Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

The history of Twitter, 140 characters at a time Add to ...

HISTORY

Twitter is the brainchild of a programmers who worked at the podcasting company Odeo Inc. in San Francisco.

The founders are Jack Dorsey (@Jack), Evan Williams (@Ev) and Biz Stone (@Biz).

They were looking for a way to send text on their cellphones and a way to reinvent a dying company.

On March 21, 2006, @Jack sent the first tweet: "just setting up my twttr."

More related to this story

And thus a communications revolution was born, one renown for brevity and bad spelling.

Dom Sagolla (@Dom), in tweet 38, typed these prescient words: "Oh, this is going to be addictive."

THAT NAME

The name Twitter was inspired by Flickr, a photo-sharing service. Other names considered: FriendStalker and Dodgeball.

The dictionary definition of twitter is "a short burst of inconsequential information."

A perfect name, said @Jack because "that's exactly what the product was."

TWITTER TODAY

Almost 200 million users worldwide. About 460,000 new Twitter accounts are opened daily.

More than 140 million tweets are sent daily. That's one billion weekly.

In 2008, Twitter had eight employees; today it has more than 400. And they're hiring (twitter.com/jobs)

WHY 140 CHARACTERS?

At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called tweets. Each tweet is 140 characters in length, maximum.

Initially, there was no limit to message length. When it went public, the 140 character limit was adopted.

Why? Because 160 characters was the SMS carrier limit and the founders wanted to leave room for a username.

Struggling with brevity? You can purchase 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form by @Dom.

HOW TWITTER MAKES MONEY

Twitter lists its revenues at a modest $150-million annually. It is a private company so the sources of revenue are unclear.

Twitter also licenses its stream of tweets to Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

There are constant rumours that Twitter will be purchases by Facebook or Google. It could also go public like LinkedIn.

Twitter is said to be worth more than $4.5-billion. The value comes from its potential to exploit its base of hundreds of millions of users.

Twitter could sell traditional ads (not likely) and to start charging for premium accounts that push business to their sites (very likely).

HOW TWITTER HAS CHANGED THE MEDIA

Twitter is not just your friends telling you what they ate for breakfast.

Increasingly, news stories that arise - a tsunami, a plane crash, the score of a hockey game, the latest Charlie Sheen gossip - arrive in tweets from people we follow on Twitter.

This allows everyone to essentially create their own newspaper or newscast, and to do so instantaneously.

HOW TWITTER HAS CHANGED POLITICS

Social media and microblogging like Twitter has changed political communication profoundly.

Political messages used to be controlled by a handful of powerful gatekeepers. Now the messengers, and hence the messages, are more diffuse and diverse.

In Canada, Industry Minister Tony Clement is one of the most prolific and popular Twitterers.

HOW TWITTER HAS CHANGED BUSINESS

Beyond its social function, Twitter is used increasingly by business to communicate with employees and customers.

The one-way transmission of information is morphing quickly into two-way interaction.

Business can communicate real-time message to the customers they want to reach.

Conversely, when customers are unhappy with a product or service, they can spread the word quickly - and do damage - with a few tweets.

MOST FOLLOWED

According to Twitaholic.com, the five most followed people on Twitter worldwide are:

Lady Gaga (@ladygaga): 8.9 million followers

Justin Bieber (@justin bieber): 8.2 million

Britney Spears (@britneyspears): 7.1 million

Barack Obama (@BarackObama): 7.0 million

Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian): 6.8 million

CANADA'S MOST FOLLOWED

According to Twitaholic.com, the five most followed people on Twitter based in Canada are:

Jeremy Jack Bieber (@LordBieber): 185,000 followers (yes, he's Justin Bieber's dad)

Gemstar (@Gemstars): virtual art gallery, 182,500

James Rivers (@JamesRivers): expert on Twitter marketing, 105,000

Sharon Hayes (@SharonHayes): e-entrepreneur, 104,000

Jaydon Wale (@jeyounit11): self-described "YouTube legend," 101,000



TWITTER QUOTES

"The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful" -Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain

"Who ever said things have to be useful?" -Twitter co-founder Evan Williams

"This is what the naysayers fail to understand: it's just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit." -Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air

Follow on Twitter: @picardonhealth

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories