Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tweet Tweet!

Twitter! It's the latest explosion in social networking. (and probably the most simplest one as well!). It's becoming so large even its servers can't handle the load. The idea is to follow other people's status updates while others are following yours. But the beauty of this is you can transform it to any use you want. David Pogue puts it nicely, Twitter? It’s What You Make It (link from @akilakalum). I will try to explain the force behind Twitter using technical concepts that we learn in Computer Science, so I can better understand it myself!

In my opinion, the reason behind the abilty to transform twitter into anything you want, may be the "Policy and mechanism separation". (Those who know my 4th year project know what this means!) Unlike Facebook or other social media, Twitter doesn't implement so many policies (other than that 140-character limit!). It only provides a simple message multicasting mechanism to share your ideas. You can build your own policies on top of that mechanism.

As I see it, the only core rules that twitter enforces are,
  1. You have a queue of messages. (Your twitter account)
  2. Messages (you can call them status updates if you want), are limited to 140 characters each.
  3. You publish messages to the queue. (by updating your status)
  4. Others people can subscribe to your queue. (by Following your account)
  5. You can subscribe to other people's queues. (by Following them)
  6. When a message is added to a queue, subscribers also receive it. (Those who follow you, receive all your status updates)
That's it! Although it took me 6 points to write it, you can see it's just a publisher subscriber queue. Twitter is just the middleware hosting all the queues of users! There's a lot you can do with a publisher/subscriber middleware like this. You can use it as a news feed, notification service, advertising or even propose marraige!!

User-based Policies
  • In addition to the core policies enfoced by twitter, the community have developed some policies (or standards) over time to make it more user friendly. Speaking of terminology, Messages are reffered to as "Tweets".
  • In addition to publishing a public message, you can publish a message targeting a specific user. For that, the message is prefixed with @[username]. These directed messages are known as @replies (pronunced "at-replies"). But since @replies are just ordinary messages, other subscribers also receive it. (remember, only core policies apply! all others depend on how you interprit them) But everybody knows to whome this message was sent for, so they will ignore it if they are not interested.
  • You can pass a message you received from another, to your followers by prefexing the message with RT @[original-sender] (RT stands for "re-tweet"). This is like saying something you heard, to your friends while crediting the original person who said it. Again, remember, these are just ordinary messages. Users themselves have adopted these standards on their own.
Companies are using Twitter to advertise about their products. This includes technology giants and even Bakeries (link from @akilakalum). Some people have automated tweeting through the use of sensors and mobile phones so a new message is published every time an event occurs. Even really famous people are on twitter and anybody can follow them. Some I found are Mandy Moore (@TheMandyMoore), Demi Moore (@mrskutcher) and Senator John Mchain (@SenJohnMcCain) and Ravin Perera (@ravinsp) :-P

I have just begun using Twitter. So right now there's no use for me from it other than receiving good links and intersting info from other people I follow. Time to time I also put interesting things to be received by people who follow me. (I don't have so many followers actually!) So if you really don't have anything else to do, follow me on

Finally, a one comparison with facebook:

If Facebook is a global directory service, Twitter is a global notification service.


girishadurrel said...

Hi Ravin,
Nice article man... You have seen it in a completely new way isn't it?

Madhawa Habarakada said...

Twitter is good, yes. But the saddest thing is twitter has stopped giving the device updates for Sri Lanka. (not only SL, all countries except US,UK n Canada) We got a huge advantage of it among our friends earlier, but now it's not.
There are many 3rd parties related with twitter too.