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Micro-blogging site takes news feeds to a new level
After the Mumbai bombing, it's clear that Twitter is becoming a 24/7, round-the-clock, breaking news phenomena, and a compelling alternative to the world's most deep-pocketed, sophisticated and expansive news organizations.
It's a big leap forward from the seemingly simple but innovative news feeds started by Facebook nearly three years ago.
When Facebook released its news feed back in 2006, there was a backlash from its community and observers, saying that news feeds were invading their privacy. Back then, I applauded the move, and wrote: "Oh, pa-lease. Well, welcome to the consequences of having 15 minutes of fame. You made your public bed, now sleep in it. The complaints are akin to an actor who becomes indignant because of the paparazzi... I think the personal information news feed is an obvious evolutionary step to the Web 2.0 world we live in... We live in an age where what we do, and who we are, is the news. What's the difference in how people get it?"
Nearly three years later, we're seeing the evolution of such news feeds, and the growing acceptance of transparency and appreciation of collective actions and thought.
Through Twitter - a service designed to be the megaphone of the world's
ambient noise - a tapestry of insight and comprehension (with rounding
errors) is woven together to bring about understanding of events. In
essence, it's providing what newsrooms have been mandated to do for
centuries - news.
It became pretty clear that Twitter was providing far more color than any news organization could during the presidential elections.
Today, it's clearer that Twitter is the conduit of more than just color. (See: Eyewitness Twitter - on Mumbai bomb blast)
On Twitter, we're seeing how collective actions - first-hand accounts, commentary, color, analysis, reporting - are bringing to our desktops the most information in the quickest period of time. As I wrote yesterday, the information flow is far more than any world-class news gathering organization, like CNN (my former employer) could ever provide.
Having started at CNN, and having worked as a journalist for the majority of my career, there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to delivering quantity and even quality to some extent, the most trained, aggressive, experienced news team is at a disadvantage when up against thousands at their computers.
Just today, I went online to learn more about the Mumbai event. Here's the latest from Twitter and its news reporters from around the world.
Here's a list of the injured: The injured and the dead
Here's thoughtful commentary from a blogger in India: Mumbai terror attack - some thoughts
Here's a "new" news source: New America Media; expanding the news lens through ethnic media
Here's a report about rescue teams: Israeli rescue team heads to Mumbai
Here's a report a report about cops dying in India: Three top cops die on duty
Here's a photo of a fugitive: Tarek El-Zoghpy
Admittedly, as I said in my post yesterday, there is significant rounding error when it comes to the information provided. This is to be expected. As a journalist, I also had to deal with a huge amount of erroneous reports. It was my job to vet the information.
Today, we're all journalists. We're all doing the editing; we're doing the reporting. We're part of the world's biggest newsroom, providing the news feed, one person at a time.
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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 Twitter.com, 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 Twitter.com, 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 Virginamerica.com 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.