“We came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.” – Founder Jack Dorsey
It’s five years ago this weekend that developers at the Odeo podcasting company in San Francisco began work on their new project: an SMS service allowing individuals to communicate with a small group. On 21 March 2006 Jack Dorsey published the first ever Twitter message:
“just setting up my twttr”
The Early Years
Originally a service for Odeo employees, Twitter went public on 15 July, 2006. But its lucky break would have to wait another year – for the South by Southwest (SXSW) film, music and interactive festival in Austin, Texas, held in March 2007. During the event, delegates’ tweets were streamed live on prominent plasma screens by Twitter employees, and the service quickly became flavour of the conference, with overall daily tweets increasing from 20,000 to 60,000. By February 2010, that number was 50 million.
Its breezy name belies a medium that’s shown huge social and political strength. Although the majority of messages posted are indeed banal chit-chat, some of the traffic has had a big impact. The most obvious example is the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, in which Twitter was deployed by protestors to rally and communicate with each other on a mass scale, and to subvert the authorities’ crackdowns by enabling protestors to share information directly with journalists.
Twitter at five has certainly remained true to its roots: unlike Facebook it remains resolutely a fountain of ‘short bursts of information’. But many are far from inconsequential.