minute to minute basis through Twitter. To make the information easier to find, the hashtag #pman was used (Piaţa Marii Adunări Naţionale is the name of the central square in Chişinău).[76] Twitter was also used to mobilize for the protests.[77] It was in the course of these protests that the term twitter(ed) revolution was first used.
The first criminal prosecution arising from Twitter posts began in April 2009 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Daniel Knight Hayden, a supporter of the Tea Party protests against the policies of President Barack Obama. Hayden was allegedly sending tweets threatening violence in connection with his plan to attend the Tea Party protest in Oklahoma City.[78]
In May 2009, astronaut Michael J. Massimino used Twitter to keep updates of their Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, marking the first time Twitter was used in space.[79][80] In the same month, Reveille Productions and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment announced they would soon be producing a TV series in which Twitter was used to track down celebrities.[81]
A study from 300,542 users by Harvard University published in June 2009 discovered that 10% of users created over 90% of Twitter's content. It also showed that many used the service purely to follow others, rather than posting content of their own, so much so that the median number of tweets per user in a lifetime is one.[82]
In June 2009, following allegations of fraud in the Iranian presidential election of that year, protesters used Twitter as an effective rallying tool and as a method of communication with the outside world after the Iranian government blocked several other modes of communication.[83][84][85][86][87] During the 2009 Iranian election protests, the mainstream media in the United States was criticized on Twitter for not covering the election.[88]. CNN in particular was criticized, with numerous individuals using the hashtag #CNNfail.[88] Twitter was also used to spread information and commit DDoS attacks.[89] On June 15, Twitter rescheduled a planned 90-minute maintenance outage, after a number of Twitter users, as well as the US State Department, asked for a delay (including directly asking company executives), due to concerns about its role as a primary communication medium by the protesters in Iran.[90][91] After the post-election protests in Moldova, this was the second wave of protests tagged as a 'twitter revolution',[84][92][93] though some are sceptical of the term since "most of the organizing happened the old-fashioned way".[94]


Similar services

A number of services like Twitter exist, including some which send text messages to multiple people at once. Some services use a similar concept as Twitter but add country-specific services or combine the micro-blogging facilities with other services, such as file sharing. Other services provide similar functionality, but within closed networks for corporations, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations.[95]

See also


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