How twitter works – in 140 characters.

The most frequent question I get when I say I use twitter is ‘what is twitter, how does it work?’

I usually try and explain it in a way that makes sense but within a few seconds their eyes glaze over, the nodding becomes slower and shallower and I know then that I’ve lost em’.

John Stewart of the Daily Show last week said “For everyone who doesn’t know how twitter works, this is how twitter works….. I have no f*@king idea how it works. I have no idea how twitter works, or why it is” here.

The entire length of an email I recently received from my CEO was: “Rowan, I think we need a twitter page. What’s a twitter page?”

So, in an attempt to try and answer this question for my friends and everyone else out there who may be interested as quickly, simply and easily as possible I’m going to try and tell you how twitter works in just 140 characters. (For the uninitiated, twitter only gives you 140 characters.)Ready? Here goes:

Adam, a mate of mine who manages the twitter profile  (amongst other things) for the company where he works says twitter is: “a personalised and branded RSS feed. People and companies put information out there for others to pick up.” *105 characters*

Recently I set up twitter for my website, and at work (currently I’m in the process of rolling out our marketing strategy around it) my CEO now describes twitter as: “Another traffic source for the website” *38 characters*

And I say “It’s about human filtered content. You don’t have to know the person. You follow people and discuss because their content is relevant to you” *140 characters*

Twitter is a communication tool used for many different reasons by many different groups of people. The example that I came up with to explain twitter to friends over breakfast last Sunday is below. Regrettably it is slightly more than 140 characters but they got it after I explained it this way:

In nearly every country there are surgeons working on the human eyeball. But much of the time, unless they’re at a conference they don’t talk to each other. Even if they did all know each other they wouldn’t bother emailing each other everyday to see if there was new information or research results it would be too arduous and time consuming.

Lets assume an Australian surgeon is looking on for new techniques and research about eye surgery. The information uncovered is good, but what if the newest ground-breaking research globally is only published in Portuguese in Brazil?

Would Google Australia know to pick that up and publish it on the front page? Would the surgeon think to check the Brazilian Google page, let alone every other Google country segmentation, on the off chance of finding the best and latest information available? No, that would be ridiculous, it’d take far too long and most of the time would be fruitless.

But what if a Brazilian surgeon had just read that latest ground-breaking research and thought “wow, I have to get this out to the world now!”. So the Brazilian surgeon then posts the article to their twitter profile i.e. “Latest Brazilian Eye Surgery Research”

If the Australian surgeon thought to search twitter in their scouring they would then see the link to the Brazilian article and have the advantage of using a free online translation service such as Google Translate, to read the article.

The Brazilian surgeon is time poor and is only going to bother posting the best article because there is little benefit in wasting his or his colleagues time in posting rubbish. Additionally if his content is rubbish people would be less inclined to come back to him, making his online voice smaller and therefore less effective.

And that there is the beauty of Twitter. It’s human filtered content.

Google and twitter are similar in that information gets posted and ‘ranked higher’ based on relevancy. But with Google it’s automated and done by long, ever-changing, pieces of code that Google determines, whereas Twitter is based on content selected by hand by people.

Where a website might do well on Google search results because their content has been optimised to Google’s SEO specifications, it’s the human reading the article that knows if it’s truly relevant or not. Google’s computed algorithms have a long way to go before they get close to human style filtering.

Twitter’s power will come from the users. They’ll split into microniche’s the likes of which haven’t been seen, and it’s just starting now. *139 characters.


  1. Hi
    I’m a newbie in the Twitter thingi, but I have find that its really cool tool
    if you want to promote yourself (or any other service you may like).
    Its not the most intuitive and easy to understand.

    But thanks G.d for ppl like you who helps ppl like me at their first steps into the Twitter system.

    Thank you for the post


  2. Hello
    You really made it easy fro me to understand what twitter is all about. With so many networking sites I found it difficult to note the fine line that seperates them
    You did it

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