What Is Twitter, and Why Is it So Popular?

Get the facts with this overview

Twitter
Twitter Inc.

People who've never used Twitter often want the site explained to them. They often say, "I just don't understand it."

Even when someone tells them the basics of how Twitter operates, they ask, "Why would anyone use Twitter?"

It's actually a pretty good question. With this overview, get a crash course on Twitter and all of its functionalities. 

Twitter is a Miniature Blog

Micro-blogging is defined as a quick update usually containing a very limited number of characters.

It is a popular feature of social networks like Facebook, where you can update your status, but it has become best known because of Twitter.

In essence, micro-blogging is for people who want a blog but don't want to blog. A personal blog can keep people informed on what is going on in your life, but not everyone wants to spend an hour crafting a beautiful post about the vibrant colors seen on a butterfly spotted in the front time. Sometimes, you just want to say, "I went shopping for a new car but didn't find anything" or "I watched 'Dancing With the Stars' and Warren Sapp sure can dance."

So what is Twitter? It's a great place for keeping people informed on what you are up to without the need to spend a lot of time crafting an entire post on the subject. You just say what's up and leave it at that.

Twitter is Social Messaging

While Twitter may have started as a micro-blogging service, it is grown into much more than simply a tool to type in quick status updates.

So when asked what Twitter is, I often describe it as a cross between blogging and instant messaging, though even that doesn't do it justice.

Put simply, Twitter is social messaging. With the ability to follow people and have followers and interact with Twitter on your cell phone, Twitter has become the perfect social messaging tool.

Whether you are out on the town and want to coordinate with a group of people about which hot spot to hit next or keep people informed of developments at a company-sponsored event, Twitter is a great tool for quickly communicating a message to a group.

Twitter is News Reporting

Turn on CNN, Fox News or any other news-reporting service, and you'll likely see a news ticker streaming across the bottom of the television set. In a digital world that is relying on the Internet more and more for news, that streaming ticker is Twitter.

Outdoor festivals like the South-by-Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and major events like the E3 conference have shown what a great resource Twitter can be for quickly reporting news to a huge group of people. Faster and more immediate than a blog, Twitter has been embraced by the "new media" of the blogosphere and has slowly won acceptance among traditional media outlets.

Twitter is Social Media Marketing

Twitter has become a favorite target for social media marketing. This new form of getting the message out has been used effectively by politicians during their campaigns and by news publications and celebrities as a quick way to connect with an audience.

With utilities like Twitterfeed, it is easy to convert an RSS feed into Twitter updates.

This makes it easy to use Twitter as a form of social media marketing.

What Is Twitter?

This brings us back to the original question. What is Twitter? It is many different things to many different people. It can be used by a family to keep in touch, a company to coordinate business, the media to keep people informed or a writer to build up a fan base.

Twitter is micro-blogging. It is social messaging. It is an event coordinator, a business tool, a news reporting service and a marketing utility.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it?