Twitter was created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams and launched in July, whereby the service rapidly gained worldwide popularity. In 2012, more than 100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day, and the service handled an average of 1.6 billion search queries per day. In 2013, it was one of the ten most-visited websites and has been described as “the SMS of the Internet”. As of March 2016, Twitter had more than 310 million monthly active users. On the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter proved to be the largest source of breaking news, with 40 million tweets sent by 10 p.m. that day.
Creation and initial reaction
Twitter’s origins lie in a “daylong brainstorming session” held by board members of the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, then an undergraduate student at New York University, introduced the idea of an individual using an SMS service to communicate with a small group. The original project code name for the service was twttr, an idea that Williams later ascribed to Noah Glass, inspired by Flickr and the five-character length of American SMS short codes. The decision was also partly due to the fact that domain twitter.com was already in use, and it was six months after the launch of twttr that the crew purchased the domain and changed the name of the service to Twitter. The developers initially considered “10958” as a short code, but later changed it to “40404” for “ease of use and memorability”. Work on the project started on March 21, 2006, when Dorsey published the first Twitter message at 9:50 PM Pacific Standard Time (PST): “just setting up my twttr”. Dorsey has explained the origin of the “Twitter” title:
…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.
The first Twitter prototype, developed by Dorsey and contractor Florian Weber, was used as an internal service for Odeo employees and the full version was introduced publicly on July 15, 2006. In October 2006, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Dorsey, and other members of Odeo formed Obvious Corporation and acquired Odeo, together with its assets—including Odeo.com and Twitter.com—from the investors and shareholders. Williams fired Glass, who was silent about his part in Twitter’s startup until 2011. Twitter spun off into its own company in April 2007. Williams provided insight into the ambiguity that defined this early period in a 2013 interview:
With Twitter, it wasn’t clear what it was. They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn’t replace anything. There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is. Twitter actually changed from what we thought it was in the beginning, which we described as status updates and a social utility. It is that, in part, but the insight we eventually came to was Twitter was really more of an information network than it is a social network.
The tipping point for Twitter’s popularity was the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference. During the event, Twitter usage increased from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000. “The Twitter people cleverly placed two 60-inch plasma screens in the conference hallways, exclusively streaming Twitter messages,” remarked Newsweek’s Steven Levy. “Hundreds of conference-goers kept tabs on each other via constant twitters. Panelists and speakers mentioned the service, and the bloggers in attendance touted it.”
Reaction at the conference was highly positive. Blogger Scott Beale said that Twitter was “absolutely ruling” SXSWi. Social software researcher danah boyd said Twitter was “owning” the conference. Twitter staff received the festival’s Web Award prize with the remark “we’d like to thank you in 140 characters or less. And we just did!” The first unassisted off-Earth Twitter message was posted from the International Space Station by NASA astronaut T. J. Creamer on January 22, 2010. By late November 2010, an average of a dozen updates per day were posted on the astronauts’ communal account, @NASA_Astronauts. NASA has also hosted over 25 “tweetups”, events that provide guests with VIP access to NASA facilities and speakers with the goal of leveraging participants’ social networks to further the outreach goals of NASA. In August 2010, the company appointed Adam Bain from News Corp.’s Fox Audience Network as president of revenue.
The company experienced rapid initial growth. It had 400,000 tweets posted per quarter in 2007. This grew to 100 million tweets posted per quarter in 2008. In February 2010, Twitter users were sending 50 million tweets per day. By March 2010, the company recorded over 70,000 registered applications. As of June 2010, about 65 million tweets were posted each day, equaling about 750 tweets sent each second, according to Twitter. As of March 2011, that was about 140 million tweets posted daily. As noted on Compete.com, Twitter moved up to the third-highest-ranking social networking site in January 2009 from its previous rank of twenty-second.
Twitter’s usage spikes during prominent events. For example, a record was set during the 2010 FIFA World Cup when fans wrote 2,940 tweets per second in the thirty-second period after Japan scored against Cameroon on June 14. The record was broken again when 3,085 tweets per second were posted after the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory in the 2010 NBA Finals on June 17, and then again at the close of Japan’s victory over Denmark in the World Cup when users published 3,283 tweets per second. The record was set again during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final between Japan and the United States, when 7,196 tweets per second were published. When American singer Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, Twitter servers crashed after users were updating their status to include the words “Michael Jackson” at a rate of 100,000 tweets per hour. The current record as of August 3, 2013 was set in Japan, with 143,199 tweets per second during a television screening of the movie Castle in the Sky (beating the previous record of 33,388, also set by Japan for the television screening of the same movie).
Twitter acquired application developer Atebits on April 11, 2010. Atebits had developed the Apple Design Award-winning Twitter client Tweetie for the Mac and iPhone. The application, now called “Twitter” and distributed free of charge, is the official Twitter client for the iPhone, iPad and Mac.
From September through October 2010, the company began rolling out “New Twitter”, an entirely revamped edition of twitter.com. Changes included the ability to see pictures and videos without leaving Twitter itself by clicking on individual tweets which contain links to images and clips from a variety of supported websites including YouTube and Flickr, and a complete overhaul of the interface, which shifted links such as ‘@mentions’ and ‘Retweets’ above the Twitter stream, while ‘Messages’ and ‘Log Out’ became accessible via a black bar at the very top of twitter.com. As of November 1, 2010, the company confirmed that the “New Twitter experience” had been rolled out to all users.
On April 5, 2011, Twitter tested a new homepage and phased out the “Old Twitter”. However, a glitch came about after the page was launched, so the previous “retro” homepage was still in use until the issues were resolved; the new homepage was reintroduced on April 20. On December 8, 2011, Twitter overhauled its website once more to feature the “Fly” design, which the service says is easier for new users to follow and promotes advertising. In addition to the Home tab, the Connect and Discover tabs were introduced along with a redesigned profile and timeline of Tweets. The site’s layout has been compared to that of Facebook. On February 21, 2012, it was announced that Twitter and Yandex agreed to a partnership. Yandex, a Russian search engine, finds value within the partnership due to Twitter’s real time news feeds. Twitter’s director of business development explained that it is important to have Twitter content where Twitter users go. On March 21, 2012, Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday while also announcing that it has 140 million users and sees 340 million tweets per day. The number of users is up 40% from their September 2011 number, which was said to have been at 100 million at the time.
In April 2012, Twitter announced that it was opening an office in Detroit, with the aim of working with automotive brands and advertising agencies. Twitter also expanded its office in Dublin. On June 5, 2012, a modified logo was unveiled through the company blog, removing the text to showcase the slightly redesigned bird as the sole symbol of Twitter. On October 5, 2012, Twitter acquired a video clip company called Vine that launched in January 2013. Twitter released Vine as a standalone app that allows users to create and share six-second looping video clips on January 24, 2013. Vine videos shared on Twitter are visible directly in users’ Twitter feeds. Due to an influx of inappropriate content, it is now rated 17+ in Apple’s app store. On December 18, 2012, Twitter announced it had surpassed 200 million monthly active users. Twitter hit 100 million monthly active users in September 2011.
On April 18, 2013, Twitter launched a music app called Twitter Music for the iPhone. On August 28, 2013, Twitter acquired Trendrr, followed by the acquisition of MoPub on September 9, 2013. As of September 2013, the company’s data showed that 200 million users send over 400 million tweets daily, with nearly 60% of tweets sent from mobile devices. On June 4, 2014, Twitter announced that it will acquire Namo Media, a technology firm specializing in “native advertising” for mobile devices. On June 19, 2014, Twitter announced that it has reached an undisclosed deal to buy SnappyTV, a service that helps edit and share video from television broadcasts. The company was helping broadcasters and rights holders to share video content both organically across social and via Twitter’s Amplify program. In July 2014, Twitter announced that it intends to buy a young company called CardSpring for an undisclosed sum. CardSpring enables retailers to offer online shoppers coupons that they can automatically sync to their credit cards in order to receive discounts when they shop in physical stores. On July 31, 2014, Twitter announced that it has acquired a small password-security startup called Mitro. On October 29, 2014, Twitter announced a new partnership with IBM. The partnership is intended to help businesses use Twitter data to understand their customers, businesses and other trends.
2015 and slow growth
On February 11, 2015, Twitter announced that it had acquired Niche, an ad network for social media stars, founded by Rob Fishman and Darren Lachtman. The acquisition price was reportedly $50 million. On March 13, 2015, Twitter announced its acquisition of Periscope, an app which allows live streaming of video. In April 2015, the Twitter.com desktop homepage changed. However, a glitch came about after the page was launched, so the previous “retro” homepage was still in use until the issues were resolved; the new homepage was reintroduced on April 20., Twitter announced that it has acquired TellApart, a commerce ads tech firm, with $532 million stock. Later in the year it became apparent that growth had slowed, according to Fortune, Business Insider, Marketing Land and other news websites including Quartz (in 2016).
Initial public offering (IPO)
On September 12, 2013, Twitter announced that it had filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of a planned stock market listing. It revealed its prospectus in an 800-page filing. Twitter planned to raise US$1 billion as the basis for its stock market debut. The IPO filing states that “200,000,000+ monthly active users” access Twitter and “500,000,000+ tweets per day” are posted. In an October 15, 2013 amendment to their SEC S-1 filing, Twitter declared that they would list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), quashing speculation that their stock would trade on the NASDAQ exchange. This decision was widely viewed to be a reaction to the botched initial public offering of Facebook. On November 6, 2013, 70 million shares were priced at US$26 and issued by lead underwriter Goldman Sachs.
On November 7, 2013, the first day of trading on the NYSE, Twitter shares opened at $26.00 and closed at US$44.90, giving the company a valuation of around US$31 billion. This was $18.90 above the initial offering price and Twitter ended with a market capitalization of $24.46 billion. The paperwork from show of November 7s that among the founders, Williams received a sum of US$2.56 billion and Dorsey received US$1.05 billion, while Costolo’s payment was US$345 million. As of December 13, 2013, Twitter had “a market capitalization of $32.76 billion”. On February 5, 2014, Twitter published its first results as a public company, showing a net loss of $511 million in the fourth quarter of 2013. On January 5, 2016, CEO Jack Dorsey commented on a report that Twitter planned to expand its character limit to 10,000 (private messages already had the longer limit as of July), requiring users to click to see anything beyond 140 characters. He said while Twitter would “never lose that feeling” of speed, users could do more with the text.
In 2016, it shares rose 20% after a report that it had received takeover approaches. Potential buyers were Alphabet (parent company of Google), Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Verizon, and the Walt Disney Company. Twitter’s board of directors were open to a deal, which could have come by the end of 2016. In November 2016, Twitter’s stock dwindled causing potential acquirers to pass on a deal.
Tweets are publicly visible by default, but senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Users can tweet via the Twitter website, compatible external applications (such as for smartphones), or by Short Message Service (SMS) available in certain countries. Users may subscribe to other users’ tweets—this is known as “following” and subscribers are known as “followers” or “tweeps”, a portmanteau of Twitter and peeps. Individual tweets can be forwarded by other users to their own feed, a process known as a “retweet”. Users can also “like” (formerly “favorite”) individual tweets. Twitter allows users to update their profile via their mobile phone either by text messaging or by apps released for certain smartphones and tablets. Twitter has been compared to a web-based Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client. In a 2009 Time essay, technology author Steven Johnson described the basic mechanics of Twitter as “remarkably simple”:
San Antonio-based market-research firm Pear Analytics analyzed 2,000 tweets (originating from the United States and in English) over a two-week period in August 2009 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (CST) and separated them into six categories:
- Pointless babble – 40%
- Conversational – 38%
- Pass-along value – 9%
- Self-promotion – 6%
- Spam – 4%
- News – 4%
Despite Jack Dorsey’s own open contention that a message on Twitter is “a short burst of inconsequential information”, social networking researcher danah boyd responded to the Pear Analytics survey by arguing that what the Pear researchers labelled “pointless babble” is better characterized as “social grooming” and/or “peripheral awareness” (which she justifies as persons “want[ing] to know what the people around them are thinking and doing and feeling, even when co-presence isn’t viable”). Similarly, a survey of Twitter users found that a more specific social role of passing along messages that include a hyperlink is an expectation of reciprocal linking by followers.
Users can group posts together by topic or type by use of hashtags – words or phrases prefixed with a “#” sign. Similarly, the “@” sign followed by a username is used for mentioning or replying to other users. To repost a message from another Twitter user and share it with one’s own followers, a user can click the retweet button within the Tweet.
In late 2009, the “Twitter Lists” feature was added, making it possible for users to follow ad hoc lists of authors instead of individual authors.
Through SMS, users can communicate with Twitter through five gateway numbers: short codes for the United States, Canada, India, New Zealand, and an Isle of Man-based number for international use. There is also a short code in the United Kingdom which is only accessible to those on the Vodafone, O2 and Orange networks. In India, since Twitter only supports tweets from Bharti Airtel, an alternative platform called smsTweet was set up by a user to work on all networks. A similar platform called GladlyCast exists for mobile phone users in Singapore and Malaysia.
The tweets were set to a largely constrictive 140-character limit for compatibility with SMS messaging, introducing the shorthand notation and slang commonly used in SMS messages. The 140-character limit also increased the usage of URL shortening services such as bit.ly, goo.gl, and tr.im, and content-hosting services, such as Twitpic, memozu.com and NotePub to accommodate multimedia content and text longer than 140 characters. Since June 2011, Twitter has used its own t.co domain for automatic shortening of all URLs posted on its website, making other link shorteners superfluous for staying within the 140 character limit.
On May 24, 2016, Twitter announced that media such as photos and videos, and the person’s handle, would not count against the 140 character limit. A user photo post used to count for about 24 characters. Attachments and links will also no longer be part of the character limit.
On July 17, Twitter will launch a new way for advertisers to target users that have tweeted with a certain emoji or engaged with tweets with a certain emoji.
A word, phrase or topic that is mentioned at a greater rate than others is said to be a “trending topic”. Trending topics become popular either through a concerted effort by users, or because of an event that prompts people to talk about a specific topic. These topics help Twitter and their users to understand what is happening in the world and what people’s opinions are about it.Trending topics are sometimes the result of concerted efforts and manipulations by preteen and teenaged fans of certain celebrities or cultural phenomena, particularly musicians like Lady Gaga (known as Little Monsters), Justin Bieber (Beliebers), Rihanna (Rih Navy) and One Direction (Directioners), and novel series Twilight (Twihards) and Harry Potter (Potterheads). Twitter has altered the trend algorithm in the past to prevent manipulation of this type, with limited success.
The Twitter web interface displays a list of trending topics on a sidebar on the home page, along with sponsored content.Twitter often censors trending hashtags that are claimed to be abusive or offensive. Twitter censored the #Thatsafrican and #thingsdarkiessay hashtags after users complained that they found the hashtags offensive. There are allegations that Twitter removed #NaMOinHyd from the trending list and added an Indian National Congress-sponsored hashtag.