“Twitter is not a triumph of technology. It’s a triumph of humanity.”
— Biz Stone, 2010
Social networking once meant meeting up for coffee or catching a quick lunch. With the dawning of the digital era the definition has changed. Nothing embodies that shift more than Twitter, which has emerged as the most convenient and fastest method to communicate to people. Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, the Twitter founders, burst onto the social networking scene in 2006 with Twitter, and since then they have scarcely been left out of headlines.
Just what is Twitter? To the uninitiated, Twitter allows the exchange of messages named as ‘tweets,’ whose length is restricted to just 140 characters. Williams defines it in a speech at the non-profit foundation TED, “The fundamental idea is Twitter lets people share moments of their lives, whenever they want – either momentous occasions or mundane ones.” Being flexible, tweets can be posted through the web or the cellphone to the user’s ‘followers.’
It all started with Jack Dorsey’s lifelong, and perhaps unusual, fascination with mapping and couriers. “You had this transfer of physical information happening throughout the city and the world… I wanted to map it, to see that flow on a big screen,” he tells Techcrunch. At just 14, Dorsey worked as a software developer for a dispatch company in his hometown of St Louis, Missouri. Later on, he dropped out of New York University and moved to California. There, he started his first company in 2000, which focused on courier dispatch, taxi and emergency services. His open source applications in this field are still in use today.
At the turn of the 21st century, the world was abuzz with the now familiar applications like AOL Instant Messenger and Short Messaging Service (SMS) on cellphones. Inspired by these technologies, the idea for Twitter took root in Dorsey’s mind. Over the next few years, Dorsey cobbled together his idea of Twitter, and in 2005, he approached Biz Stone and Evan Williams, founders of Odeo, a firm engaged in podcasting and SMS. His idea appealed to them and within two weeks a Twitter prototype was born. Twitter was officially launched in July 2006 and three months later Stone, Williams, Dorsey and a few other members of Odeo, formed Obvious Corp, which acquired Odeo and all its assets from investors and shareholders. Twitter was then spun-off as an individual company in 2007, with Dorsey installed as the chairman.
Since then, Twitter has grown into a social networking phenomenon and marketing vehicle, collecting staunch followers including U.S. President Barack Obama who is one of the most active “Twitterers”. Apart from politicians, over the past three years ‘twitterati’ include film stars, corporates and sportspeople who have used Twitter to reach out to their audience. But it turned out that Twitter had other uses apart from being a mere advertising tool. In 2007, crucial reports of the California wildfire came through Twitter, while the next year James Buck, a California student, used Twitter to get himself out of an Egyptian jail. Twitter was also the first to report the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 into the Hudson River.
By the end of 2009, Twitter had signed $25 million worth of deals that made tweets searchable on Google and Bing.
Surprisingly, despite the rapid rise of Twitter, Dorsey and his team did not put a business plan in place. “Runaway growth forced us to stay simple because we didn’t have time to focus on too many other things other than keeping the service running,” explains Stone to the Financial Times. A constant stream of offers to buy the company too, has been resisted by the founders, who wanted control over their product. But as the team realized that, “it takes a lot of money to run Twitter,” they unveiled the first business and advertising revenue model for Twitter in April 2010. Named Promoted Tweets, it lets companies advertise through simple ad messages.
On the flip side, Twitter’s unprecedented growth has been flogged by critics. They cite that the majority of Twitter’s messages are banalities, like people watching television or going on a date. Many of Twitter’s decriers have deciphered these messages as evidence of an alarming narcissistic streak in a society that thrives on attention. Tweets can be inappropriately used too. In 2009, a U.S. intelligence report identified Twitter as a potential propaganda tool for terrorists, human rights groups, anarchists, and political enthusiasts.
For now, Dorsey and his team are relying on that reflexive urge in people to share information every minute. Twitter is today valued at around $1 billion and its number of users has jumped to 105 million in April from 75 million in January this year. 300,000 new users are signing up every day. Stone revealed that growth in the number of Twitter users has skyrocketed at an average rate of 1,500% per year since it was founded four years ago.
Evidently, these statistics punctuate the undeniable fact that the chirpy network has totally transformed the way people reach out to one another. And now, it looks like the future is following Twitter.
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© Thomas White International, Ltd. 2019