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The rise of twitter

Micro-blogging is the latest fad in the online world, with Twitter gaining in popularity. What is it all about?

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: April 19, 2009

I am a twitter addict and I say so with some conviction. I joined the micro-blogging service sometime last year and since then, have been regularly updating my status on Twitter, (popularly called ‘Tweeting’) perhaps more often than I should. If you follow my Twitter feed, you could actually find out what I am doing, where I am travelling and what I am writing.

So, what exactly is Twitter?
In short, it is an online service that allows people to post 140-character-long updates, opinions and links to other stories, blogs or sites on the Internet, which can be read by all and sundry.

Unlike social networking services such as Facebook (whose founder Mark Zuckerberg is also on Twitter), you do not need anybody’s approval to follow their tweets. Likewise, anyone can follow your tweets. From US President Barack Obama, whose technology team used Twitter to send out updates to all his supporters, to British comedian and actor Stephen Fry, whose witty updates are immensely readable—everyone is tweeting these days.

The organisation founded by Jack Dorsey, which has a mere 34 employees, boasts close to 10 million users and, unlike several other web services, has enough money to last a long time. It is already the third-most popular social network site in the world after Facebook and MySpace. Zuckerberg acknowledged that one of the inspirations for the recent (and seemingly unpopular) redesign of Facebook was to counter Twitter’s rising popularity. Twitter is gaining popularity in India as well, where, it actually has a short-code number where users can send and receive SMS updates once they register on the website.

During events such as the Mumbai attacks, many people kept abreast of the situation using Twitter and its search function. Twitter has also spawned a variety of services. Some like TinyURL help Twitter users reduce the length of long websites so that they can stay under the 140 character limit. Others such as TwitPic allow people to share images.

But why does everybody wish to share everything about their lives so openly? The increased openness enabled by the Internet might be a reason, but I find it fun. Of course, another big plus is that tweeting is so easy from the mobile, using Twitter’s mobile interface at m.twitter.com. If I get stuck in a traffic jam, I just post it to Twitter. The concept of privacy in the mobile age has taken a hammering, and being on Twitter, perhaps, helps us embrace this new openness. After all, who needs the paparazzi when you have Twitter—just check out Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and P. Diddy’s Twitter pages.

How to use twitter
You need to sign up for an account on www.twitter.com. After choosing a username, all you have to do is fill up the box you see on your Twitter page with 140 characters or less.

It could be about what you are doing or just thoughts and opinions. Each update is called a ‘Tweet’. You could use the search function at search.twitter.com to find your friends or even celebrities on Twitter.

You can protect your updates or even lock them so that people can’t ‘Retweet’ them. Twitter’s biggest plus is that it is relatively open. You can reply to anybody on Twitter and also send ‘direct messages’ (that is private messages) to other Twitter users who follow you.

Twitter allows people to post updates, opinions and links to other stories, blogs or sites on the Internet, which can be read by all and sundry.


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