What Is Twitter All About?

by Erik Devaney

Twitter is an online social networking service that software architect Jack Dorsey created and launched in 2006. As of 2011, the service, which Twitter Inc. owns and operates, has more than 190 million members and is still gaining in worldwide popularity. While the overarching purpose or point of Twitter may vary based on the opinions of Twitter members, the official Twitter website notes that the service is for "friends, family and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages."


The primary form of communication on Twitter is the Tweet, which is a micro-blog or small message that users can post to the network. All tweets appear on the Twitter network in chronological order and can contain 140 characters or less. Apart from containing letters, numbers and symbols, such as @ or #, Tweets can also include links to external websites. These links appear in shortened or abbreviated formats using Twitter's universal resource locator, or URL, shortening tool. While Twitter prompts community members to answer the question, "What are you doing?" with their Tweets, Tweets also allow members to discuss popular topics; to share multimedia, like music, photos, videos and blogs, and to provide real-time accounts of events such as sporting matches, natural disasters and even political revolutions. A Twitter member can also Tweet a copy of another person's Tweet, which is known as re-Tweeting.

Using @ And #

In Twitter lexicon, the symbols @ and # refer to at-replies and hash-tags respectively. An at-reply indicates that a Tweet is targeted at a specific member of the Twitter community. For example, if a Twitter member wants to publicly recommend -- or otherwise declare something about -- fellow Twitter-member JohnSmith, he can include "@JohnSmith" in a Tweet. In contrast, the use of a hash-tag allows a Tweet to pertain to a specific topic, as opposed to a specific Twitter member. For example, by including "#football" in a Tweet about a football game, the Tweet will be visible to members searching the "football" hash-tag.


When one member follows another member on Twitter, the former is selecting to receive the Twitter updates of the latter. So each time the latter member Tweets, the former member will be able to read those Tweets in a chronological list or Twitter-feed. Through following, members can show that they are fans of -- or show their allegiance to -- particular businesses, brands, celebrities, friends and other entities.

Being Followed

For many Twitter users, specifically those managing business Twitter accounts, attracting followers is of key importance. This is because increasing the number of followers increases the size of the audience that receives a member's Tweets.

Direct Messaging

Apart from sharing Tweets with the Twitter community, members can use Twitter to send personalized messages known as direct messages. Direct messages allow members to engage in private, email-like conversations, which do not become part of the searchable Twittersphere.

About the Author

Erik Devaney is a writing professional specializing in health and science topics. His work has been featured on various websites. Devaney attended McGill University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in humanistic studies.

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