How did Twitter revolutionize online communications?

Twitter is Just a Tool

The many thousands of third-party Twitter apps are proof of the devotion that many people have to this service.
The many thousands of third-party Twitter apps are proof of the devotion that many people have to this service.
screenshot by Nathan Chandler

In an age where social media Web sites overwhelm users with bells and whistles, Twitter's simplicity is alluring. It doesn't attempt to be all things social to all people. Instead, it's just a basic Internet tool that happens to work very well for its intended purposes. And it's how people have learned to leverage this malleable tool that makes it so fascinating.

One example is the overload of available third-party Twitter apps. There are thousands of apps, all created for the purpose of making Twitter more convenient and more powerful. TweetDeck compiles tweets on all of the topics you're following in an easy-to-read format. TweetCaster provides advanced search options, fun photo filters and blocking features that enhance your Twitter experience in many ways. And these are just for starters.

Aside from discrete apps, users have affected Twitter's basic functionality. It was users who conceived the idea of using the @ symbol when replying to specific people. For example, if Lady Gaga loves one comment by a fan, she can call out that person by posting a Tweet that includes the fan's user name, preceded by the @ symbol. In doing so, Twitter becomes less about broadcasting and more about conversation.

Hashtag sorting -- which wasn't originally intended by Twitter's developers -- is another user-driven innovation. When you post a Tweet, you can include a hashtag, followed by a label of sorts, which gives the Tweet context. For example, "The weather is perfect again today! #sunny #california".

Hashtags make Twitter more searchable. Whether of import or inane, you can easily find relevant Tweets by using hashtags. Want information on the Arab Spring? Just search for hashtags such as #egypt or #protest to sort Twitter's glut of information.

User interactivity really does shape Twitter. It's a living, breathing digital organism for messaging and searching. Keep reading to discover the other factors that make Twitter so relevant to today's Internet.