Company review: Twitter's expanding utility

Kedric Van de Carr · August 28, 2008 · Short URL:

From 'What are you doing now' to 'Hey, let's do a biz dev deal'

As Twitter continues its atmospheric climb, the true utility of the service is still evolving. It’s often the case that when a technology spreads to the masses that new and novel uses surface that were never intended, nor even contemplated, by its creator.

Twitter is no exception.  Just a few nights ago, I was watching CNN cover the Republican National Convention. Within the broadcast, the news anchors were trying to gauge the sentiment of the populous through a real-time Twitter feed.  Twitter's original intention of seeing what your friends are doing right now was actually tapping into something much more powerful: How does the market feel right now?

What had previously taken months of research and tens of thousands of dollars now can be done instantaneously, and at the Web 2.0 price, which is free. 

In a recent interview I did with Jonathan Cottrell and Chris Heald, Blippr CEO and CTO, respectively, yet another Twitter use-case surfaced.  These startup execs explained that Twitter was a critical tool for intimate customer interactions.  Heald states “we’ve made fans out of critics by allowing customers to interact with people within our company.” Twitter now provides companies the ability to cut through the oftentimes infuriating cooperate veil to reveal the human face behind businesses.

Even business development has extended to twitter.  Cottrell explained that his company’s recent partnership with 12 Seconds Inc. was initiated through Twitter.  This will be a trend that will continue on Twitter.  It is the natural progression of aggregating likeminded people around a topic or company of similar interest, and providing them the tools for interaction.  One might even compare it to a chat-room, which never ends.

It is a futile effort to say for certain what utilities Twitter will offer the market as its user base continues to expand. 

It will likely be much different than the original goal of tracking your friends.

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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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