"Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets.
Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers.
Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. While the service costs nothing to use, accessing it through SMS may incur phone service provider fees.
Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained notability and popularity worldwide. It is sometimes described as the "SMS of the Internet" since the use of Twitter's application programming interface for sending and receiving short text messages by other applications often eclipses the direct use of Twitter.
Twitter is ranked as one of the 50 most popular websites worldwide by Alexa's web traffic analysis. Although estimates of the number of daily users vary because the company does not release the number of active accounts, a February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranked Twitter as the third most used social network based on their count of 6 million unique monthly visitors and 55 million monthly visits.
In March 2009, a Nielsen.com blog ranked Twitter as the fastest-growing site in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had a monthly growth of 1,382 percent, Zimbio of 240 percent, followed by Facebook with an increase of 228 percent. However, only 40 percent of Twitter's users are retained.
Twitter began in a "daylong brainstorming session" that was held by board members of the podcasting company Odeo in an attempt to break out of a creative slump. At that meeting Jack Dorsey introduced the idea of an individual using an SMS service to communicate with a small group, a concept partly inspired by the SMS group messaging service TXTMob.
The working name was just "Status" for a while. It actually didn’t have a name. We were trying to name it, and mobile was a big aspect of the product early on ... We liked the SMS aspect, and how you could update from anywhere and receive from anywhere.
- We wanted to capture that in the name — we wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket. It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word "twitch," because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But "twitch" is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word "twitter," and it was just perfect. The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was. (Jack Dorsey)
The original product name or codename for the service was twttr, inspired by Flickr and the fact that American SMS short codes are five characters. The developers initially experimented with "10958″ as a short code, though later changed it to "40404″ for "ease of use and memorability." Work on the project started on March 21, 2006, when Dorsey published the first Twitter message at 12:50 PM Pacific Standard Time (PST): "just setting up my twttr".
The first Twitter prototype was used as an internal service for Odeo employees, later launching publicly into a full-scale version in July 2006. In October 2006, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Dorsey and other members of Odeo formed Obvious Corporation and acquired Odeo and all of its assets—including Odeo.com and Twitter.com—from the investors and other shareholders. Twitter later spun off into its own company in April 2007.
The tipping point for Twitter's popularity was the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. During the event usage went from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000.
"The Twitter people cleverly placed two 60-inch plasma screens in the conference hallways, exclusively streaming Twitter messages," remarked Newsweek's Steven Levy. "Hundreds of conference-goers kept tabs on each other via constant twitters. Panelists and speakers mentioned the service, and the bloggers in attendance touted it.
Soon everyone was buzzing and posting about this new thing that was sort of instant messaging and sort of blogging and maybe even a bit of sending a stream of telegrams."
Reaction at the festival was overwhelmingly positive. Laughing Squid blogger Scott Beale said Twitter "absolutely rul[ed]" SXSW. Social software researcher Danah Boyd said Twitter "own[ed]" the festival. Twitter staff accepted their prize for the festival's Web Award with the remark "we'd like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!"
In total, Twitter has raised over US$57 million from venture capitalists. The exact amounts of funding have not been publicly released. Twitter's first round of funding was for an undisclosed amount that is rumored to have been between $1 million and $5 million. Its B round of funding in 2008 was for $22 million and its C round of funding in 2009 was for $35 million from Institutional Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital along with an undisclosed amount from other investors including Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. Twitter is backed by Union Square Ventures, Digital Garage, Spark Capital, and Bezos Expeditions.
The Industry Standard has remarked that Twitter's long-term viability is limited by a lack of revenue. Twitter board member Todd Chaffee forecast that the company could make money from e-commerce nothing that many users may want to buy items directly from Twitter since they already use it to get product recommendations and since companies already use it to promote products.
Some of Twitter's documents covering revenue and user growth were published on TechCrunch after they were retrieved by a hacker. These contained internal projections that in 2009 they would have revenues of $400,000 in the third quarter (Q3) and $4 million in the fourth quarter (Q4) along with 25 million users at the end of the year. The projections for the end of 2013 were $1.54 billion in revenue, $111 million in net earnings, and 1 billion users. No information about how Twitter plans to achieve those numbers has been published. Biz Stone published a blog post suggesting legal action for revealing the details was a possibility."
See also: Wikipedia and a list of Twitter services and applications