Monday, March 21, 2016

Twitter Turns 10

My very first tweet
It was ten years ago today, on March 21 2006, that Twitter was launched. The social media and microblogging service has since become the second largest social media service in the world. It has also become an important source of news and entertainment for its millions of users. In 2015 it ranked at no. 10 in Alexa's list of the Top 500 sites on the web.

Twitter grew out of Odeo, a directory and website that allowed users to create and share podcasts. It was during a brainstorming session held by Odeo's board members that Jack Dorsey, then an undergraduate attending New York University, came up with the idea of a service that would use short SMS messages to communicate with people. At the time the domain name "" was already being used, so the project was originally called "twttr". The name "twttr" is usually credited to software developer Noah Glass (who was also one of Odeo's founders).  Work on twttr began on March 21 2016 when Jack Dorsey sent the very first tweet, "just setting up my twttr." It would be six months after twttr launched that they bought the domain "" and the service was officially renamed "Twitter". It was in October 2006 that Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and others from Odeo, formed Obvious Corporation and bought both Odeo and Twitter. In April 2007 Twitter became its own company.

Twitter grew rather rapidly. In 2007 it averaged 400,000 tweets for each quarter of the year. By 2008 it was up to 100 million tweets posted for each quarter of the year. By February 2010 Twitter was averaging 50 million tweets per day. As of January 2016 Twitter boasts 332 million active users.

Over the years Twitter would evolve. In the early days many of these changes were introduced by users rather than Twitter itself. It was on November 2 2006 that Robert Andersen introduced the first @ reply (now called "mentions"), which has remained a part of Twitter ever since. Even before its use on Twitter, the @ symbol had a long history of use on the internet. It has always been used in email and was also used in everything from bulletin boards to chat rooms. Eric Rice introduced the idea of the retweet when he retweeted a reply he’d received from Jesse Malthus on April 17 2007. Before that time the term "retweet" had been used of repeating a tweet of one's own, not someone else's tweet.  It was Chris Messina (not the actor but an advocate for open source software) who introduced the hashtag on August 23 2007.  While it was Chris Messina who proposed organising related tweets by use of a hash symbol, it was writer Stowe Boyd who gave the idea its name "hash tags".

Over the years Twitter would introduce its own changes to Twitter, not all of them for the best. In 2010 Twitter introduced the "Who to Follow" feature, which offers recommendations of Twitter accounts that users might want to follow. In 2011 Twitter combined the tabs for retweets and mentions (which previously had their own tabs) into one tab labelled "@(username)". This tab would later be renamed "notifications". The year 2013 would see two major changes to Twitter. The way conversations between users was displayed was changed, leading to the complaint from some users that conversations were now harder to follow. They have refined it since then. That same year Twitter introduced inline images in the feed, something which also proved controversial with users. In 2015 Twitter introduced "While You Were Away", a feature that displays the top tweets while one was away from Twitter. This year Twitter introduced a feed sorted by an algorithm, something that brought forth howls of protests from users. Fortunately, one can keep one's feed sorted by reverse chronological order by going into settings on one's account.

While many of Twitter's changes over the years would be disliked by many of Twitter's users (I have hated many of them myself), the fact is that one does not have to use Twitter's interface unless he or she absolutely wants to. One of the advantages Twitter has over other social media sites is that it is open source, so that a number of Twitter clients have emerged over the years. If one does not like the Twitter interface, then he or she can simply use HootSuite (my client of choice), TweetDeck, Tween, or any number of others.

Over the years users have put Twitter to a number of uses. Perhaps the most well known of these is the dissemination of news. Nearly every major news outlet has a Twitter account through which they will tweet links to the various news stories of the day. For many Twitter has replaced newspapers, television networks, and radio as their chief means of getting news. Twitter has also been used by its users as a chat client, with individuals holding entire conversations on the service. Indeed, more so than any other social media site except perhaps Google+, Twitter has become a haven for communities dedicated to specific interests. One can find easily find people with shared interests on Twitter, everything from movies to antiques.

Indeed, it is the communal aspect of Twitter that seems most noteworthy to me. I joined Twitter on March 9 2009 after hearing about it from my fellow classic film and TV bloggers. In fact, the first person I ever followed was my dear friend Raquel, who runs the blog Out of the Past. It was not long before I found other classic film and television fans on Twitter, many of who have become dear friends. Eventually a group of classic film buffs would create the TCMParty community, a group of people who live tweet movies aired on TCM using the hashtag #TCMParty. Many of the participants in the various TCMParties over the years have also become dear friends.

The fact is that I think I have found more new friends on Twitter than any other social media site except perhaps Google+. It also happens to be the social media site on which I have more followers than any other except Google+. It also seems to me to be the most active, even more so than, yes, Google+. Facebook might claim to have over a billion active users, but it seems to me that on the whole Twitter on any given day is much more active than Facebook is.

Given the communal nature of Twitter and just how active it is, it should be no surprise that Twitter has had an influence. Introduced on Twitter, the hashtag would be adopted by Google+, Instagram, and other social media sites as a means of sorting posts. Even Facebook would adopt hashtags, although very few seem to use them (perhaps because people as a whole don't make public posts to the site). Arguably both Instagram and Vine were heavily influenced by Twitter. In fact, Twitter bought the latter when it was only a few months old. In addition to its influence on the internet, Twitter has even had an impact on the real world. It has been used for everything from organising protests to an emergency communication system.

While I must admit that I have disliked many of the changes Twitter has made to its interface and I think its interface was at its best between the years 2009 and 2011, it remains one of my two default social media sites (the other is Google+). I use it more than any other social media site and it is one of the few social media sites to which I post a link to nearly every blog post I make. It is also where I interact with many of my friends on a daily bases. While the Wall Street types and the tech press sometimes express their doubts about Twitter's survival, I have a feeling it will be around for a long time to come.

1 comment:

KC said...

I'm with you: I've had my complaints over the years, but Twitter has changed my life for the better. I'm more informed overall, it's opened up new worlds to me, I've made friends--some of whom I have met in person, and of course it's always great to attract new blog readers!