Some call it an online social networking site, microblogging or maybe even public text messaging -- it can't be pinned down because there's really nothing else like it. Twitter is a free way for friends and strangers to send and receive short messages (140 characters max) via the Twitter Web site, on a mobile device or with instant messaging. Users are called "twitterers" and the messages they send are called "tweets."
More people are using Twitter than you may think. The most recent stats from Nielsen Online report Twitter usage grew 1,382 percent from February 2008 to February 2009, and more than 7 million new U.S. users signed up in February alone [source: Ostrow]. Even with such impressive numbers, Twitter's audience retention rate is at about 40 percent [source: Wayne].
With such interest in Twitter, it's no surprise there are various myths swirling around about it. Who's perpetuating them? The media, twitterers, maybe even you. We're going to look at five of the big ones here.
Of course Twitter is status updates. The very thing it asks of you when you use it is, "What are you doing?" Naturally, most people just answer that question.
Twitter, however, is what you make it. It is status updates. It's also searching (Twitter Search), photo sharing, mashups (a combination of Twitter data with information from another Web site such as a news organization), open API projects (TwitPic, for photo sharing, was one of the first), hashtags (a tag appended to a tweet that makes it searchable by that tag) and a marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses.
Yes, celebrities have a lot of followers. But isn't that true outside of Twitter as well? As of publication, Ashton Kutcher has 2,286,717 followers on Twitter. That's more than CNN Breaking News (1,866,804 followers) and Twitter (1,485,347 followers).
When you sign up for Twitter, anyone can read your tweets and choose to follow you (or not). If it's a lot of followers you're looking for, you'll need to work for it. Fill out the bio, share photos, use hashtags and keep on tweeting. Tweet about what you love, not what you think your followers want to hear. They're following you because they find you interesting, not a fake you. Retweeting (RT) will also help spread your name around.
Some Twitter users don't use the tool this way and choose to keep their tweets private. With a private account, you select who may or may not read your tweets; it's sort of a velvet rope you use to create your own private twitter feed. Who says a lot of followers is a good thing, anyway? Shouldn't it be quality over quantity?
A right way or a wrong way to use Twitter seems like saying there's a right or wrong way to have a conversation. There are social rules, yes, but no one can tell you how you should or shouldn't use a product, and with millions of tweets per day, people are bound to use Twitter any way that works for them.
Take for example following and followers. It's not rude if you don't read every tweet your followers send. The more followers you have (hundreds, thousands) the more difficult this becomes. It's also not rude if you don't follow everyone who chooses to follow you. Maybe you do, maybe you don't -- it depends if you find someone's twitter feed interesting or not.
Well, yes, this is actually true, though it's not such a bad thing. How and when will it actually earn any money? Twitter's venture capitalists aren't worried about it yet. To hear the co-founders and investors tell it, Twitter's emphasis right now is on building an audience and the revenue streams will come second to that -- an "if you build it they will come" (or "pay" in this case) sort of scenario.
And that myth that Twitter will be acquired? Twitter has had courting parties. In 2008, Facebook expressed interest in acquiring Twitter for $500 million of its stock plus a cash component but was turned down. In 2009, rumors swirled that Google would acquire Twitter. Co-founder Biz Stone, however, posted on the Twitter blog that the "goal is to build a profitable, independent company and we're just getting started" [source: Twitter Blog].
Sure, sometimes you might want to let everyone know about how you're standing in line to get coffee, but Twitter has become what Time calls a "medium of the movement," growing as an important communication tool and way to quickly network people and information. Twitter has a few things in its favor to make it so. It's free and it's available on more than one mobile platform, including the Internet, instant messaging and SMS. This combination has sparked users to go beyond the coffee talk.
In 2009, for example, Iranians used Twitter to organize government protests -- and in 2008, twitterers kept the world updated on the attacks in Mumbai. They did so by creating searchable tags, such as the hashtag #Mumbai, on Twitter to get the word out around the world.
Find out more about Twitter on the next page.
There are plenty of stories surrounding Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. See these five myths about Mark Zuckerberg to find out fact from fiction.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Boutin, Paul. "All You Need to Know to Twitter." New York Times. 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/technology/personaltech/07basics.html?_r=2
- Grossman, Lev. "Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement." Time. 2009. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1905125,00.html?cnn=yes
- Gustin, Sam. "Twitter's Business Model? Well, Ummmm..." Wired. 2008. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/news/2008/08/portfolio_0804
- McCracken, Harry. "Ten Twitter Mythconceptions." Technologizer. 2009. http://technologizer.com/2009/05/11/ten-twitter-mythconceptions/
- Miller, Claire Cain. "The Obsession With Twitter's Business Model." New York Times. 2009. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/the-twitterverses-obsession-with-twitters-business-model/?ref=technology
- Ostrow, Adam. "Twitter Now Growing at a Staggering 1,382 Percent." Mashable. http://mashable.com/2009/03/16/twitter-growth-rate-versus-facebook/
- Perez, Juan Carlos. "Google Acquisition Rumors Reflect Twitter's Importance." PC World. 2009. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/162586/google_acquisition_rumors_reflect_twitters_importance.html
- Pleming, Sue. "U.S. State Department speaks to Twitter over Iran." Reuters. 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssTechMediaTelecomNews/idUSWBT01137420090616
- Rose, Kevin. "Kevin Rose: 10 Ways to Increase Your Twitter Followers." TechCrunch. 2009. http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/25/kevin-rose-10-ways-to-increase-your-twitter-followers/
- Schindlholzer, Bernhard. "Five Use Cases to Leverage Twitter for your Business." The Customer Experience Labs. 2009. http://www.customer-experience-labs.com/2009/06/11/five-use-cases-to-leverage-twitter-for-your-business/
- Shachtman, Noah. "Mumbai Attack Aftermath Detailed, Tweet by Tweet." Wired. 2008. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/11/first-hand-acco/#previouspost
- Snyder, Chris. "Twitter Could 'Go for Years' Without Earning a Dime, Investor Says." Wired.com. 2009. http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/02/twitter-still-l/
- Twitter Blog. http://blog.twitter.com/
- "Twitter News." The New York Times. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/twitter/index.html
- Wayne, Teddy. "Twitter's Trouble With Repeat Users." New York Times. 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/technology/internet/11drill.html?_r=1