Since 2007, people in increasing numbers have been sending messages of 140 characters or less to people in their local area, and around the world.
But what is this Twitter phenomenon, and why is it so popular?
Described as a mircoblogging website, Twitter allows users to send messages - known as ‘Tweets’ - to people, providing they are 140 characters or less. Users must have a unique username, which are all prefixed with the ‘@’ symbol.
People can choose to follow other users to see their tweets. These tweets can be ‘favourited’, where they can be seen in a list at any time, or ‘retweeted’, whereby something someone else tweeted appears on another timeline. Twitter also lets users decide whether they want their tweets seen by everyone (a public profile), or only by people that request to follow them (a private profile). In either case, private messages can be sent to those who are being followed, and follow back.
When users log in a list of tweets of everyone they follow in chronological order will be seen. This is called a ‘timeline’. A person can also tweet another user by typing their username into the tweet box, prefixed with the ‘@’ symbol. Pictures can be added to tweets with its own inbuilt uploader, and links can be added to tweets.
Users can add a hashtag (#) to words. If many people add a hashtag to the same word, or words around the same time it will then ‘trend’ (see the next subheading). Additionally, if a word with a hashtag is clicked, then all tweets from other users containing the same hashtag are brought up. If more than one word was to be hashtagged, then it would be typed with no spaces, e.g. #WorldCup2014. Punctuation and apostrophes are not supported by the hashtag. Users normally hashtag words to create conversations, or to contribute to conversations about events, such as TV programmes or international news events.
As previously mentioned, when many users hashtag a particular word, or phrase, it will begin to trend. Trending topics are a great way to find out what everyone is tweeting about. Topics that trend can range from a passing of a celebrity, to TV programmes, to political events. Twitter allows users to see trending topics on a worldwide or city scale.
Twitter is now being used by every industry. Politicians use it to interact with constituents. Campaingers use it to rally support for campaigns. Musicians use it to interact with fans, and build their fanbase. Journalists use Twitter to break news, and also to find it. Celebrities (real celebrity accounts have a blue tick by their name) use it to debunk gossip magazine stories, and announce what they are up to.
Twitter is a simple idea that gets people communicating in a short, effective way. With over 500million tweets sent per day, it really is the internet’s biggest conversation.