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Tweets are 16 years old today

Twitter has completely changed the way we receive breaking news and how propagandists spread lies.

As Wired noted on Twitter’s fifth birthday, Jack Dorsey’s first non-automated tweet (21 March 2006) was as prosaic as Alexander Graham Bell’s first words on the telephone (a technology he patented on 07 March 1876).

The parent company, Odeo, released Twttr (Twitter would come later) to the public on 15 July 2006.

Twitter was the opposite of Facebook at that time: (1) your timeline wasn’t limited to people with the same university email account, (2) you didn’t have to be friends with someone to see or follow their tweets and (3) tweets were limited in characters due to delivery via SMS.

About two months later, on 26 September 2006, Mark Zuckerberg would open Facebook to the public (that is, everyone could join Facebook, not just someone with a university account). I was one of those “millions of existing Facebook [who] users felt like they had been invaded… For the first time [but not the last], privacy became a major concern for Facebook.”

Twitter today

To celebrate the birthday, Jack Dorsey sold that first tweet as an NFT (non-fungible token) for $2.9 million. He says the money will go to Africa to support people with Covid-19.

How popular is Twitter? As I type, we’re sending 9,923 tweets per second, where “we” is now a loose term given how many tweets are automated.

Twitter has completely changed the way we receive breaking news and has become one of the most visited websites in the world (Alexa rank 23 today).

Twitter sets the news cycle’s pulse because so many journalists are addicted to it. Its power is in agenda-setting. But that’s all happening instantaneously and out in the open, not behind the closed doors of an editors’ meeting.

It is rare for an inventor/founder to envision either the full impact of their idea or how we (the “users”) will “fold, spindle or mutilate” that invention.

When Twitter was two years old, I outlined a taxonomy for tweets. I did not anticipate Twitter becoming a tool for public health campaigns. Or social change:

Information pollution

Nor did I anticipate the growth of users who would “mutilate” the tool or how that mutilation might happen.

Information pollution
Information pollution, modified from the Council of Europe’s Information Disorder framework.

Academic researchers have focused on how President Donald Trump used Twitter throughout his campaign and presidency (2017-2021) to “[propagate] of mis- and disinformation.”

Those tweets were foreshadowed in 2009:

In the movie of Twitter’s improbable life, the camera would pan down from Ev’s room for the night in Chicago to reveal that it was in the Trump Hotel. Over ominous music, we would then cut to two weeks later, May 4, 2009. That’s when the Apprentice star’s account, @realdonaldtrump, set up in March, sent its first ever tweet. It looks surprisingly bland to our eyes, but was also vintage Trump. It was about a media appearance, and mentioned Donald Trump in the third person.

The mutilation has led Twitter to establish a policy on false Covid-19 information as well as a mechanism for users to report misleading information.

The challenge continues as operatives seek to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

 

About the name

In an interview with WNYC, Dorsey discussed how the team landed on Twitter as the name for the service.

DORSEY: We wanted a name that evoked what we did. We wanted something that was tangible. And we looked at what we were doing and when you received a tweet over SMS, your phone would buzz. It would jitter. It would twitch. And those were the early names, Jitter and Twitch. And neither one of them really inspired the best sort of imagery…

One of the guys who was helping us build and create the system, Noah Glass, took the word Twitch, and he went down the dictionary. And we all looked at the Oxford English dictionary at the T-W’s, and we found the word Twitter. And Twitter means a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds. And we were like, that describes exactly what we’re doing here. So it was an easy choice, and we got twitter.com for some very low price, and we named the company Twitter.

#scitech, #computing (060/365)
📷 Twitter
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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