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Twitter: How news and politics plays on a popular social networking service

It lets users know what their friends are up to and also serves as an alert service for breaking news.

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As William Shakespeare wrote, "brevity is the soul of wit." But it's hard to say what the Bard would make of Twitter, the social networking/short message service/"micro-blogging" application that some say will be the new Facebook for the tech world. While the "tweets" that users send to each other are certainly short (no more than 140 characters), one would never get the idea that the messages had been labored over before being sent.

But the real benefit of Twitter, and probably the reason that it's grown in popularity, is its mobility. It liberates users from their computer desktops, letting them stay in constant contact with friends or colleagues. It also has had some surprising uses in politics, emergency services, and reporting.

Twitter started as a research and development project in March 2006 at Obvious, a start-up company in San Francisco. Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey said he got the idea while figuring out how to broadcast messages to ambulances, cabs, and bicycle messengers in major cities. Mr. Dorsey realized that average people might like to use the same kind of service. Instant messaging had proven to be wildly popular, but normally a person had to be at a computer to send a message.

In April 2007, Obvious launched the free service as Twitter.

In the past, many cellphones offered access to traditional instant messaging providers such as AOL as part of their service package, so the idea of mobile instant messaging is not completely new.

But that's where Twitter's "micro-blogging" aspect comes to the fore. Instead of just IM'ing with one person, on Twitter, you can create a whole community of friends who can send "tweets" to each other all day long – and everyone in the community can see what all the other group members are twittering.


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