By: Robert Bono
As social networks go, Twitter is even younger than the rest of the pack. Currently the world’s fastest-growing social network, Twitter is the brainchild of three men: Evan Williams, the founder of blogging platform Blogger, Biz Stone, partial creator of platforms like Blogger and Xanga, and Jack Dorsey, whose technical skills and experience provided the foundation for Twitter’s architecture.
&Twitter was conceptualized and created in a very short period of time; based on a single sketch and a day-long brainstorm session at Podcasting company Odeo, where all three Twitter co-founders worked. Development took a short two weeks, and Jack Dorsey made the first “tweet”,” or Twitter message, in March of 2006. Initially used as an internal Odeo communication system, Twitter launched publicly in July of that year. By April of 2007, Stone, Dorsey and Williams had formed their own company, bought out Odeo and all of its assets, including Twitter, and begun to focus their attentions solely on what would come to be known as “microblogging.”
On its surface, Twitter is a remarkably simple platform, comprised solely of status updates, similar to those that users make on Facebook, in Instant Messaging clients, and on other social networks. Unlike other social networks, however, those status updates, or “tweets” are the sum total of what users can do on Twitter. When users want to share photos, they “tweet” a link to the photo, rather than actually upload that photo directly to the Twitter website. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, since Twitter’s original conception revolved around the idea of the service being accessible via SMS text messages, making the service accessible to almost anyone with a mobile phone.
In the years that have followed, Twitter has become wildly popular with both celebrities and normal folks, finding applications covering the full spectrum from personal use to business. Companies use Twitter to provide a client-facing touch-point that has a truly unique, “human” feel to it. Since Dell introduced Twitter-based promotions, for example, the PC manufacturer has made millions – without ever spending a penny. Comcast’s “Comcast Cares” Twitter account has helped to salvage the company’s reputation for terrible customer service. Kogi BBQ, a Los Angeles-based Korean Barbecue cart whose customers line up around the block, broadcasts its schedule and location via Twitter.
When it comes to personal use, there’s almost no limit to the ways that people find to use the microblogging platform. As opposed to other social networks, where you strengthen your ties with your real-world friends, Twitter encourages users to network with perfect strangers – strangers you may actually have more in common with than real-world friends. Every Twitter user has “followers” – people who subscribe to receive that user’s tweets, and “friends” – people who have a reciprocal following relationship, and each receive each other’s tweets. Twitter users tend to cluster around particular topics, creating a mesh of interconnected users who read and respond to each other’s tweets around the clock.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Twitter is the fact that a social network consisting of short, 140-character bursts of information can’t begin to be described in such a compressed space. You’ll really have to try Twitter out yourself to truly understand what it’s all about.