Twitter - America's political conscience

Bambi Francisco Roizen · October 3, 2008 · Short URL:

Tweets provide the pulse of the elections

 I started watching the debate at a bar in Oakland airport, as I waited for my flight to Las Vegas. Prior to the debate, it seemed many of the patrons expected a stunning gaffe out of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. “This is going to be a joke,” I heard one beer-drinking customer say to another.

Turns out, she performed just fine. In fact, she exceeded expectations, according to a CNN Poll. And, in Fox New's focus group, Palin was called the winner. 

The Wall Street Journal also gave Palin a good review, which is probably not surprising coming from the conservative paper.

"The Alaska Governor has faced two major campaign challenges -- her acceptance speech and last night's debate -- and each time she's shown herself worthy of the national stage. Mrs. Palin couldn't match Mr. Biden's fluency on Bosnia or Darfur last night, but not too long ago neither could Barack Obama. The Republican nominee more than held her own on foreign policy in general, and in our view won on points at least on Iraq and Afghanistan... Mr. McCain can nonetheless thank Mrs. Palin for defending him with energy and confidence, and thus disappointing those in the media who wanted to see her fall." 

But if you want to get a very different sense of how she’s done, all you have to do is watch the steady stream of American political consciousness on Twitter's Election 2008 site.

The Tweets are an outpouring of opinions. Every second, there are at least two Tweets that appear. 

For the last three hours, I’ve been watching the Twitter Election 2008.  

And, the steady stream  - like a stock ticker running across my screen – maintained its beat. Second by second, someone around the world had something to say about the debate. As I stared at the updates, it was as though I could read the minds of the strangers I saw at the bar, watching the debate with me.

Last week, Twitter said activity surged due to the presidential debates. Updates jumped nearly 19% Friday to Friday. Signups during the debate were up 135% compared to the same time the week prior.  

No doubt, Twitter will see some significant lift from this event. I can’t wait to see the new numbers.

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.