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Tweet smell of success No one thought it would catch on but now there are 200 million users; FIRM MAY BE WORTH UP TO pounds 6bn.

Byline: Craig McQueen

HEN the allconquering Wmessaging website Twitter was launched five years ago, few could have guessed that the idea would catch on.

Allowing you to post messages of no more that 140 characters long, it didn't seem to offer anything you couldn't get from Facebook, email, or even a simple text.

But now the site is worth more than pounds 2billion, and the 200million users around the world send more than 140million tweets a day.

It's been such a massive success that internet giants Google and Facebook are said to be keen on a takeover, even though it has yet to make a penny.

Analysts estimate that the price could be as high as pounds 6billion.

Twitter was born on March 21, 2006. Founder Jack Dorsey was a software engineer working for a podcasting firm called Odeo. He sent a text message to colleagues using the site he'd just created. It read: "Just setting up my twttr."

The site took a huge step forward the following year at the South By South West music and film festival in Austin, Texas.

Twitter placed two giant plasma screens in the hallways offering constant updates from conference-goers.

Suddenly, word could quickly spread about what was happening and who was worth seeing, with the number of tweets trebling virtually overnight.

As traffic grew, celebrities soon began to realise that Twitter offered a fantastic opportunity for self-promotion.

Demi Moore and her hubby Ashton Kutcher quickly became favourites, with seemingly no part of their private life off limits.

In 2009, Kutcher became the first person to have one million followers, donating a pounds 60,000 prize for the feat to a malaria charity.

In the UK, it was comedian and actor Stephen Fry who pioneered the use of the website, frequently tweeting on what he was doing or thinking.

Politicians haven't been immune either. Barack Obama used his tweets to marshall support when he swept to power in 2008.

More recently, Twitter has become a legitimate tool for political activists. The site played a key role in the building and planning of revolution in Egypt and Tunisia.

And it has become a vital news source for those seeking the latest on disasters such as the Japanese tsunami.

But it's the showbiz world which continues to dominate the site.

Lady Gaga currently sits at the top with 8.81million followers. Justin Bieber isn't far behind with 8.17million and Britney Spears third on 7.14million.

And the rate at which the popularity of celebrities can change is also impressive. When Charlie Sheen took to Twitter while in the midst of his current meltdown, he reached one million followers within a few days, the quickest the target has been reached.

Critics of the site point out that most of Twitter's content is generated from a select band of its users. One recent study showed that 22.5 per cent of users were responsible for more than 90 per cent of its activity.

Analysts also wonder if the huge value being attached to the site is a symptom of another dotcom bubble.

With far more cash being spent on development than the site generates, some wonder if Twitter will ever make a profit, but supporters point to similar negative comments made about Google and Facebook in their early days.

And if you're worried that all of this is passing you by, don't panic.

There are nearly half a million new Twitter accounts being created every single day, so you won't be alone.

Here's our top five tips for using the site...

1. Decide who you want to follow. Twitter can search through your email address book to find people you already know and you can use the search function to look for subjects you're interested in - celebrities, companies, TV shows, or anything else at all.

2. Start with your own posts. It will take a while to get some followers, and it's important to remember that quality matters more than quantity.

3. Get to know Twitter etiquette. If someone you're following posts something interesting, such as a link to a website, copy and paste it but begin your tweet with "RT" to show that it's a re-tweet. Remember too that all your tweets are public, so it's wise to keep them positive.

4. You can reply to a tweet by putting "@" at the front of the name of the person you're replying to. That way, they'll be alerted to your reply even if they're not following you. If you're lucky, you might get a personal reply from one of the famous faces you're following.

5. Start to experiment. Loads of applications offer smarter ways of using the site, such as Tweetdeck. Remember too that Twitter is ideal for using on your mobile, allowing you to post updates on the move.


TWEET-HEARTS: Ashton and Demi regularly update followers on all aspects of their lives
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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion, Columns
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 21, 2011
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