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Biz Stone (left) and Jack Dorsey (right) co-founders of San Francisco-based Obvious, the 10-person startup behind the popular Twitter social messaging service. See more popular Web site pictures.

Kara Andrade/AFP/Getty Images

Many social networking Web sites have lots of bells and whistles. Sites like MySpace and Facebook let users build profiles, upload pictures, incorporate multimedia, keep a blog and integrate useful or bizarre programs into homepages. But one Web company with a very simple service is rapidly becoming one of the most talked-about social networking service providers: Twitter.

So what does Twitter do? When you sign up with Twitter, you can use the service to post and receive messages to a network of contacts. Instead of sending a dozen e-mails or text messages, you send one message to your Twitter account, and the service distributes it to all your friends. Members use Twitter to organize impromptu gatherings, carry on a group conversation or just send a quick update to let people know what's going on.

Twitter's history is entwined with a few other Internet companies. Twitter's founders are Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey. A few years before Twitter was born, Williams created Blogger, a popular Web journal service. Internet giant Google purchased Blogger, and Williams began to work directly for Google. Before long, he and Google employee Stone left the Internet giant to form a new company called Odeo.

Odeo is a podcasting service company. According to Williams, he didn't have a personal interest in podcasting, and under his guidance, the company temporarily lost focus. However, one of Odeo's products was just beginning to gather steam: Twitter, a new messaging service. Stone gave Twitter its name, comparing the short spurts of information exchange to the chirping of birds and pointing out that many ring tones sound like bird calls [source: San Francisco Chronicle].

As the service became a more important part of Odeo, Stone and Williams decided to form a new company with Twitter as the flagship product. Williams bought out Odeo and Twitter from investors, then combined the existing company and service into a new venture called Obvious Corporation. Jack Dorsey joined the team and began to develop new ways for users to interface with Twitter, including through computer applications like instant messaging and e-mail. In March 2006, Twitter split off from Obvious to become its own company, Twitter Incorporated.

­In this article, we'll learn about Twitter's application programming interface (API). We'll find out what a Tweet is and all the different ways you can create and read them. We'll also look at how Twitter can interact with mobile devices like cell phones.

In the next section, we'll learn what, exactly, a Tweet is.