Version History: 21 March 2006 Sees the Birth of Twitter
Twitter has come a long way from its humble beginnings as an internal SMS project at the podcasting company, Odeo. The platform’s co-founder, Jack Dorsey, describes it as the pulse of what’s happening, everywhere. And it really is. From verbal battles between Donald Trump and a 16-year-old environmental activist to cute pictures of dogs, Twitter captures every moment, in the moment.
The early days
You could say that Twitter was the product of boredom. Back in 2005, Odeo board members were collectively disinterested in the podcasts that they were producing, so they spent a day brainstorming projects that they’d like to work on. Dorsey came up with the idea of creating an SMS platform where users could communicate what they were doing to anyone that was interested. The project got the go-ahead, and in March 2006, Dorsey and Florian Weber began developing a prototype.
The first version of Twitter was an internal communication service for Odeo. It was made publicly available on 15 July 2006, and in April 2007, Twitter broke off as a separate company. Nobody could truly define the purpose of the platform, not even its creators. The entire project was one of discovery.
In the early days of the project, Twitter had the holding name “Status”, but the team at Odeo wanted a name that reflected the ‘anytime, anywhere’ nature of SMS. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dorsey explained how they settled on the name Twitter. He said, “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.”
What’s with the tweet character limit?
Because the original Twitter was an SMS-based platform, it had to work with the character limit imposed by mobile carriers, which was set at 140. But creative restraint soon became synonymous with the brand. Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter if you could write a long, rambling status. The world has Facebook for that.
Then smartphones came along and changed the landscape. Twitter decided to experiment with giving its users more characters to express themselves, and it increased the limit to 280. The decision faced a backlash from 140-character limit purists, but Twitter said the move had little impact on the length of tweets. In 2018, the platform tweeted that users were more polite and using fewer word abbreviations as a result of the change. Those few extra characters saw a 54 per cent increase in the use of “please” and a 22 per cent increase in the use of “thank you”!
Twitter’s user-driven evolution
Twitter is evidence that when you give people limited resources, they create their own. Tweeters have changed the way the world interacts online. We didn’t tag people with their @ handle before Twitter. In the early days, users included the @ symbol in front of other users’ names when they wanted to reply to them or acknowledge them in a tweet. It became an etiquette, and Twitter responded by making the function native. Retweets emerged in much the same way. Users added the initials “RT” before sharing someone’s tweet to signal that they were reporting another user’s content. Twitter recognised this and created the retweet function in 2010.
And then there’s the hashtag. Can you remember life before it? Programmers can, but the general public, probably not. Chris Messina suggested using it in a tweet in 2007. At the time, users were frustrated with seeing irrelevant content. They wanted to filter out the noise. Chris saw a solution in the hashtag, which could be used to tag and group messages with a similar theme. Twitter initially rejected the idea, denouncing it as “a thing for nerds” that wouldn’t catch on. They were wrong!
What’s the future of Twitter?
In the last 13 years, Twitter has changed the face of journalism, real-time reporting, and even revolution! But where will the platform take us next? According to the company’s vice president of design and research, Dantley Davis, 2020 is all about improving the public conversation and “conversation health”. It will be interesting to see how the President of the United States engages with that one.