7 years of Twittering

2014-02-20 21.40.26

On this day (and time), 7 long years ago, I signed up for a little application called Twitter. Social Media, social networking, microblogging were not terms that were popular in those days and it was Twitter’s explosion at SXSW in 2007 that caught my attention and made me decide to try it out. It was an odd thing to use, as it forced users to be much more succinct than blogging, and you were not essentially communicating to any specific person like SMS services.

I was here,

  • Less than 1 year after the official launch on July 2006.
  • Just a little over 1 year from their founding date of March 2006.
  • One month after their wild popularity at SXSW in March 2007.

My Very First Tweet! #notmymostintelligenttweetunfortunately

firsttweet

Tweeting now is a lot simpler, cheaper (to non US / UK residents) and more meaningful than it used to be back in the early days (for me, at least). As an early adopter of this service, I’ve seen how Twitter can impact our daily lives and our social interactions, especially how it changes the way we accept how information is shared with us.

  • SMS shorthand

Unfortunately, I’m going to start with one of the annoying things that I believe is in part correlated to how users adapt to Twitter formats. Many of the newer users may not be aware that the reason why you are restricted in the number of characters in each tweet really goes back to how it was during the early days. There were 2 ways to send a twitter (as it was called in those days), via the web / via SMS to a UK based cell phone number. The 140 character limit that Twitter has is largely due to the restriction of characters in SMS. It had to be short to be able to be sent via SMS. This brevity means that if you want to say something a little longer than 140 characters, you had to get creative. So ins8 o typin in eng, u typ in shrthd so u cn put mre in a twttr dan norm. n typ lol so u cn luff.

[rant/] I remember I spent quite a bit of moolah on Twitter then, as we had to pay (~S$0.60) to send a tweet as it could only be sent via SMS to a UK number! For folks living in US or UK it was cheap, as they had local numbers to send to, but for all overseas users, each tweet actually cost us physical dollars. Plus, you get an SMS every time someone you follow tweets. So if you follow 10 people, and each person tweets 5 times a day, you would get 50 SMSes a day! It was so annoying that I even remember tweeting something like “People who twitter 3 times in a row needs to have a life.”. Imagine how invasive Twitter used to be without these mobile apps. [/rant]

  • Popularising of URL shortening services

This is definitely a result of Twitter. Even though URL shortening services were already available (Remember TinyURL?), their use was very much limited to sharing on IRC or for easy remembering. With the character limits of Twitter, if anyone wants to share links, it will be impossible to comment, as some article links just take up the full character limit. Thus services such as TinyURL became extremely useful. Why I believe Twitter is a mover in the URL shortening service world is really because TinyURL was launched in 2002, many years before Twitter, and it monopolised the URL shortening service ‘industry’. It had no competition, because usage was low. Then Twitter came about and with the character limit, the need for such services grew so much that many more blossomed, each domain getting shorter (bit.ly) and shorter (t.co). This is basic economics of demand and supply. Without Twitter users’ demand, TinyURL could be the sole supplier for more than 5 years, until that product could no longer satisfy the users’ needs (TinyURL’s shortened URL is 25 characters, yet bit.ly is 14 characters).

  • Instant information

What I mean by this is that before Twitter, we got opinions from blogs, news sites, forums; we got social updates from friends by texts, emails, phone calls, and meetups. With Twitter, there is instant updates about every thing they are doing, from what they are eating, reading, or watching; where they are going to; how they feel about the last meal they had… In the beginning, we didn’t know what to do with Twitter, so we over-shared.  It became a platform for regular people to be ‘famous’ by shouting out to the world. Then regular folks started getting into conversations with people they followed. People started sharing news and information about the things that are happening around the world. 2009 was an incredible year for Twitter. Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) realised the brand enhancing power of Twitter and ballooned to 1M followers. Barack Obama won the US Presidential Election. Michael Jackson died. These news were spreading like wildfire and for the first time since the launch, Twitter found itself a new path. Even the company realised it, and changed the question asked to “What’s happening?”, instead of the previous “What are you doing?”

Whatever the type, these are all information. News, gossip, sightings, tips, all information that we can get as soon as the incident happens. There is no waiting a day for the newspapers to write it up, or the bloggers to draft a post analysing the situation. Everyone can be a reporter, posting updates on the fly. If you didn’t read it on Twitter when it happened, you would be getting ‘old’ news, because everybody else would have (I’m exaggerating, of course). This is sometimes to the point if you hear a rumour on the streets, your best bet would be to search Twitter. If it’s word on the streets, you bet it was tweeted first.

 

In any case, with this Anniversary, I became curious about how Twitter has grown over the years and their major changes and milestones. I can’t say I’ve watched Twitter grow up, as the cost put me off a bit, till I got a smartphone & Twitter got an app; but then work piled up, and the excuses went on… Now that Twitter has grown to the mammoth it is right now, and I’m back more actively in various forms, I went back in time to see what everyone else is saying on the internet. 

Dr 4ward posted a really interesting infographic of Twitter since it officially launched. I’m a bit curious why his number of registered users state that it’s 1.3M registered users in March 2008, when my Twitter ID seems to be #3,189,741… I’ve assumed that the Twitter ID is allocated sequentially, but a variety of possibilities could account for Dr 4ward’s numbers, such as deleted / suspended accounts, engineering test accounts etc. Though I have to say, the numbers are quite massive. Possibly Twitter did a major account wipe-out of dead accounts?

Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) from The Next Web created a new Twitter account to look at Twitter from an entirely new light.. I absolutely agree with what he says about handles deviating from the person’s names. When we were first asked to create a handle, all we could think of was just using our names, or variations of our names.. There were a lot of @jack @crystal @mhofner around.. Nowadays, you get more complicated handles

Newsweek hits the nail on the head back in 2007, when the article discussed Twitter, the lure and the potential.

More history of Twitter infographics on Mashable (@mashable). I love infographics!

Ah.. the good old times…

holeybaloney

Leave a Reply