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A decade of Twitter: 7 things you might not know about tweeting

Has it been 10 years already? Twitter came into the world on March 21, 2006 after a brainstorming session by Odeo board members Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. From just a handful of users, the SMS-style social network has grown to encompass 320 million people, publishing up to 500 million tweets per day.

But how much do you really know about Twitter, its tweets and hashtags as it celebrates its 10th birthday? Did you know, for example, that…

1. Twitter was originally called twttr

In fact, the original idea that Jack Dorsey sketched out in 2001 was dubbed ‘stat.us’. It was an SMS service designed to broadcast your status to small groups of followers. “I had an idea to make a more ‘live’ LiveJournal,” he recalls. “Real-time, up-to-date, from the road. Akin to updating your AIM status from wherever you are, and sharing it.”

Five years later, Dorsey pitched a web-based version of his idea to Odeo, the podcasting company where he worked. “The name Twitter came from @Noah Glass & the Oxford English: “a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds,” remembers Dorsey. This was shortened to twttr (twitter.com was available), inspired by flickr.

The team started programming twttr on 13 March and the first tweet was sent eight days later on 21 March, Twitter’s official birthday.

just setting up twttr

2. Originally Twitter didn’t have a character limit

Before Twitter became publicly available on 15 July 2006, messages longer than 140 characters were delivered sequentially. The 140 character limit that arguably made Twitter famous was inspired by the 160 character limit of SMS messages — 20 characters for a Twitter username, 140 characters for the message. As Dom Sagolla, who helped create Twitter, remembers:

They settled on 140, in order to leave room for the username and the colon in front of the message. In February of 2007 @Jack [Dorsey] wrote something which inspired me to get started on this project: ‘One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters.’”

3. You can thank journalists for Twitter’s popularity

It wasn’t until March 2007 that Twitter really took off. It finally gained traction (and generated a lot of positive buzz) at the South by Southwest festival, where it became a handy way for delegates to communicate with each other. Tweets tripled, awareness spiked and Twitter walked away with the SXSW Web Award. Dorsey attributes Twitter’s success to journalists and bloggers.

“After the tech early-adopters, journalists were next to take to Twitter,” he said. “They used it as a source, to break news, and to link their work… Journalists were a big part of why we grew so quickly and still a big reason why people use Twitter: news. It’s a natural fit.”

4. The hashtag wasn’t Twitter’s idea

We’ve seen some fantastic hashtags on Twitter. Some of the biggest in 2015 were #JeSuisParis, #BlackLivesMatter, #MarriageEquality and #RefugeesWelcome. But did you know that the hashtag wasn’t Twitter’s idea? It was suggested by Twitter user, former Googler and Developer Experience Lead at Uber Chris Messina, who tweeted on 23 August 2007:

hashtag invention

5. Twitter beats news media at their own game

Remember the US Airways plane that splash-landed in the Hudson River back in January 2009? The first photo of that incredible scene was posted on Twitter by Janis Krums. It demonstrated that Twitter could be a source of breaking news and that the crowd could respond to live events faster than traditional media.

Today, almost every media organisation has a Twitter account and social media sites have become a source of breaking news. From the announcement of a royal wedding or the Osama Bin Laden Raid to goal notifications and PR announcements, Twitter keeps us in touch. Even the astronauts on the International Space Station are tweeting.

There's a plane in the Hudso
There’s a plane in the Hudson… Tweet and photo by @jkrums (via about.twitter.com).

6. Two billion tweets per week and counting

By 2011, over 100 million acrive Twitter users were sending over 1 billion tweets per week. The Arab Spring in Egypt unfolded over Twitter and the site’s mainstream appeal was perhaps sealed when President Obama tweeted his 2012 election win.

Since then, Twitter has tracked the Boston Marathon bombings, the end of Breaking Bad, Bat Kid, the 2014 World Cup, Scottish independence referendum and the Paris shootings. On average, 6,000 Twitter handles 6,000 tweets per second — that’s 350,000 per minute, 500 million per day or 200 billion per year.

According to Twitter Counter (March 2016), Katy Perry is the most followed person on Twitter with over 83 million followers, trailed by Justin Bieber (76 million), Taylor Swift (72 million), Barack Obama (70 million) and YouTube (60 million followers)

7. The end of the 140-character limit?

Where does Twitter go from here? Up to this point, Twitter has acquired 51 smaller companies and startups, including Tweetdeck, Posterous, Vine, Twitpic and Periscope. Along the way it has gained experience in mobile advertising, social analytics, mobile TV, video sharing and artificial intelligence.

Most interestingly, there are indications that Twitter could abandon the 140-character limit, which its founder Jack Dorsey has described as a “beautiful constraint.” Twitter’s direct messaging system is already free of the limit and tweets could follow.

“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter,” Dorsey tweeted back in January, “and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it. Instead, what if that text… was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

“What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language!”

Whatever happens in the future, Twitter has changed how we share information. Happy birthday to the old bird. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

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