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Big dollar signs for microblogging service Twitter

June 24, 2008 |  5:17 pm

How tweet it is. Twitter, the microblogging service that is changing how people communicate, has closed its long-rumored funding round.

TwitterSpark Capital and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos led the round, the San Francisco company's third, with existing investors Union Square Ventures and Digital Garage participating. Spark Capital's Bijan Sabet, an active Tweeter, joins the board.

Twitter, whose motto is "What are you doing?", is not divulging financial details, but word in the blogosphere is that it landed $15 million for a valuation of slightly less than $100 million. That's a lot of dollars for these characters.

Twitter will use some of the windfall to become a bit more reliable. Never before have users been so upbeat about a service that goes down as often as Twitter. It has already begun to take some steps in that direction. (Wrote TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington: "They are the only service I know of where users rejoice when they simply manage to keep their service live.") The frequent service outages were causing some consternation.

In a blog post today, co-founder Biz Stone talked about Twitter's aspirations to become a communications utility.

Twitter, which connects people through short, real-time messages, is certainly becoming more mainstream, with 1.2 million unique visitors in May, by one account. More people are ...

... sending updates (called tweets) of 140 characters or less from their computers, PDAs and phones or following other people's tweets.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has gotten kudos for twittering. Businesses are starting to use Twitter for customer service. Even the Mars Phoenix lander is broadcasting Earth-bound tweets.

Though the sheer number of users still remains small, they average at least 15 tweets a day. That's in part because Twitter gives people some of the instant intimacy they crave.

According to a new survey from Harris Interactive, people are gravitating away from e-mail and toward other forms of online communication because:

--59% say there is more immediacy, making other forms of online communication more preferable than e-mail;

--52% say there is more interchange (it's more like having a live conversation because they can communicate spontaneously);

--48% say there is more impact, meaning their message "isn’t buried in a pile of e-mail"; and

--46% say it feels more casual or intimate than e-mail.

Twitter is also often first to break news about natural disasters, and it comes comes alive when important events take place such as Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open. A Berkeley grad student even Twittered his way out of an Egyptian jail and is now working with Twitter to create an emergency broadcast system.

The more people spend their lives microblogging, the more people are finding new ways to keep it short.

For those who want to get up to speed on the emerging new Twitter language, check out this dictionary.

-- Jessica Guynn

Twitter logo courtesy of Twitter

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