Twitter is a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., which offers a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user's profile page. Tweets are publicly visible by default; however, senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Users may subscribe to other users' tweets – this is known as following and subscribers are known as followers.
All users can send and receive tweets 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. The website is based in San Francisco, California. Twitter also has servers and offices in San Antonio, Texas; and Boston, Massachusetts. Twitter, Inc. was originally incorporated in California, but as of 2007 is incorporated in the jurisdiction of Delaware.
Since its creation in March 2006, and its launch in July 2006, by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained popularity worldwide and is estimated to have 190 million users, generating 65 million tweets a day and handling over 800,000 search queries per day. It is sometimes described as the "SMS of the Internet".
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) 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."