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Twitter: 15 Years Later

Happy Twitter Anniversary,

2007 was a big year for everyone technologically, but a lot of other things happened that year for me as well. Some of these items include:

I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at how those events have had an impact, mostly on me, but on the wider technology world. I did not initially think about writing this post, because it did not occur to me, but in reality it should have. That topic is Twitter, so let us start with Twitter early on.

Twitter logo from 2006 to 2010

Early Twitter

Twitter is not that old in terms of social networks. In fact Twitter itself is almost 16 years old. The first tweet written by twitter c-founder Jack Dorsey was written on March 21st, 2006. Twitter began as a service that you could use via text message. In fact, this was why Twitter was originally limited to 140 characters, to take into account any sort of difference in cellular carriers. The idea was to publish what you were doing while out and about, via text message, and then read what others had written on the web. Twitter starting in 2006 meant that this was before the iPhone, before smart phones becoming common place, and definitely before unlimited data on cell phones. However, this was right when many had unlimited text messages, so it was a good time to start such a service.

Twitter started out as a place that comprised of mostly people into technology. This is because the service was shown off at South by Southwest, which is a combination technology and music conference. Twitter was conceived in the era of text messaging. This meant that Twitter was designed with text messaging in mind, and therefore was limited to 140 characters, which is the same as many SMS services provided by carriers.

I happen to join Twitter on January 28th, 2007 at 7:59pm, so just about 15 years ago as this is posted. The time I signed up is well before the service really took off. I heard about it from Justine Ezarik on a podcast, and she was talking about the service. She has been on Twitter since July of 2006. Once Twitter had started to become popular, it began to encounter some issues. In particularly, Twitter had some issues with scaling and early twitter users remember, sometimes fondly, the 'Fail Whale".

Twitter Fail Whale

Twitter has since improved on this and the times that twitter has failures are few and far between these days, but it still does happen from time to time. Typically it is due to a larger problem, like DNS issues, and often affects many sites not just Twitter itself.

Early in twitter's life you could send and receive tweets via text message. This was a great way of interacting with the service while on the go, because some users did have unlimited texting plans, particularly after June of 2007 in the United States. This is because a new device, the iPhone, was finally available for sale.

The iPhone increased the desire for third party apps. While there would not be any official app support until 2008, that did not stop people from creating apps.

Third-Party Apps

As mentioned earlier, Twitter was also accessible via text message, but Twitter has always had a website where you could see your timeline, send tweets, and send direct message to other users. The website was primary method of using the service early in its lifetime. While Twitter's popularity was increasing over 2007 and 2008, it was not until the official release of the iOS Software Development Kit, or SDK, that third-party clients began to be created.

While the web interface was the most popular way, there was a contingent of users who wanted to use Twitter while on the go and on their iPhone. In order to accommodate this desire, a bunch of third-party twitter clients were created.

Om Malik had a blog post from December of 2008 that had a number of the third-party clients. Having looked at this list there were some that I completely forgot about.

The ability to have third-party clients were made possible through Twitters APIs. This is because Twitter itself did not have its own app and actually wanted developers to create applications to access the platform. Some of the other early Twitter available at the time included:

  • Tweetie
  • Twitterific
  • Echofon
  • La Twit

I remember purchasing Tweetie and using that for a while. Tweetie was such a good Twitter client that Twitter acquired Tweetie in April of 2010 to be used as the official Twitter client.

While the early days of Twitter thrived on third-party Twitter clients, the service changed over time to put a lot more emphasis on the official Twitter app. Lately though, that approach has changed again that allows third-party to build comparable clients. No, they are not feature for feature the same, but many of the things that used to be exclusive to the official Twitter client have now become available for third-party apps to adopt if they so choose.

Clients and services are not the only things that have changed, my usage of Twitter has significantly changed over the years.

My Usage

Twitter has changed significantly over the years, both visually as well as how I use it. Twitter initially began as a way of posting things about my day, Over time though that has changed to be more of a place where I get my news. That is not to say that I do not use Twitter for communicating with certain people, I definitely still do use it for that, but it not the primary focus.

As time has gone on though, I ended up building some friendships with those on twitter. Some of those that I have followed early in my time on Twitter I still follow today. Beyond this, I have built up some friendships with those on Twitter. Some of these relationships are more recent than others, but none are more important than others.

Conversely, with Twitter being around so long there have been those that are no longer around. Some because they passed away, but also some left of their own accord due to harassment, or just due to non-usage.

In the early days of Twitter it felt a lot more like a giant group chat. The is because it was primarily used by early technology adopters, so you would be able to keep

There are two features that came about organically, but are absolutely essential on Twitter today. These are mentions and retweets. Mentions on twitter were easily done by putting someone's twitter handle somewhere in the tweet, typically at the beginning. If they were following you they would see the fact that you mentioned them and would be able to respond. Eventually Twitter added official support for mentions and Twitter would not be the same without them.

Early in the life of twitter you could easily be a Twitter completionist, meaning that you would read all of the new tweets from everyone that you followed. There are some that still do this, but even I no longer do this. I do have a list where I try to read every tweet, but sometimes that is too much and I ma not able to do so.

My usage has significantly shifted, particularly within the last few years. I used to be on Twitter a lot more than I am now, constantly interacting and keeping up with the latest developments around the world. Recently though, my twitter experience has been more of a "pop in see what is going on and pop out again". It is no longer my "go to" when I pick up my phone or use my computer. I am not sure why this has changed, but it has.

I have spent a lot of time talking about the early days of Twitter, let us look at where Twitter is today.

Twitter Today

Twitter Logo 2021

Twitter is no longer primarily a place for just people interested in technology. Now it encompasses a whole range of interest in topics and Twitter has definitely become more mainstream.

If you can think of a topic of interest to yourself, I am sure you can find people who share the same interest. This could be something like the NFL, College Basketball, current news, video games, a tv show, or just about any topic, there is a group interested.

Each social network has its own unique function. Twitter's function is where you can find information about breaking news. Some of the information may not be 100% accurate, but there is a lot of accurate information surrounding the news as well.

Mentioned earlier is that Twitter began to move away from supporting third-party clients and instead opting to focus on their own app, to the extent that there was a great disparity between what features offered to third-parties and what the official Twitter app was capable of offering. The disparities were not just because third-parties did not implement features, but because they could not do so.

Within the last year, at least as of this writing, Twitter has begun changing their stance on third-party clients and has started to offer a whole new API that provides many of the same features that are available in the official Twitter app. There are still some things not offered to third-parties, but this is slowly changing. I suspect there may eventually be feature parity between what third-party apps can offer and what the official Twitter app has, but it will take time.

Closing Thoughts

I am not on that many social networks. I have a Facebook account but I hardly use that anymore. I also have Instagram, but I just view stuff on there and do not post a lot. I also have a Mastodon account and have been trying to use that more, but I do not have many people that I follow, nor that follow me, on there.

I do not have TikTok, nor Snapchat, nor any others. Twitter is by far the social network I use. It's the one I have used the most and also the one that I get the most benefit from. As mentioned earlier, I have built up some really good relationships through Twitter, some of them are local, but most are not. It is not likely that I will stop using Twitter anytime soon, but it is possible that the way I use it may change, but only time will tell. You can, of course, follow me on Twitter if you want.

Twitter header for @waynedixon as of January 28th, 2022