TWITTER: Started in 2006 by co-founders Biz Stone, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams in San Francisco, and popularized by Oprah, this is a free social networking and micro-blogging web site where you can broadcast very short messages (See SMS) called “Tweets” (140 characters max*; true SMS has 160 characters; and the ability to attach pictures and photos) to anyone who’s signed up to receive texts, kind of like a cross between a blog and a chat room. [See BLOGGING.] In August, 2015, Twitter took the text character limit off its direct Tweets (those only between two persons or groups, whether or not they “follow” each other), making such communications unlimited. In early 2013, Twitter launched Vine, a service that lets mobile users capture and then share short looping videos. And, in April, 2015 Twitter started its live streaming app, named Periscope, (along with another startup named Niche, which provides tools for content providers) which enables any user to broadcast live video captured by their smartphone’s camera to fellow Periscope users, also to promote the stream on Twitter to attract even more viewers. In four months, it garnered ten million users. And, in 2015, Apple named it the coveted “iPhone App of the Year”. Also, in October, 2015, Moments, an attempt to further change the course of Twitter by arranging the galaxy of Tweets about a particular subject by creating a manageable tab including a series of Tweets and images selectively updated as an event (like news, weather or sports) unfolds. It’s designed to make Twitter easier to use, for those who don’t know what or who to follow. This would allow users to make chatter manageable so that when, for example, a natural disaster hits, the masses turn to Twitter instead of, say, CNN.
[* Faced with declining membership (although it has 300 million users, it’s still less than one fifth the size of Facebook and even smaller than Facebook owned Instagram), it has been seeking ways to get more members. So Twitter announced in May, 2016 that it will allow users to exceed the 140 character limit, so that users will add more photos and videos (which previously took up 24 characters each) to their posts. Also the ability to “retweet” and ”quote tweet” yourself to share a new comment or draw attention to an observation that may have been overlooked by that user’s followers. In addition, the “@ names” will no longer count toward the character limit (although it will count if mentioned within a Tweet). ]
The name Twitter came, the co-founders say, from a possible list of names that they compiled. They liked the idea of Twitter because birds twitter, an insignificant little noise, but still part of a larger community. On March 21, 2006 Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet: “Just setting up my twttr,” he wrote.
Twitter Board, 2009, left to right: Peter Fenton, Fred Wilson, Evan Williams, Bijan Sabat, Ted Wang, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone. Credit: Ben Baker/Redux from Fortune Magazine
Twitter was born in 2006 as a side project. At the time, it was an appendage of a podcasting service named Odeo, another company that Evan Williams co-founded that had millions of dollars from investors. Even the founders, though, were having a hard time getting excited about Odeo, and Williams told everyone who worked there to hatch new ideas. The story goes that, while sitting on a children's slide at a park eating Mexican food one day, an engineer named Jack Dorsey suggested to colleagues a simple way to send status updates by using text messages. Dorsey and Biz Stone built a prototype in only two weeks.
Twitter has evolved since it’s inception. Valued at $8 billion in late 2010, outgoing CEO Williams distinguished Twitter from social networking such as FaceBook, claiming that Twitter is that and more. Twitter, he claims, is a “filter” for the tons of information on the Internet, not only socially, but also politically, economically, musically and many other ways. For example, people now have devices in their homes that tweet, such as weight scales that tweet your latest weigh-in, tennis shoes that tweet how fast you ran your 5K, arm bands that tweet how long you slept last night, and the like. It’s Twitter’s job to accumulate, sort, filter and deliver all of these bits of information to the appropriate user without inundating them with useless information as well. Also in 2010, Evan Williams stepped down from his CEO position and gave it to COO Dick Costolo. (Williams determined that he didn’t have the expertise and time to devote fully to the CEO job and selected someone who he felt was more capable.) Dorsey was ousted from the company, but asked back some time later (2011), replacing Costolo. In 2012, both Stone and Williams re-ignited Obvious, a company that they had started before Twitter, primarily engaged in startup development. Stone also created Square, an on-line credit card payment system processed through a square swiper inserted into the earphone jack of smart phones. In November 2013, the company issued its IPO, raising $14 billion at a stock price of over $44.
Over the decade since its inception, Twitter has undergone several changes in top management (e.g. Dorsey leaving and returning), subscribership (now stalled at about 320 million, vice Facebook’s 1.6 billion, financials ($507 million loss on $2.2 billion in 2015) and stock price (IPO in 2013 at $73.71, 2016 at $17.03). Also a high turnover in attracting new users as well as being plagued with technical difficulties, particularly during peak periods, as well as direct competition from Snapchat and Facebook-owned Instagram. In 2016, Twitter shed significant jobs as well as announced the closing of its Vine subsidiary in its attempt to seek profitability.
Tweets can be public or private: Using the @ (a/k/a the “at-symbol handle”; e.g. “At Reply or @reply”) before a reply will be publicly viewed, while placing a D or DM (“Direct Message”) before the Twitter username will make it private to only that person. Also, the “#” is a “hash” key, which can be used to “hash tag” a series of entries about the same subject (“topic”; e.g. #swine flu or #demi moore) for future easy access or “following” others’ posts that you find interesting, creating the same sort of community groups you find in blogs. (This feature was invented by Twitter, but also adoped by FaceBook, starting June, 2013.) There is also an advanced search option: Scroll to the bottom of any Twitter page, click on Search, then click the advanced search link on search.twitter.com
There is a definite viral element to Twitter, which is presently used by over 7 million people, according to co-founder Biz Stone. In that sense, it is the perfect ego-stroker for those who want to continually broadcast the minutiae of their lives in 140 characters or less. Also, it’s a virtual popularity contest to see who can rack up the most ”friends” (c’mon, when was the last time, if ever, you had an actual face-to-face with Ashton Kutscher or got invited to Oprah’s house?).
Often, its a better way to ask questions of others of a similar ilk, whether it’s for facts about the number of UPC bar codes scanned each day or inquiries like where a group of trendy housewives could eat sushi in Sarasota, FL. Of course, they could Yelp! search for the restaurant, but would one get real locals or just people passing through and going to the restaurant?
On the other hand, Twitter does present a perfect vector for malicious code and phishing, especially since most users use bit.ly or tiny.url to fit clickable URLs into their messages. [These are free programs that reduce the size of a lengthy URL, so that it can easily fit into a webphone browser].
But not only is Twitter a social networking phenom, it is also used by lots of businesses (especially the “celebrity” business), either as a focus group or for customer service or just plain sales. Businesses can troll for sales leads, referring prospective clients to a web site, use it for market research and follow mentions of their company or products on Twitter, keep an eye on customer service issues, send Tweets to customers about specials, menus or products that may be new or even just out of stock that day, inform people where mobile services will be on any given day, or even post photos of products or completed jobs that promote the company. I recently noted that the Avon lady and the Tupperware gals have gone techno, and troll for leads and fill orders on Facebook, Twitter and the like. And often Twittering can have a speedier effect than going to customer service for resolution of problems, particularly in the travel industry, where customer gripes about airline flights and hotel accommodations are sometimes resolved quickly, before they evolve into a virtual snowball of complaints. Companies pay more attention to Twitters because, unlike e-mail, Twitters can be viewed by literally millions. Best Buy has introduced Twelpforce (a twitter “help force”) of some 2500 employees that answer consumers’ questions in real time 24 x 7. Customers who signed up to follow, for example, Gap on Twitter received discount offers exclusively for them. In addition, many companies have promoted contests and treasure hunts in the hopes of inspiring interaction with their customers. See also, Blast. But, as the number of blogs and microblogs post product reviews, paid or otherwise (e.g. classymommy.com, savvyauntie.com), the trend may peak out if it becomes overpopulated.
And, on the political side, Twitter is much less controlled by autocratic governments so that you can follow Tweets, for example, from Barham Salih, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, discussing suicide bombs and dust storms in his country in pretty much real time, without his comments being blocked by his government. On the flip side, Twitter has also been compromised by political hackers as well. For example, on December 17, 2009, Twitter was hacked by a group identifying itself as the “Iranian Cyber Army” which redirected Twitter users to a web page claiming responsibility for shutting down Twitter. But even the Pope has tweeted his followers (6/29/11, the 84 year old Pontiff typed on his iPad: “Dear Friends, I just launched News.va. Praised by out Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI”) Barak Obama, too, is a Twitter fan.
Then there’s Politwoops, a Twitter service created by the Sunlight Foundation that catalogues every deleted tweet from the accounts of elected officials. It operated for years, was stopped for a short period, then reinstated in 2015.
Finally, because of its immediacy and brevity, it can be a better form of communication for breaking news, such as hurricane and storm alerts, as many local television stations have discovered. And, just because you can say or send something on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you should. For Twitter faux pas examples, see the discussion in Social Networking on this site.
In November 2011, a site named Twitter Stories (http://stories.twitter.com) was established to show that Twitter is much more than a site for short attention span self obsessed youngsters. For example, the initial stories included a tale of a man whose tweet (“Sh-t, I need a kidney”) resulted in a donor coming forward just days later, a profile of film critic Roger Ebert (who found an outlet on Twitter after cancer stole his ability to speak) and a Japanese fisherman who uses Twitter to sell his catch each day before even reaching shore.
NOTE: This page was written several years ago, so some of the information and links discussed above may not be around any more. And some have been replaced by other, better, apps in the same genre.
There are various add-ons (“apps”) for Twitter. For example, you can also post pictures from your cell phone and the like, using TwitPic (which assigns a URL to each photo uploaded) or use Tweet Deck (discontinued in 2013, but there are other apps like it) to organize Twitter messages by category. TweetBeep gives you call alerts; OuTwit adds Twitter to Microsoft Outlook, while Spreadsheet adds it to a faux Excel spreadsheet. TweetCall takes calls to 1-877-tweetcall from your phone, then coverts the spoken words to text, then tweets through your account. There’s also TwitterBerry for BlackBerry, Tweetie for iPhones and Twidroid for Android phones, all of which allow you to post photos from your phone camera directly to Twitter. Mac users can use Twitterific. For an excellent list of Twitter apps, click HERE. In 2011, Klip was introduced, similar to Twitter, but for sharing of minute-or-less videos.
Then there’s the “egg”. An egg on Twitter is someone who hasn’t yet changed their avatar to something other than the provided default, which is an unhatched egg against a brightly colored background. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is considered an insult to point out that someone is an “egg” on Twitter.
Twittering also has its own language shortcuts as well: OH = “overheard”; Twitturgy (religious tweeting); Dweet = tweet sent while drunk; Link = including a URL in your tweet; MisTweet = A tweet one later regrets; ReTweet (RT @/[username]) = To repeat something that’s already in the Twitter stream, giving credit to the original poster (interestingly, a 2016 Columbia Univ. study revealed that almost 60% of retweeters simply retweet news without even reading the original Tweet); SnapTweet = A tweet including a photo taken with a cell phone, uploaded to Flickr and posted to Twitter via snaptweet.com; Twittcrastination = Procrastination brought about by Twitter use; Twadd = To add someone as a friend or follower; Twaigslist/Twebay = To sell something on Twitter; Tweeter/Twitterer = Someone who uses Twitter; Twiffers = Twitter friends; Twinkedin = Inviting friends made on Twitter to connect to Linkedin; Twittectomy = To remove someone from the list of people you know; Twitterati = The A-List twitters everyone follows; Twitterfly = Twitter’s version of a social butterfly, marked by the extreme use of @ signs; Twitterlooing = Twittering from the bathroom; Twitterpated = Overwhelmed with Twitter messages; Twittfeinated/Twigged Out/Twired = To be so hyped up on twittering that you cannot sleep. (Credit: Twitter Fan Wiki)
Then there’s “Twitterature,” a book in which 80 works of Western literature are boiled down into Twitter messages (e.g. “Laertes is unhappy that I killed his father and sister. What a drama queen! Oh well, fight this evening.”) And don’t forget the newly popular “Twaiku,” the Twitter haiku movement. There is also the use of Twitter to spin out stories in Twitter format in serialized messages (such as John Wray’s spin-off story of a character named Citizen from his well-regarded novel “Lowboy”.) And, finally, the Twindex, a Twitter political index, introduced 8/1/2012, that monitors political sentiment much like a survey. It is a joint effort between Twitter, Topsy and polling groups Mellman Group (leftist) and NorthStar Opinion Research (rightist). Twindex prides itself as being far faster than traditional polls, using it’s big data stream to view every tweet in the world (at 140 million active users, 400 million times a day), establishing a neural baseline, then making candidate comparisons and returning a numerical score comparing them. But beware: In the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to shred internal polling data ahead of the elections, a practice that may have violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination. Look for more of this as time goes on. [2016 update - - In the 2016 presidential elections, just look at the amount of tweeting going on by all the candidates! It’s now considered an acceptable method of public influence.]
There are even some on-line directories of public Twitter accounts. See, for example, Twellow.com. Look for more information about Twittering by using the Twitter Dictionary (a/k/a/ Twittonary).
In 2017, Google acquired Fabric, Twitter’s mobile app developer, as well as Twitter’s Crashlytics crash reporting system.
Twitter also has it own “Like” (formerly “favorite”) button, it’s way to interact with a tweet without actually writing a reply, much like Facebook’s “Like” button.
So how will Twitter make money? Ten years after its inception, as of 2016, it is still losing money. But, as with many web businesses, this remains to be seen. There hasn’t been on-line advertising, but Dick Costello, the new CEO appointed in 2010 has discussed the idea of an “organic” advertising platform. That is, ads have to be in content in Twitter before they can become ads. For example, if you’re a follower of Virgin America airlines, you may receive a tweet that Virgin is opening service to Timbuktu and you, as a member of the group, can get a 30% coupon. Same for people who search on Twitter for certain specific key words, like “Virgin America” or “airline travel”. But there won’t be any “shotgun” style advertising, tweeting ads to everyone who has an account with Twitter. Starting in 2012, it appears that Twitter is becoming more advertising driven and therefore more profitable. The hashtag is becoming more prevalent than the clunkier URL as a short identifier of companies and many advertisements include the Twitter hashtags within them. Because these links connect directly to an ongoing online conversation, they may be preferable to a static web page for many advertisers.
All of this has created a cottage industry in generating Twitter feeds to make products and services look bigger than they are. The term “cherry blossoming” (which actually comes from the Japanese word “sakura” which has a dual meaning - cherry blossom and also “paid participant”) is the marketing practice of inflating the number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes” so that people will believe that the site has far more followers. It’s a lot like the “click fraud” issue that inflates web site hits.
A big help has come from Apple, since Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer, Ali Rowghani, was the former CFO of Pixar, the late Steve Jobs’ other major company. Apple has coded quick access to Twitter on all of its devices for ease of connection.
It’s a little hard to see here, but the original Twitter logo (before it was stylized) was designed from three sets of overlapping circles. Twitter’s creative director, Doug Bowman, reflects that the three circles represents that your networks, interests and ideas connect with peers and friends like the three overlapping circles. Why the bird? Because, whether soaring high above the earth to take in a broad view, or flocking with other birds to achieve a common purpose, a bird in flight is the ultimate representation of freedom, hope and limitless possibility.
If you’re looking for more information, there are excellent on-line guides to Twitter: CNET’s Newbie’s Guide to Twitter; also, The Ultimate Guide for Everything Twitter.