Keeping Twitter simple

Chris Caceres · February 12, 2009 · Short URL:

Why won't Twitter allow for multimedia posts? Alex Payne, API Lead at Twitter explains

Much shorter than a blog post, but not quite poetry, Twitter's 140-character restriction is the core of what's made it successful.  

While MySpace, and now Facebook pages force-feed mounds of multimedia content into our browsers, Twitter profiles load instantly and can be scanned through with ease.  Twitter has no intention to ever integrate the ability to actually post a photo or video within a Tweet.  Instead they have other thoughts.

Alex Payne, API lead at Twitter, hopes in the future to add a layer of meta data to individual Tweets so that applications built on top of Twitter for example, Tweetdeck or Twhirl, will be able to do things like show the actual content without having to browse to another Web page.  

The Twitter API version 2.0, which was announced at February's, SF Mobile Meetup, an exclusive invite-only event for mobile application developers in San Francisco, is set to be released by the second quarter of this year and will open doors for new applications and an overall better response time.  Check out future news for more clips from the Meetup.

And see the video above for some humor and let's say, well, words of Twisdom, from Twitter engineers Alex Payne and Matt Sanford.

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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.

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