Twitter exploited for easy advertising

Ronny Kerr · June 24, 2009 · Short URL:

Furniture company apologizes for hashtag abuse, but future misuse from others still likely

twitterDespite the fact that the rising tide of social media is changing the way news works, these new services cannot be without flaws.

While ordinary journalists were increasingly silenced over the past two weeks in Iran, Twitter was recently held on a pedestal as a fundamental source of breaking information. The popular stream of tweets swirling around the topic of the Iranian election, however, appears to have been corrupted at times by a company trying to capitalize on free advertising, according to BBC News.
The UK furniture store, Habitat, after employing several hashtags—#mms, #Apple, #iPhone—to advertise their completely unrelated product promotions, took their capitalist abuse into outright exploitation when they began using the hashtags for the Iran election.

A letter from Habitat’s head office has already been issued to the Twitter community, apologizing for the abuse: “The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that was caused. This is totally against our communications strategy. We never sought to abuse Twitter, have removed the content and will ensure this does not happen again.”

Though the apology arrived swiftly following deletion of the controversial tweets, the events mark an important point in Twitter’s history. With the social site’s increasing popularity, companies and stores will be increasingly tempted to get their name out by exploiting the vast user base.

Twitter’s Terms of Service identifies “Spam” in many ways, including two kinds which perfectly characterize Habitat’s actions: “if you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #” and “if you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic”. But as the site expands more and more, it will be harder for the site’s administrators to track down and eliminate daily abuses all by themselves.

The site’s best defense most likely rests in that same immense user base that will be luring greedy companies. Whenever any sort of unacceptable comments get noticed, Twitter users respond rapidly with “re-tweets” identifying the perpetrator and encouraging other users to block them.

Social media users must accept that their participation on these sites is making them obvious targets, but they should not forget that they have the power to thwart blatant exploitation.

(image source: BBC News)

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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.