From the archives: A short description of Twitter
In the course of a linguistic term paper, I had to define Twitter on less than one page of 12 point, 1.5 spaced script. Judge for yourself if I did an adequate job:
Twitter was founded in 2006, which makes it a very young medium. It consists of millions of users who publicize messages with a maximum length of 140 characters, which are called tweets. All tweets appear chronologically on twitter.com in the main timeline. Keeping up with the complete timeline is impossible, so users get their own timeline to populate for themselves. They do so by subscribing to other users’ tweets, which is called following. A user’s home timeline then consists only of tweets made by the people they follow.
Additionally, users can retweet tweets by others. These “RTs” appear in the home timelines of his followers, even though they originated from a different user. That makes them one of the main methods of spreading information on Twitter.
Another particular feature are hashtags. A hashtag consists of letters and/or numbers preceded by “#” and not separated by a blank space. Popular hashtags are for example “#Bieber” (Justin Bieber), “#sdr” (Schlag den Raab), or “#describeyoursexlifewithavideogametitle”. Hashtags are used to collect tweets with a particular topic, because you can search for them and find tweets which contain them. Hashtags which get picked up by a lot of users can become so-called memes. The above-mentioned “#describeyoursexlifewithavideogametitle” was a popular meme during last christmas, because it enabled users to be funny. Tweets with it included for example “Bulletstorm,” “Alone in the dark,” or “Left 4 Dead.”
Mentions are also important. When you mention the twitter username of another user in one of your own tweets and prefix it with an “@”, you automatically notify them. This way, normal people can contact celebrities. Sometimes, they even answer. Such an @mention or @reply is also public.
To put it in Brinker’s words: A tweet happens in the public action domain. It is predominantly a monologue, but occasional dialogue is possible. It is mediated and written.