Twitter: An Overview

Twitter is a new social web-based application that allows to tell your friends what you're doing at any given moment, and for you to read what your friends are doing at any given moment. It is text-based, and you can only have 140 characters in each "tweet", as it's called by its makers. I know this sounds weird probably, or perhaps invasive, but, it's completely voluntary and what you divulge is your business.

Here are some highlights of this new web application:

  • It's a cool, free as in beer, service
  • You can update/receive your tweets from: the Twitter page, your mobile phone, third party desktop applications like Twitterific (which is what I use)
  • You can make your own app that does these things by using the API
  • You can subscribe to you and your friends tweets via RSS using your favorite RSS reader
  • You can add your location to any tweet by putting in "loc: [zipcode]" in the beginning of the tweet
  • You can choose to have your tweets be part of the public timeline, or to have only friends be able to see them

This application is particularly interesting to me because I actually heard about it sometime before it become as popular as it is now. I heard about it on a live recording of the podcast "this Week in Tech". When they took questions and such from the audience, a lady commented to the TWIT crew that she was "twittering". Leo Laporte hadn't heard of it yet, and neither had I. I dismissed it and moved on, it was the first I head of it as well. (Readers, if you know which twit episode I'm talking about, leave a comment and let me know. -Thanks!)

Now several months later this is a super fun application to use, and it's even got quite a bit of media coverage:

But with all of this, I agree with Muhammad Saleem, in that there are some things you should be aware of when sending and receiving tweets, especially on your mobile phone. However, this is nothing new with the internet, and especially all of the Web 2.0 companies out there using mobile texting in their applications.

The way I use the application is that I turn off cell phone updates, although I do put in my cell number so that I can tweet remotely when I'm not in front of a computer (you can turn updates on and off from your phone by texting Twitter ON or OFF). I use Adium as my instant messaging client on my mac, and I use the script for Adium simply called, TwitterAdium. It updates my away message with my tweet whenever I post a new tweet. So my friends on my IM lists are given a much more dynamic update, and I only have to update in one place.

The Twitter fan wiki shows some really cool mash-ups of the Twitter data using the API, here are some of my favorites:

So you may not "like it" or "get it" right away, but I can assure you, we'll see someone snatch up Twitter in the near future. It's probably one of the largest Ruby on Rails sites out there, and they had some shaky server issues when they were nearly doubling every day. And who wouldn't have scalability issues when you become that popular?

I explained it once to my friends (see Robert Scoble explaining it with some friends), and I think they got it, but I hope this post sheds some more light on the phenomenon that has become Twitter. It's currently the new hottness.