In an age where people spend more time socializing on the Internet than they do in person, it's important to have at least a basic understanding of the social media universe.  Facebook had it's own Oscar-nominated movie to expose it's claim to fame, but what about Twitter? Although the social Web service is one of the top competitors when it comes to digital socialization, some might not be so savvy on the network's scene.

First, it's important to know exactly what Twitter does. Yes, it is in the social networking category with its predecessors MySpace and Facebook, which is set to file an initial public offering this Wednesday. But it is significantly different in the sense that it is mainly used for posting quick messages to a large group rather than browsing the profiles of your contacts. Posting on Twitter, also known as 'tweeting,' allows you to reach your entire contact list at the same time.

But how do you build contacts? The Twitter equivalent to Facebook's Add as Friend is called Following. When you follow a user's profile, their Tweets will automatically show up in your news feed. You can also tweet directly to another user by adding the '@' symbol in front of their name in your post.

On your personal profile, you are able to see how many people you are currently following, how many are following you, and how many tweets you've posted.

However, Twitter's main distinguishing feature is it's usage of tags, which are marked by the '#' symbol in a post. This means that any time you enter '#' before a term in your post, your tweet will come up any time a user searches that term.

With a limit of 140 words per tweet, Twitter caters to the shrinking attention span and desire for instantaneous information of today's Web users. Rather than heavy interaction between users, Twitter is best used as a means of posting quick bits of information to an expanded audience.

Beyond social purposes, Twitter is a crucial component of new social media marketing techniques used by many companies.

According to Social Times, 37 percent of social networkers agreed that Twitter was more likely to promote purchases among users, compared to the 17 percent that said the same about Facebook.

News organizations are also able to share and report the news faster and more efficiently than ever before thanks to the social media device.

In May 2011 when U.S. Special Forces killed Osama Bin Laden, Twitter was the first to inform the masses that President Obama would be addressing the nation on a national security issue.

So for parents, teachers and anyone else that has felt in the dark about the social media revolution, these are the Twitter basics. To sign up for a free account, visit www.twitter.com.