What Is Twitter?

Home & Family, Technology, This Week in History
on March 2, 2012

Standard web logs (or blogs, as they are generally known) allow users to post text articles or updates on their thoughts and opinions. Twitter offers much the same capability, but restricts those updates (known as tweets) to 140 characters or less. It has therefore become known as a micro-blogging platform and, since its launch, has rapidly grown in popularity.

Brief history. Twitter was launched in July 2006 as a means of communicating short messages to a large group of people, rather like a text message sent to a group of friends. The Twitter product was originally devised by the podcasting company Odeo, but was set up as a company in its own right in April 2007. Although the site has seen a number of overhauls (notably in 2010 and 2011), the basic concept of Twitter has remained the same since it began.

Estimated users and tweets. Twitter does not normally release official figures for the number of registered users on the site. According to the social media website Mashable, the site reached 500 million registered users in February 2011. In June 2011, Twitter reported that registered users were sending 200 million tweets per day.

Most popular features. Twitter users “follow” other users, which means that they view a stream of all their tweets in a page called the timeline. Twitter also has a basic (private) direct messaging service. Users can post links to images and videos, which now also appear in the timeline within the originating tweet. Key words and phrases can be highlighted with a preceding hashtag (#), which makes it easy for other users to find and follow those tweets. A relatively new addition, called the Discover tab, also presents users with other Twitter members, tweets and stories that relate to their interests.

Twitter users. Twitter has a wide-ranging appeal that includes a number of different groups. High-profile celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher, have developed an enormous following of millions of other users and regularly post updates about their whereabouts. Twitter also appeals to business users, who share information and ideas with their peers and customers. Twitter has grown significantly as a marketing tool since 2006. Business Week estimates that Twitter revenue from advertising will grow to $540 million by 2014.

Why is Twitter so successful? Twitter’s appeal rests almost entirely in its simplicity. In the years since the site was founded, the concept has changed little, and it remains easy to use and understand. Registered users do not pay any fees for their membership, and it appeals to both businesses and individuals. Twitter is a great way to make new, like-minded friends or to reach out to new and existing customers