Twitter is a "microblogging" service, where users post 280-character "tweets". They can be mundane reporting on their life, a wry one-liner, or the start of an Internet campaign that will snowball and end up with international media coverage. Really, for just 280 characters, there's lots of potential.
The site's open, public API allows for its adaptation and use on many different platforms. Android, iPhone, browser extension, desktop software, mobile phone... you can tweet from just about every device going. Hell, you can even monitor tweets with a typewriter!
The site is trendy. The real-time search function, which allows you to search all (public) tweets being made for any word or phrase you wish, is one of the most popular aspects of the site. This is combined with the "trending topics", a list of the ten most popular topics at the moment, based on how much they're being tweeted about. This list of trending topics will almost always include Justin Bieber, at least until Twitter supposedly banned his name from trending and his fans made "let Bieber trend" a trend instead. When they were no longer able to do that, they resorted to trends like "Bustin Jieber". Still, Justin Bieber related topics trend almost every day, and in 2012, they were joined by topics about British-Irish boy band One Direction.
Twitter has gotten a lot of media attention. Major events tend to be covered rapidly through the system, and it has become hip in Hollywood for a celebrity to have a Twitter account. Twitter nicknames get given out like email addresses. In fact, despite the Bieber/1Dmania, Twitter appears to be the first Friending Network type site (aside from work-oriented LinkedIn) in which thirtysomething media professionals outnumber teenagers.
In late September 2017, for some users, Twitter increased the character count to 280. On November 7th, they finally enabled the option to everyone, replacing the previous, classic limit.
Twitter provides examples of:
- Balance Buff: In 2017, Twitter reworked the character limit to get users of foreign-script languages (particularly East Asian languages, which can convey more in less characters) on even ground with those who do use this languages, as multibyte characters each count as 2 characters under this new limit, while standard ASCII characters continue to count as 1 character. If you don't use any multibyte characters, you can put up to 280 characters into one tweet, but if you write entirely in Japanese, for example, you can still tweet only 140 characters.
- Bathos: Because of the spontaneous nature of tweeting, practically everyone's feed is a jumble of humorous, mundane, sentimental, outraged and philosophical comments, often with jarring juxtapositions.
- Be Careful What You Say: Big Brother Is Watching—not to mention the rest of the world. The number of athletes and celebrities that have gotten themselves into hot water because of controversial or offensive tweets is downright staggering.
- Early in the 2012 Olympic Games, three athletes were singled out for controversial and/or racist tweets. Two of those athletes were summarily expelled from the Games.
- One British woman who'd sideswiped a cyclist went on Twitter to brag about it - swiftly leading to her arrest. For added irony, the cyclist she'd nearly hit reportedly had no intention of calling the police on her.
- Beige Prose: It's impressive how much you can say within 280 characters, and even in 140 characters when it was the limit. Japanese and Chinese users can fit even more information into the limit due to how their language works.
- Brand Name Takeover: Its usage on Twitter has allowed "hashtag" to become the most common name for the # character (historically it is known as the Number sign or the Pound sign and is used for a variety of purposes).
- Character Blog: Many fictional characters have a presence as well. Most are roleplayed (look for the telltale "[RP]" or "role-played" somewhere in their profile), but some are 'genuine' in the sense that their origin company controlled them. You can see a list of some of them here.
- Cloudcuckoolander: "Weird Twitter", a group of Twitter users who specialize in Surreal Humor.
- Fangirl: Many, although the Beliebers and Directioners tend to overshadow the others..
- Food Porn: Look at this awesome sandwich I just made! @everyone
- Game-Breaking Bug:
- As of August 31st, 2010, this has happened to any Twitter application only using Basic Authentication.
- The new OAuth implementation is broken itself. It basically requires the identification keys to be hard-coded into the clients, and Twitter has announced they are going to be de-authenticating compromised keys. And, yeah, the keys to the official Twitter client for Android are a string dump away.
- As if they weren't already suffering from an overly severe buttmonkeydom, Zune users had to wait 2 weeks for their official app to be fixed after the switchover.
- As of June 7, 2013, any app that does not use the current version 1.1 API is dead, as Twitter permanently shut off API 1.0. While some developers will take notice and update their clients to use the new API, you may as well uninstall any long-abandoned clients that you use.
- Twitter for iPad does not allow you to accept follow requests for private accounts; you simply get a "forbidden" error. There have been no efforts to rectify this bug, even though it has existed for well over a year.
- Guide Dang It!: For some reason, the only update notes the developers ever supply for the German users of the app on both Android and iOS is a very vague "This update includes many improvements and error corrections." Finding out what exactly has changed, if anything, is a crapshoot.
- Head-in-the-Sand Management: Twitter is often accused of this in regard to its management, or not, of harassment.
- I Am Spartacus:
- After Paul Chambers lost his appeal against his conviction for tweeting a joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport, people began retweeting the original message en masse with this attached as a hashtag.
- During the protests in Iran in 2009, lots of users set their location to Tehran in an effort to thwart the country's censors.
- Mass "Oh, Crap!": Disasters, celebrity deaths, sports scores, Wham Episodes of popular TV shows and election results are guaranteed to provoke this reaction on Twitter.
- Nerf: With version 1.0 of the API, you can constantly refresh your timeline, so long as you have API calls (which you are allowed 350 of per hour) left. However, version 1.1 aims to gimp this; you can only refresh your timeline, mentions, and direct messages 15 times per 15 minutes each. This is not a problem if you use Twitter lightly, or use a client that streams tweets (which will not consume API calls), but if you are very active and/or follow a lot of people, particularly on most mobile clients, and especially if you tend to accidentally refresh more times than you try to, it's very easy to get "API limit exceeded" errors.
- New Media Are Evil:
- Inverted by old media's reaction to Twitter. They are crazy for it, and pretty much every old-media organization had set up multiple Twitter accounts (plus dozens of individual personal accounts for employees) before it even really caught on. See also Small Reference Pools, below.
- Played straight by younger media — for example, read the hilariously hypocritical message board rants against it. Boo, any interpersonal e-communication that isn't e-mail... wait...
- No Punctuation Is Funnier: Punctuation can mean the difference between a post and a thread when you only have 280 characters (spaces included) to work with.
- Obvious Beta: Users became very familiar with the "Fail Whale" seen in the page image. The site suffers a lot of smaller hiccups frequently.
- Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Many celebrities and PR people have found out the hard way how much an off-color tweet can damage one's career.
- Orwellian Editor: The ability to delete tweets allows a user to be one.
- Refreshing your timeline, interactions, and direct messages is limited to 15 times per 15 minutes each. If you tend to refresh your timeline a lot on a mobile device, this can happen easily, especially if you accidentally make extra refreshes. Other actions, such as refreshing lists, searches, or a user's tweets, have similar limits.
- Tweeting too much within one hour or so (usually on the order of about 60-70 tweets) will disable you from tweeting again for a while, usually an hour at most. This is known amongst many users as "Twitter jail", and usually happens as a result of rapid-fire conversations with other users or livetweeting events. Generally, if you see someone with a six-digit tweet count, chances are they've been jailed at least once. Outside of jailings, each account is limited to 1,000 tweets per day.
- Private messages have a cap of 250 messages sent per day.
- Please Select New City Name: Sometimes hashtags collide. For instance, #btv had been used primarily for discussions pertaining to Burlington, Vermont (from the city's airport code), until a massive influx of Arabic-language posts in early 2011 referring to Bahrain Television, after which the Burlington folks switched to #bvt.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The handclap emoji between words is meant to give this effect.
- Shamed by a Mob: Being a social media site, expect to see a lot of this.
- Small Reference Pools:
- The BBC, in particular, is obsessed to an indescribable degree with Twitter. Any news that can possibly be related to anything to do with technology or society in general, never mind the Internet, is determinedly dragged around by its news interviewers to the subject of Twitter, often leading to the more net-savvy interviewees becoming bewildered.
- CNN has a Twitter problem. The Daily Show has taken to mocking them for it.
- The Tetris Effect:
- The practice of "@-replies" has spread to other blog comments and forums, such as on Tumblr where putting @username in a post produces a link to the person's blog and an alert on their dashboard.
- From Cheezburger Network's "Failbooking";OP: It seems like Twitter-style hashtags have replaced HTML-style coding as Internet shorthand for meta-commentary.
- Un-person: Twitter's "recalibration" of their Trending Topics algorithm was obviously meant to do this to Justin Bieber. The Bieber fans regularly clogged the trending topics and this was devised as the solution. Bieber (and later One Direction) hashtags started trending in its place.