China blocks Twitter, Facebook, most Web 2.0

Ronny Kerr · July 7, 2009 · Short URL:

Google and YouTube also censored as a means of hiding bloody riots

China protestsIt looks like China is once again terrified at the prospect that its one billion citizens could login to Twitter to tell the world “what they’re doing.”

China took steps this week to block access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and various Google communication services this week, as a means of disrupting the unchecked flow of media and exchange through the Internet. Coming just a few days after the government collided violently with protests in the regional capital of Urumqi and nearby areas, this latest report by web2asia reveals that the Chinese government recognizes and fears the immense power of social media.

Facebook and YouTube allow users to share content like videos rapidly, giving people the power to find out what’s really going on locally or globally. Perhaps most significant of all, Twitter allows users to quickly and easily update their profile with a short status message, which might have been used to inform the world about the latest conflicts or to update fellow protestors on meeting places and times.

In June, Iranian protestors used the social networking site for exactly those purposes, in tandem with Facebook messaging and YouTube video uploads, as a means of undermining the government’s blocking of traditional news sources. With 156 people killed and more than 800 injured in China's latest riots, as reported by ABC News, one can see why the government would be trying to hide any of its latest errors.

Censorship in China is hardly a new topic of controversy. The government usually seems to find internal monitoring a simple task, however, compared with the monolithic task of filtrating the tidal wave of content flowing through the Web. Google came under fire three years ago for aiding the Chinese government—in direct opposition of their motto, “Don’t be evil,” some said—by censoring certain news results, like the famous photos of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Though some of the restrictions might be lifted after the deadly conflicts cool down, the frantic censorship this week reveals that the Internet will continue to slow down media-controlling efforts in the years to come.

(image source: ABC 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.