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Twitter: What Is It?


Twitter: What Is It?


Twitter is a mini-blogging platform that you can use to send messages of 140 characters or less to family, friends, or just the general Web community at large. Twitter was launched in 2006 and boasts over 140 million users at the time of this writing, collectively sending millions of messages, called "tweets", every day.

Getting Started

Twitter requires initial registration (free), using your name and email address. Once verified, users may personalize their profiles using onsite design tools, connect with other users already using the service, and utilize their existing email contact lists for Twitter members.

Terms to Know

  • Tweet: Every message sent using Twitter is called a "tweet".
  • Hashtag: A simple way to organize content around a certain topic, i.e., #followfriday.
  • Following and Followers: Subscribing to another user's content is called "following". If you are subscribed to someone, you are their "follower".
  • RT: An acronym standing for "retweet"; basically, forwarding something from another usr to your own followers.
  • Lists: Groups of users sorted by occupation, interest, or content.
  • Trending topics: Content made popular by number of tweets, usually delineated by a hashtag. For example, the World Cup could be a trending topic, recognized by this hashtag: #worldcup. Users talking about this topic would attach that hashtag to their tweets in order to boost popularity and be included in the greater conversation.


There are many different uses for Twitter. Some of the most common are:
  • Instant updates. For instance, the Los Angeles Fire Department uses Twitter to keep the community apprised of fire emergences (LAFD).
  • News. You can get up to the minute news updates from many news agencies; for instance, Sky News (SkyNews).
  • Friends and family. The majority of Twitter users use it to keep friends and family apprised of what they're doing at any given moment.

Twitter has been instrumental in organizing civil protests and events all over the world, most notably in countries that have limited access to the Internet. Breaking news and emergency communication are well-suited for Twitter's instant, real-time structure. It's also used as a communication channel alongside more traditional media services, such as newspapers, television, and magazines.

Impact on the Web

Twitter has become an extremely popular way to share content, communicate, and broadcast information. Results from Twitter are included in many major search engines, enabling Web searchers to find real-time information on top of their search queries. Although Twitter does have its share of detractors who believe that the microblogging service serves no useful purpose, it does seem to be a powerful force in how we use the Internet at this time in history.

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