Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, informally known as "tweets", and images.
Twitter was created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey and launched that July. Twitter rapidly gained worldwide popularity, with 200 million users as of 2011, generating over 200 million tweets and handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day. It is sometimes described as the "SMS of the Internet."
Twitter Inc., the company that operates the service and associated website, is based in San Francisco, with additional servers and offices in San Antonio, Boston, and New York City.
Twitter's origins lie in a "daylong brainstorming session" held by board members of the podcasting company Odeo. Dorsey introduced the idea of an individual using an SMS service to communicate with a small group. The original project code name for the service was twttr, an idea that Williams later ascribed to Noah Glass, inspired by Flickr and the five-character length of American SMS short codes. The developers initially considered "10958" as a short code, but later changed it to "40404" for "ease of use and memorability." Work on the project started on March 21, 2006, when Dorsey published the first Twitter message at 9:50 PM Pacific Standard Time (PST): "just setting up my twttr".
"...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." – Jack Dorsey
The first Twitter prototype was used as an internal service for Odeo employees and the full version was introduced publicly on July 15, 2006. In October 2006, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Dorsey, and other members of Odeo formed Obvious Corporation and acquired Odeo and all of its assets–including Odeo.com
and Twitter.com–from the investors and shareholders. Williams fired Glass who was silent about his part in Twitter's startup until 2011. Twitter spun off into its own company in April 2007.
The tipping point for Twitter's popularity was the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. During the event, Twitter usage increased from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000. "The Twitter people cleverly placed two 60-inch plasma screens in the conference hallways, exclusively streaming Twitter messages," remarked 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."
Reaction at the festival was highly positive. Blogger Scott Beale said that Twitter "absolutely rul[ed]" SXSW. Social software researcher Danah Boyd said Twitter "own[ed]" the festival. Twitter staff received the festival's Web Award prize with the remark "we'd like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!"
The first unassisted off-Earth Twitter message was posted from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut T. J. Creamer on January 22, 2010. By late November 2010, an average of a dozen updates per day were posted on the astronauts' communal account, @NASA_Astronauts. NASA has also hosted over 25 "tweetups", events that provide guests with VIP access to NASA facilities and speakers with the goal of leveraging participants' social networks to further the outreach goals of NASA.
In August 2010, the company appointed Adam Bain as President of Revenue from News Corp.'s Fox Audience Network.
On September 14, 2010, Twitter launched a redesigned site including a new logo.[
As chief executive officer, Dorsey saw the startup through two rounds of capital funding by the venture capitalists who backed the company.
On October 16, 2008, Williams took over the role of CEO, and Dorsey became chairman of the board.
On October 4, 2010, Williams announced that he was stepping down as CEO. Dick Costolo, formerly Twitter's chief operating officer, became CEO. According to a Twitter blog, dated October 4, 2010, Williams was to stay[dated] with the company and "be completely focused on product strategy."[dated]
According to The New York Times, "Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Costolo forged a close relationship" when Williams was away. According to PC Magazine, Williams was "no longer involved in the day-to-day goings on at the company". He is focused on developing a new startup, but he became a member of Twitter's board of directors, and promised to "help in any way I can". Stone is still with Twitter but is working with AOL as an "advisor on volunteer efforts and philanthropy".
Dorsey rejoined Twitter in March 2011, as executive chairman focusing on product development. His time is split with Square where he is CEO, and whose offices are within walking distance of Twitter's in San Francisco.
In September 2011, Board Members and investors Fred Wilson and Binjan Sabet resigned from Twitter's Board of Directors.
The company experienced rapid growth. It had 400,000 tweets posted per quarter in 2007. This grew to 100 million tweets posted per quarter in 2008. In February 2010, Twitter users were sending 50 million tweets per day. By March 2010, the company recorded over 70,000 registered applications. As of June 2010, about 65 million tweets were posted each day, equaling about 750 tweets sent each second, according to Twitter. As noted on Compete.com
, Twitter moved up to the third-highest-ranking social networking site in January 2009 from its previous rank of twenty-second.
Twitter's usage spikes during prominent events. For example, a record was set during the 2010 FIFA World Cup when fans wrote 2,940 tweets per second in the thirty-second period after Japan scored against Cameroon on June 14, 2010. The record was broken again when 3,085 tweets per second were posted after the Los Angeles Lakers' victory in the 2010 NBA Finals on June 17, 2010, and then again at the close of Japan's victory over Denmark in the World Cup when users published 3,283 tweets per second. The current record was set during the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final between Japan and the United States, when 7,196 tweets per second were published. When American singer Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, Twitter servers crashed after users were updating their status to include the words "Michael Jackson" at a rate of 100,000 tweets per hour.
Twitter acquired application developer Atebits on April 11, 2010. Atebits had developed the Apple Design Award-winning Twitter client Tweetie for the Mac and iPhone. The application, now called "Twitter" and distributed free of charge, is the official Twitter client for the iPhone, iPad and Mac.
From September through October 2010, the company began rolling out "New Twitter", an entirely revamped edition of twitter.com
. Changes included the ability to see pictures and videos without leaving Twitter itself by clicking on individual tweets which contain links to images and clips from a variety of supported websites including YouTube, Flickr, as well as a complete overhaul of the interface, which shifted links such as '@mentions' and 'Retweets' above the Twitter stream, while 'Messages and 'Log Out' became accessible via a black bar at the very top of twitter.com
. As of November 1, 2010, the company confirmed that the "New Twitter experience" had been rolled out to all users.
On April 5, 2011, Twitter tested a new homepage, as well as phased out the "Old Twitter." However, a glitch came about after the page was launched, so the previous "retro" homepage was still in use until the issues were resolved. On April 20, 2011, the new homepage was reintroduced, though the "Switch to Old Twitter" option is still available to users.
Twitter has been compared to a web-based Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client.
Tweets are publicly visible by default; however, senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Users can tweet via the Twitter website, compatible external applications (such as for smartphones), or by Short Message Service (SMS) available in certain countries. While the service is free, accessing it through SMS may incur phone service provider fees.
Users may subscribe to other users' tweets – this is known as following and subscribers are known as followers or tweeps (Twitter + peeps).
Twitter allows users the ability to update their profile by using their mobile phone either by text messaging or by apps released for certain smartphones / tablets.
In a 2009 Time essay, technology author Steven Johnson described the basic mechanics of Twitter as "remarkably simple":
As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers. When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user's tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page. If you follow 20 people, you'll see a mix of tweets scrolling down the page: breakfast-cereal updates, interesting new links, music recommendations, even musings on the future of education.
In June 2008, Twitter launched a verification program, allowing celebrities to get their accounts verified. Originally intended to help users verify which celebrity accounts were created by the celebrities themselves (and therefore are not fake), they have since been used to verify accounts of businesses and accounts for public figures who may not actually tweet but still wish to maintain control over the account that bears their name - for example, the Dalai Lama. Verified accounts can identified by a white check in a blue background, known as a verification badge, next to the user's full name, on the profile itself or next to the name in search results.
Users can group posts together by topic or type by use of hashtags – words or phrases prefixed with a "#" sign. Similarly, the "@" sign followed by a username is used for mentioning or replying to other users. To repost a message from another Twitter user, and share it with one's own followers, the retweet function is symbolized by "RT" in the message.
In late 2009, the "Twitter Lists" feature was added, making it possible for users to follow (as well as mention and reply to) ad-hoc lists of authors instead of individual authors.
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 on the Vodafone, O2 and Orange networks. In India, since Twitter only supports tweets from Bharti Airtel, an alternative platform called smsTweet was set up by a user to work on all networks. A similar platform called GladlyCast exists for mobile phone users in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The messages were initially set to 140-character limit for compatibility with SMS messaging, introducing the shorthand notation and slang commonly used in SMS messages. The 140-character limit has also increased the usage of URL shortening services such as bit.ly, goo.gl, and tr.im, and content-hosting services, such as Twitpic, memozu.com
and NotePub to accommodate multimedia content and text longer than 140 characters. Twitter uses bit.ly for automatic shortening of all URLs posted on its website.
San Antonio-based market-research firm Pear Analytics analyzed 2,000 tweets (originating from the US and in English) over a two-week period in August 2009 from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM (CST) and separated them into six categories:
Pointless babble – 40%
Conversational – 38%
Pass-along value – 9%
Self-promotion – 6%
Spam – 4%
News – 4%
Social networking researcher Danah Boyd responded to the Pear Analytics survey by arguing that what the Pear researchers labelled "pointless babble" is better characterized as "social grooming" and/or "peripheral awareness" (which she explains as persons "want[ing] to know what the people around them are thinking and doing and feeling, even when co-presence isn’t viable").
Twitter is ranked as one of the ten-most-visited websites worldwide by Alexa's web traffic analysis. Daily user estimates vary as the company does not publish statistics on active accounts. A February 2009 Compete.com
blog entry ranked Twitter as the third most used social network based on their count of 6 million unique monthly visitors and 55 million monthly visits. In March 2009, a Nielsen.com
blog ranked Twitter as the fastest-growing website in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had annual growth of 1,382 percent, increasing from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009. It was followed by Zimbio with a 240 percent increase, and Facebook with a 228 percent increase. However, Twitter has a user retention rate of forty percent.
Adding and following content
There are numerous tools for adding content, monitoring content and conversations including Tweetdeck, Salesforce.com
, HootSuite, and Twitterfeed. Less than half of tweets are posted using the web user interface with most users using third-party applications (based on analysis of 500 million tweets by Sysomos).
As of August 31, 2010, third-party Twitter applications are required to use OAuth, an authentication method that does not require users to enter their password into the authenticating application. Previously, the OAuth authentication method was optional, it is now compulsory and the user-name/password authentication method has been made redundant and is no longer functional. Twitter stated that the move to OAuth will mean "increased security and a better experience.