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What’s the Point of Twitter?

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Twitter LogoWhen Twitter was conceptualized and conceived in mid 2006, it was meant to be a micro-update service used internally by its creators’ team. This was how the public initially used the service—as a microblogging or lifestreaming application. You are asked to post an answer to the question “what are you doing right now?” All these are supposed to be written within a limit of 140 characters or less. Most people did just this: instead of post lengthy blog articles, they appreciated how they can share their daily goings on with their network of friends.

So basically, Twitter is supposed to be a lifestream of “status” messages. What did you eat for breakfast? What are you having this lunchtime? How bad is the traffic? Is your boss bearing down on you again? You can post about all these and more. One advantage is that you can also use Twitter over a mobile network via SMS. That’s why messages are limited to 140 characters—to fit within the SMS limit of 160 characters.

Twitter is not just about shouting out, but also about networking. There are two types of connections on Twitter: one type consists of your friends, and another consists of your followers. Friends are members whom you follow. This means their “tweets” or updates appear on your home page. Followers are people who follow you, but may not necessarily be followed by you. They are able to read your tweets, but you don’t necessarily have to view them in your timeline unless their messages are addressed to you.

Twitter also allows for a private and a public network. You can secure your tweets such that your updates only appear to those who are in your friends list.

With its increased popularity, Twitter has evolved and even spun off to bigger applications. It’s now being used as a news update service, a tool for live search, a research instrument for marketers, and even political action. Twitter has opened up its API, so that third parties can create software and services over Twitter.

For instance, software like TweetDeck displays multiple columns of tweets, so that a user can monitor posts from all over the world that mention keywords that he or she searches for. News outfits like CNN are starting to monitor feeds and queries to try to be abreast of important news worldwide that might be covered by the people involved.

Another example is twitQA, an answer app based on Twitter that’s similar to Yahoo! Answers.

Aside from being a web application itself, Twitter has also evolved as a platform upon which third parties can build their own services. For example, Twitter features its own “trending” topics, which are basically the top ten keywords that are being mentioned at any given time. This can help businesses, marketers, and individuals determine the hotly discussed things at the moment. Some developers have built role playing games that run on Twitter. Business-oriented application authors have started using Twitter’s trending data to research brand awareness and preference.

Apart from the lifestreaming aspect, Twitter has also grown to be a preferred communication device for its users. The service supports replies (in which the recipient’s username is prepended with an @ sign), which let people converse with each other in public much like a chatroom. There are also direct messages, which are private in nature. While it’s true that people can carry a conversation elsewhere in chatrooms or instant messaging, there is value in talking on Twitter because your set of friends and followers can also see the discussion and can pitch in their own contributions.

And then of course, there are the various client-side software that are built on the platform. Many of these run on mobile devices, like the iPhone and Symbian, and let users update and read tweets while on the go, but with better user interfaces than simply using SMS.

Twitter, in its basic form is essentially a microblogging application that enables users to share short posts and messages with each other. But with extensibility and expandability offered by its API, Twitter has now grown into a big platform for running messaging, collaboration and research applications.

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Posted on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

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