A Brief History
On July 15, 2006, the social media vehicle known as Twitter was launched, and quickly became an essential part of electronic communications in the United States and world-wide. Created by Noah Glass, Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, the social networking device caught on with frightening speed, and became one of our most important and prevalent sources of information.
By 2016 there were well over 300 million users of Twitter, and on election day 2016 over 40 million ‘tweets’ were sent regarding election news. Williams and Glass had founded an internet search and directory site called Odeo, and with Dorsey and Stone “brainstormed” an idea to create a form of short message communication that became Twitter. Odeo was reformed into Obvious Corp. (obviously!) and the original company sold. Dorsey came up with the main idea for Twitter, and since the domain name “twitter” was already taken, the undergraduate buddies decided on “twttr,” at least until the domain name Twitter could be obtained (which it was).
Twitter was first tested as an internal messaging system for employees of Odeo, and corporate maneuvering caused Twitter to become its own spin-off company from Odeo and Obvious. Glass was fired in 2007, and unfortunately for him that is when Twitter really took off. Using 2 massive (for the time) 60 inch plasma screens displaying tweets at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, the new social networking tool was showcased to tech savvy people and it caught on in a big way, growing by leaps and bounds ever since.
In 2007 Twitter experienced 1.6 million tweets, and by 2008 the total had grown to 400 million that year. Growth was incredible, with 65 million tweets per day in 2010, and 140 million tweets per day in 2011. During critical news events, including sporting events and elections, the number of tweets being sent is almost incomprehensible, and are brief messages of a maximum of 140 characters. Growth finally started slowing as 2015 approached and Twitter began acquiring other internet companies. In November of 2013 Twitter went public, with 70 million shares offered at $26 apiece on the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike the Facebook IPO debacle, Twitter stock reached $44.90 a share that first day!
By 2016 Twitter had lost almost a half billion dollars that year, but remains a major force, especially with the prevalence of tweets by and concerning President Donald Trump, a man apparently addicted to Twitter, and one apt to tweet any time of the day or night, with one outrageous message after another. In July of 2017, President Trump, responding to criticism over his massive use of Twitter, and boldly stated, “My use of social media is not Presidential- it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” Apparently “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL” includes calling people names via Twitter, and telling the public he had agreed with Vladimir Putin of Russia to create a joint US-Russia anti-hacking task force!
Tweets can be sent via computer, smart phone, various personal data devices (iPad, Blackberry and the like), Short Message Systems, and involves a system of “followers” and “likes,” “retweets,” that can make tweets go viral. Research indicated in 2014 that 44% of Twitter users only read tweets and never send any tweets. In the Twitter jargon, followers are known as “tweeps.” Jack Dorsey is credited with sending the very first tweet, and tweets have been sent from outer space by astronauts. In 2016 increased attention was paid to streaming live video via Twitter, and in 2017 a 24/7 live stream channel was announced.
Of course, anything as pervasive as Twitter will attract problems and nefarious activity, and Twitter is not immune to such actions. Outages, worms, hacks, and manipulation to create tons of fake followers to artificially inflate one’s apparent importance have all occurred, and Twitter has faced government sanctions over security issues. Even the then Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made an internal memo in 2015 speaking about the trolling and abuses that have occurred and cost Twitter customers. Use of Twitter to organize protests and plan illegal activities has created controversy over Twitter and its place in society, as have Twitter’s use as a vehicle for hate speech, recruiting terrorists and various other distasteful activities. Government agencies have used the network to release information, while terrorists (and fake terrorists) have used Twitter to claim responsibility for terror attacks. Not surprisingly, carefully controlled societies such as China and North Korea heavily limit and censor Twitter, and other countries have intermittently blocked or limited Twitter. Proponents of Twitter tout its use as an emergency communication network, its educational potential, entertainment value, contribution to free speech and public discourse, and breaking news. (Though fake “news” and hoaxes are also sent via the network!)
The phenomenon known as “Twitterbots” is also a concern, as computer generated mass tweets can influence public opinion or perception for nefarious reasons and manipulate discourse. Television has not been immune to Twitter, and now it is common for live tweets to appear on your television screen during special events and sporting events, or even news stories. It is incredible to think something so much a part of today’s society is only 11 years old!
Question for students (and subscribers): Are you on Twitter? Do you tweet? What do you think of this pervasive social media system? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bilton, Nick. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. Portfolio, 2014.