Pentagon: Tweet at will, soldiers!

Matt Bowman · February 26, 2010 · Short URL:

After seven-month review, Defense Department opts to let soldiers use social networking tools.

 In a move that promises to transform one of the final frontiers of new media journalism, the Pentagon has decided to allow everyone from foot soldiers to generals to use Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social networking tools on the military’s non-classified network.

The decision comes six months after the Marines banned Twitter, a move that caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere (at the time, we posted this video of uber-blogger Robert Scoble and America’s CTO Aneesh Chopra exchanging opinions on the ban). Military authorities now think the benefits to recruiting, public relations and information exchange outweigh the risks.

Some restrictions apply. The new policy does allow commanders to cut off access temporarily to safeguard a mission or preserve bandwidth. 

It's not surprising the DoD was hesitant to give every soldier in the field a virtual megaphone. The potential for intelligence leaks is huge... but the potential for red herrings is just as great, and the intelligence services will certainly be transmitting plenty of false information for enemies to misinterpret.

The benefits include enhanced tactical coordination as well as communication with the civilian population. "Use of Internet-based capabilities, iincluding [social networking services], have become integral tools for operating and collaborating across the DoD and with the general public," the DOD's statement reads.

The move could significantly boost public perception of the military. Under the Bush administration, embedded journalists in the early days of the Iraq offensive seemed to warm to their comrades in the field and mainstream Media seemed abnormally pro-military and pro-war as a result. Talk radio and conservative blogs frequently host troops who lament that positive rebuilding initiatives get less press time than roadside bombs and death tolls. Now military personnel can take the issue into their own handy cams.

Staying more connected to friends and family could also provide some much-needed psychological support.


image credit: US Army Africa

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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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