Ask Obama questions at next week's Twitter townhall

Ronny Kerr · June 30, 2011 · Short URL:

Following a successful one-hour Facebook townhall in April, the President eyes more social media

While President Barack Obama may not yet have a Google+ account, he's quite social media savvy.

Two months after hosting a live Facebook townhall, the White House announced Thursday that it will be hosting its very first Twitter townhall with the President on Wednesday, July 6 at 2:00 PM ET.

Following the tradition of that earlier social media townhall, which was moderated by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Twitter townhall will be moderated by none other than Twitter creator and current head of product Jack Dorsey. (Dorsey also serves as CEO at another hot startup, mobile payments service Square.)

Besides the mundane details, there’s little to reason to expect the Twitter townhall to differ much from the Facebook townhall. The event will last not much longer than an hour and will have Obama answering questions from both Dorsey as well as from Twitter users who tweet under the hashtag #AskObama.

In general, these events have done nothing more than provide Obama with a vast platform for delivering talking points; you usually don’t get the hard-hitting questions in here. It’s a nice idea, for Obama to reach out to citizens through one of the most popular social media sites, but it’s pretty clear that this is all about building momentum for his upcoming bid at reelection. And it's obvious to everyone that Facebook, Twitter and social media as a whole proved instrumental in his 2008 election victory.

Though the Facebook townhall was hosted at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., the Twitter townhall will be held at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Maybe Obama has had enough California trips for now and doesn’t want to make the other states jealous...)

Users are also welcome to follow @townhall, the official account for the Twitter townhall. The account has actually been around for awhile, providing a central hub for the Twitter conversation surrounding Obama talks.

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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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