Together with Facebook and MySpace, Twitter has revolutionized social networking and microblogging in the last four years. Relying on the SMS, IRC, and IM technology, Twitter has made microblogging a social norm with people’ tweeting’ what they are doing and what they are feeling at any time of the day to anyone who cares to know. Twitter does not only serve as a medium for impulsive babbling or for expressing deep thoughts, however, but has time and again proves that it can be used to serve significant political and social ends, such as when a media person was arrested while touring a hostile territory or when a celebrity launches a campaign for a worthy social or environmental crusade. Barely into its fifth year, Twitter registered users are already currently estimated to be in the hundreds of millions and its revenues to be billions of dollars. Indeed, Twitter is a success story worth telling and following.
The Birth of Twitter
In 2006, a software engineer named Jack Dorsey approached Odeo, a media syndication company, to discuss his ideas of creating a “real-time status-communication platform with a social spin” where one could share and broadcast others just about anything from gossip to simple thoughts. Biz Stone, the founder of Odeo, liked the idea, and Dorsey’s proposal was declared as a side project of Odeo. It was decided that the SMS platform of mobile phones would be ideally suited for the project. A maximum of 140 characters, short of the 160 characters-limit of SMS text messaging, should be used as the broadcast limit (Thomases, p. x; Sagolla, p. xvii).
Dorsey’s idea was a breath of fresh air to Odeo, which was at that time having a difficult time selling its latest technology Audio Blogger to users because of Stiff rivalry from heavyweights such as Apple Corp. The company decided it had to reinvent itself. Dorsey’s social networking microblogging idea was seen as an opportunity after presenting in a day-long brainstorming of Odeo technocrats. Dorsey, Biz, and Florian Weber went on to hammer out Dorsey’s proposal prototype model. In contrast, the others continued with the usual company business to ensure that if Dorsey’s idea fails, the company has something to fall back on (Sagolla p. xviii).
The prototype was built in two weeks, and the service was first tested by Odeo personnel and other insiders, such as their immediate family members. It was entirely web-based, and the first messages, which were broadcasted by Dorsey, were “waiting for a dom to update more” and “oh this is going to be addictive.” Of course, this test was top secret because of fears that other competitors might get wind of it before it was released. After ten days, Twttr Alpha was presented, and a larger circle of friends, excluding large companies, were allowed to join. The name Twttr was inspired by Flickr and was influenced by the fact that only five characters in the American SMS application names. While the new product was being tested, Odeo continued to suffer financially, forcing Williams to release some of its employees (Sagolla p. xviii-xix). On July 15, 2006, Odeo officially released Twttr to the public. The mechanics of the new service included sending a text message to “40404” that can be viewed via SMS or at the Twttr’s website by all of the sender’s friends or “followers” (Arrington 2006). In October 2006, Williams bought Odeo from its investors and started a new company called Obvious Corp. together with Stone and other Odeo employees. The sale transferred to Obvious Corp. all assets of the old Odeo, including twitter (Malik 2006).
At first, people did not know what to make of Twitter, but the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2007 changed all that. During the festivities, the company used two substantial plasma screens to stream twitter messages continuously. Twitter dominated the event and attracted a large number of new users. The usual 20,000 a day tweets swelled to 60,000 during the event (Gratton & Gratton, 2011).
In May 2007, Jack Dorsey took the position of Chief Executive Officer of the just-formed Twitter, then already worth millions of dollars. The company immediately launched glitzy events to promote and introduce twitter to a broader audience and capture more users. The first of this was the 2007 summer MTV Music Awards, where its “moon man” posted the tweet “MTV tells me to get hip to the digital age. ‘Try twitter,’ they said. So here I am. What? –MTV Moonman.” This promotional stunt increased the number of twitter users to one million. That same year, Twitter released a search tool to help its users search for names or usernames of twitter users (Sagolla xxiii).
The year 2008 was even more productive for the company even though it suffered a few setbacks. Businesses started to find use in twitter, with Comcast, a publicly-traded company, being its first company user. @ComcastCares made its first tweet in April 2008 when a tech blogger tweeted his internet problems. This started other business companies flocking into the tweeting game, and later, government authorities and news media joined the fray. Twitter’s positive value to the world, however, was first illustrated in the case of photojournalist James Buck, who, after he was arrested in Egypt, immediately tweeted the word “Arrested.” A day after, US authorities secured his release – thanks to twitter. However, it was also that same month that Twitter began experiencing trouble with service reliability after its chief architect Blaine left the company. During that time, Twitter’s Fail Whale icon became the symbol of this crisis. Nonetheless, the increase of celebrity users of Twitter that year created a ripple effect as this attracted more and more followers registering. In the winter of 2009, Twitter users were estimated to number 6 million (Sagolla, p. xxv).
Twitter and the Future
In an interview with Biz Stone earlier this year, he revealed some of Twitter’s immediate plans. Two of the ideas being mulled by the company are to attract more businesses as paying users and leveraging the data it has at its disposal. While acknowledging that its users will primarily determine twitter’s direction, Stone also admitted a need to attract more paying users if it is to make money. For this goal, Twitter has to look in businesses’ order since it has been established that individual users are not likely inclined to spend a dime on it, as revealed in the 2010 Digital Future Study. Therefore, Twitter’s new direction is to focus on developing new features and services that are business-friendly and creating business-focused applications, which only a few are existing at the moment. Also, Twitter management realizes it has data that millions of tweeters contribute daily and the potential for extracting valuable information from such data represents a gold mine. Thus, the future may see Twitter as a competitor for Google and a predictor of box-office revenues and the Dow Jones industrial average, among others.
Today, with Jack Dorsey under its helm again after being booted out as CEO in 2008, Twitter looks at a very bright future. Its current users are estimated to be around 200 million (Shiels 2011). In 2009, the company’s financial standing was exposed – thanks to a hacker who had successfully breached the internet accounts containing confidential information of some critical Twitter officers, including Williams. According to that revelation, the company’s revenue forecast stands at $140 million by the end of 2010 (The New York Times 2009). However, recently, Twitter was reported to be negotiating for a $400 million deal that would purportedly increase its company value to $8 billion (The New York Times 2011).