The White House welcomes social media

Ronny Kerr · July 20, 2009 · Short URL:

Exclusive Twitter announcement once again reveals a new Executive Department, married with Web 2.0

President Barack Obama made headlines this weekend after achieving another of many firsts: for the first time, the White House announced an upcoming full news conference through social networking Web site Twitter.

The San Francisco-based social media startup was in a bit of turmoil early last week over news that a hacker had breached the site’s security, accessing hundreds of executive documents. Because the hack will probably not have very lasting serious effects, the company is moving on. And this past Friday’s announcement from the White House quickly took the hack off of everyone’s minds as we are all reminded of Twitter’s incredible influence.

The White House, since the election of President Obama, is no stranger to Web 2.0 technology and social media. In the months leading up to the 2008 election, Obama offered a pretty clear view of things to come, as his campaign team aggressively utilized the power of the Internet to spread their message of “Change.” Now with the election long over, tWhite Househose campaign strategies have transformed into White House announcement platforms, informing U.S. citizens across the spectrum of social media.

Here’s a comprehensive roundup of the White House’s social media presence:

Official Web site. This is the central hub for all information coming out of the Executive Department. For anyone looking to investigate the nitty-gritty of what’s happening in the White House, what legislation the President is pushing for, or just to take a look at long-term plans, the main Web site is the place to start.

Blog. Updated multiple times a day, the White House blog (accessible right from the official Web site) probably serves as the all-around best place to quickly and easily see what the President and Vice-President are doing in Washington on a daily basis.

Facebook. This page is essentially a summary of what is being published on the blog, but if Facebook users subscribe, they can have updates show up on their news feed.

YouTube and Vimeo. Primarily hosts to President Obama's weekly address, these competing video sites both provide access to the same videos on the Executive Deparment's various activities.

Twitter. Like the Facebook page, this is (for the most part) a republishing of blog news. With the administration experimenting with a special announcement this past Friday, however, the instant tweets could become the main source of up-to-the-minute updates.

Flickr. The number one spot for professional high-quality photographs of the President and his day-to-day doings.

MySpace. Even more than the Facebook and Twitter pages, the White House MySpace page appears to be little more than a slightly modified replication of the White House blog.

The best part about the White House’s widespread permeation through social media networks is that it eliminates the often-cited excuse by apolitical citizens that their apathy stems from lack of information and governmental transparency. Whether you enjoy reading blogs, watching videos, or simply checking your Facebook or Twitter, there’s at least one avenue for you to see what your government is doing.

Health care discussion on Facebook

No matter what the history textbooks say about his administration’s various political feats and blunders—those to come and those already passed—President Obama will undoubtedly go down as not only the first African American president, but also the first Web 2.0 president. Here’s to hoping his successors don’t put an end to the tweets.

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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.