ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Here's one of the latest ways that technology is changing the way some people interact. A new online service makes it possible to broadcast where you are and what you're doing in real time to all of your friends.
NPR's Laura Sydell reports.
LAURA SYDELL: It's possible to blog in real time but to do that you have to be glued to your computer, and as a blogger, there's an expectation that you will write some substantial long entries. Not so with this service called Twitter, a community of users which David Troy recently joined.
Mr. DAVID TROY (User, Twitter): What Twitter really does is it lowers the bar to make it so that anybody can say something - come on, give me 140 characters. You can say what you need to say in 140 characters.
SYDELL: That's the limit for a Twitter entry, which some people are calling tweets. Twitter entries don't just appear online; they pop up on your friends' instant message systems or on their cell phones as text messages.
Mr. TROY: I use it to kind of communicate with folks about, you know, what I'm up to, where I'm traveling, what I just saw at a crazy party or, you know, something like that.
SYDELL: David Troy has been fascinated by Twitter. He wanted to get a sense of where other people were twittering, so he overlaid the service onto a Google map of the world. At twittervision.com, short message balloons continually pop up across the globe - San Francisco, Tokyo, Finland, China. They are in English, Finnish, Japanese. The short missives range from good morning, fine day, put the laundry out, to going for a curry on Brick Lane, yum, and she's home for dinner. Feels a bit sad because she knows she won't get to see a certain someone.
Mr. TROY: There's a kind of sense of random reward. You know, you never know what you're going to get. And that means also both happy, interesting things and also kind of like poignant emotional things.
SYDELL: Twitter was created by two young entrepreneurs in San Francisco. Co-founder 33-year-old Biz Stone says the idea for the service came out of the status message settings on many IM programs that let friends know if you were at your computer.
Mr. BIZ STONE (Co-founder, Twitter): What if you just took that, just that simple idea of status and you turned it into a service, so that you and your friends could know what you're doing.
SYDELL: Twitter was a side project for Stone and co-founder 30-year-old Jack Dorsey while they were working on another start-up. Stone says they beta-tested the technology among a group of their own friends, and everyone including Stone loved it.
Mr. STONE: I was at home ripping up old carpets, sweating, it was terrible, it was gross, and my phone sort of buzzed in my pocket and I picked it up and I saw Evan Williams(ph) is wine tasting in Napa. And I just thought like wow I can't believe like that's happening right now, and I'm sitting here and he's doing that, and just the context of those two things.
SYDELL: Stone and Dorsey spun Twitter off from their first start-up and they are running it and paying for its 10 employees with their own money. The service isn't making money, and they aren't sure how it will, but Stone says the number of members has been doubling every two or three weeks.
Twitter has competitors like Kyte with a Y, which allows people to send photos and videos from their phones to an online site. Another service, Jaiku, based in Finland is very similar to Twitter.
Today, OurChart.com, a Web site founded by the producers of the Showtime hit the "The L Word" is launching a Twitter soap opera and users can subscribe. Shana Naomi Krochmal is writing the soap. She will use short messages to tell the story of two women starting a relationship.
Ms. SHANA NAOMI KROCHMAL (Writer, OurChart.com): It's an updated version of a really old-fashioned literary device looking at an epistolary novel. You know, a novel written entirely of letters between different characters. It's just all condensed to a very short little bite-sized piece.
SYDELL: Krochmal believes this soap opera is mirroring certain aspects of the lives of many young people whose relationships evolve on their blogs and now Twitter accounts.
Ms. KROCHMAL: It's kind of online jealousy and possessiveness, where it's like I don't even know what's happening, that girl said she was totally into me, and now I see her leaving comments all over this other girl's journal instead of mine. The level of public performance of it is just the recipe for instant drama.
SYDELL: Krochmal says the OurChart soap opera is an experiment. Right now, it's scheduled to last for a month, then if it does well, it will go on longer.
Some Twitter users have discovered that haikus are just the right length. As the growing interest in the service has Web pages, instant message systems and cell phones tweeting, one user wrote: The twitter growing louder - sunrise.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.