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What is Twitter?

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by Seth Shapiro

Twitter is the mutt of all that is social. A cross between an instant messenger, e-mail client, and a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter is a fast paced environment. On Twitter, users post 140 character updates (called “tweets”) quickly and (sometimes) persistently to their Twitter page for others to view and comment on. Users can become followers of other Twitter contributors; followers are sent tweets whenever their “tweeter” (someone who uses Twitter) updates his or her page.

Similar to other social networking sites, membership is free and the service relies solely on its users to create content and refer friends. There are myriad uses for the service and the information generated by users.  Twitter may be used by a small group of friends to keep each other updated of their physical location or be useful in a college setting to find someone else looking for a lunch date. The availability of multiple ways to update Twitter increases its accuracy.  Users can broadcast tweets from the Twitter Web site, text message from any SMS capable cell phone, or through outside applications such as DSTwitter (which allows updates from the Nintendo DS gaming console).

Twitter has proven itself effective in fields its creator Jack Dorsey never envisioned. Taking on social networking giants such as Facebook, Twitter offers something Facebook cannot: a fast paced environment where information can be shared almost instantly.  Facebook has, however, attempted to mimic Twitter with its recent redesign that has placed more emphasis on a user’s activity stream.  Using Twitter, people have reported that they are able to ask for information, ranging from a restaurant recommendation to a cure for the hiccups, and get responses immediately. Those with many followers could draw attention to a new hip gadget or poll users on their ideas of a new business proposal (with limited information of course).  Additional business uses include running searches through the tweets that are being broadcast to track conversations, gather information about products and identify trends.

The membership in Twitter may number as many as five million (it does not disclose such figures). If a company could convert a small percentage, say 4% into followers, it would have the ability to communicate with 20,000 people through tweets. Twitter makes it very easy for a company to have a dialog with its customers and business partners.

Twitter may have originally been designed to update friends and family on one’s whereabouts (founder Jack Dorsey first called the system “Status”); however, with the extended availability to tweet and to be delivered daily updates of those you follow, Twitter has become much more. It is a pool of information that anyone with a computer, mobile phone, or even a Nintendo DS has access too. Friends may use it to meet for lunch, singles may use it to find others, and businesses may use it as a means to contact those they have not yet touched.

Till my next “tweet.”

Seth Shapiro is an analyst at Basex.  This is his first Analyst Opinion.