Welcome to our ninth Pivotal Moments blog. If you follow us on social media, you’ll know what this is all about. To paraphrase Confucius, it’s only by knowing where we’ve been that we can know where we’re going.
“Study the past, if you would divine the future.”Confucius
With 330 million users each actively posting on Twitter each month, it’s tough to remember a time before it existed. Most celebrities, television shows, blogs, podcasts, companies and more have their own Twitter account. Watch the news, and you’ll see the little blue bird logo in the bottom corner, advertising the presenters’ handles.
Technically an online microblogging service, Twitter has grown from a social networking platform into a well-considered source of breaking news across the world since it was first made public in 2006. Users can tweet, follow, like, re-share, track topics and even speak to their idols via Twitter. And all in less than 280 characters.
But Twitter began as a side project. An afterthought. It was never expected to grow and expand the way that it has.
Designed by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Twitter’s founders were both previously employed at Google. That was before leaving to launch a podcasting service, Odeo with Noah Glass in 2005.
Williams had previously had success with his creation, Blogger, a popular web authoring tool used by bloggers around the world. But at Odeo, he had the opportunity to play around with new tools and technologies. Since they intended Odeo as a podcasting service, Apple’s launch of iTunes threw a real spanner in the works.
It essentially making their primary service entirely obsolete. Because, of course, iTunes included a built-in podcasting platform.
Not long after, Williams bought out Odeo. He fired Glass and renamed the company ‘Obvious Corporation’. Then, with the goal of developing further, he brought engineer Jack Dorsey (among others) on board.
Williams had 14 employees at the company when he asked them to brainstorm ideas for the start-up. They were on the slippery slopes of failure, and struggling to get by. It wasn’t long before they were experimenting with a project that was based on social networking via short message service (SMS) at the suggestion of Dorsey. And that project was Twttr.
The Pivotal Moment
A working prototype of Twttr was up and running by March 2006. After they rejected several alternative names, including FriendStalker (for which we’re all grateful). Then, on March 21st, Dorsey, using the handle @Jack sent out the first ever tweet: “just setting up my twttr”.
When the service went public, the founders imposed a 140-character limit on all messages (tweets), as the system was based on SMS text messages. Ultimately, this meant that users had to be short and sweet with their tweets, or risk being misunderstood entirely.
They debuted the completed version of the platform in Austin, Texas by March 2007 at the South by Southwest music conference. Within a month, Twitter, Inc. was incorporated thanks to a sudden and unexpected large influx of money for the venture.
How Twitter Grew
Since Twitter was primarily a free platform with a social networking element, it lacked a clear income or revenue with which to expand. There were no banners for advertising or membership fees, but unique visitor numbers were quickly increasing.
By 2009, the number of visitors had increased by 1300%, and it was becoming clear that the platform was no fleeting fancy. It was a social network that would stand firm and continue to thrive.
As Facebook, the biggest name in social networking, turned over its first profit in the same year, it became clear that Twitter would need to achieve financial independence if it wanted to continue to thrive and serve its users. Still reliant on capital investors, the company worked to find ways to survive on their own.
In April 2010, Twitter revealed its solution: Promoted Tweets. Essentially advertisements that stuck to Twitter’s character limits. The tweets would appear in search results on the platform (not unlike the already well-established PPC and Adwords models).
With the meteoric rise of social media marketing, this would become a steady and primary source of income for the flourishing company.
Use of Twitter continued to impress, and by 2013 the company had more than 2000 employees and over 200 million active users. Before long, Twitter was valued at a little over $31 billion – not bad for a side project.
How is Twitter Relevant Today?
Although Facebook is still the most dominant social networking platform, Twitter has established a niche of its own to service its billions of monthly active users.
Developing into a reliable source of breaking news, many younger users rely on Twitter’s services to stay up to date with the goings on of the world. Which is a far different use for the platform than its founders initially intended.
With the election of Trump in 2016, Twitter’s prominence skyrocketed. The former president was outspoken on the platform during his campaign and often made announcements and tweeted about policy decisions on his account. Twitter began to face increasing amounts of pressure from the public and the media regarding policing the content on their platform.
In the heightened political climate that was 2020, Twitter began to truly hold its own. They introduced a system which helped them work to prevent bullying, harassment and hate speech. Content and accounts were policed and limited, and the company began to mark content with “may contain misleading information”.
This was particularly notable during the 2020 US Elections, The Black Lives Matter protests and in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic, when several high-profile accounts, including that of Donald Trump, were limited and then banned from posting on the platform following repeated breaches of Twitter guidelines.
In 2020, Twitter set a precedent for flagging incorrect and misleading information on its platform that only served to underline their function as a source of news across the globe. By approaching breaches of guidelines head on in a manner that treated all users equally, Twitter created a gold standard for other social networking platforms to follow suit.