Fact Checked

What is Twitter?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Twitter is an internet service launched in 2006, which has since become very popular among tech-savvy consumers, especially the youth market. The concept has since been integrated into a number of popular social networking services, notably MySpace and Facebook.

The basic premise of Twitter is to serve as a destination to find out what anyone is doing at any given moment. It is conceived of as a form of micro-blogging, where users can update the world as to their actions and location without posting a full blog entry. An update consists of only 140 characters, making it difficult to do anything other than give a bare bones assessment of what’s going on in the exact moment.

Users may send text messages to update their Twitter status.
Users may send text messages to update their Twitter status.

Users have an account with a status which they can update in many different ways. They can log into their account via a web browser and update it there, they can send a text massage to update their status, they can send an email, and they can use specialized web applications, such as one through Facebook, to seamlessly update their status. Users can also follow other users, so that those users’ updates are added to a list in their account, and they can choose to be notified of updates in a number of ways, including email, text message, or RSS feed.

Twitter caught on not long after its public launch, and within a month was being used widely within the tech-savvy circles of internet users. Many people update their status multiple times an hour, making it effectively a live-update as to what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and where they’re at. There has been some backlash to what is perceived by some as an over-connectedness, in which people feel a need to be always updating their status and always checking on others. Perhaps as a result of this backlash, or perhaps simply as a result of early adopters becoming more used to the service, fewer high-profile people seem to use Twitter with the same frequency they did near launch, instead posting updates every few hours or every day.

In the last year a number of businesses have also begun to use Twitter as a way of keeping consumers and industry buffs up to date on a minute by minute basis. Some large businesses, such as Jet Blue and Whole Foods, are prominent examples of business Twittering. Activists have also started to use it as an easy way to coordinate street actions. Government agencies have also adopted it as a way of disseminating information, including 10 Downing Street in the United Kingdom, and NASA in the United States.

Twitter groups also offer an opportunity for people to give live feedback on events as they are occurring. Twittering the 2008 Presidential Debates was widespread among political bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum, and offered up-to-the-second critique and analysis as the debates were underway.

In spite of some problems with uptime due to intense server loads, Twitter has survived its growing popularity. Although there are alternatives, the service is by far the most popular in English-speaking countries, and the company is attempting to create more local versions for non-English-speaking countries to compete with regional clones.

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Discussion Comments


I fail to see why it is important for people to announce to everyone what it is they are doing all the time. Talk about a bunch of attention hungry self indulgent idiots! Twitter is for people who feel the need to brag about everything going on in their lives to feel important. Stupidest site ever!


i like it.


twitter is way cool. it is also very safe. it's a great way to easily stay in touch, especially when you can update it from your computer, phone, etc.


Twitter is so very addictive. Like most people, I post messages that are mostly personal and only of any interest to friends and family. But I like to be able to write a short sentence about what I'm doing on a given day, and know that my mom can check it anytime.

There are quite a few actual celebrities on Twitter too, which can be a lot of fun. It really creates a sense of knowing what goes on behind the scenes when an actor tweets from the set, posts a photo, etc.

As much as I like Twitter, however, and I think it's a great way to encourage companies to be more responsive to customers, I don't need to hear certain news organizations continually asking viewers to tweet messages, or to display those messages on TV. If I want to know what people think about a topic, I'll do a search.

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    • Users may send text messages to update their Twitter status.
      By: Adam Radosavljevic
      Users may send text messages to update their Twitter status.