On December 6, 2016, President Elect Donald Trump tweeted “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” around 6 am. Before the markets opened up on the same day, Boeing stock fell almost $2 a share. It bounced back quickly, but the fact remains: one tweet caused a plunging decline in a 96 billion-dollar business’ stock. Less than 140 characters rudely interrupted the success of a colossal manufacturing enterprise. And yet, just a little over a decade ago, a “tweet” was merely a sound that a songbird made. Twitter has climbed, hand over fist, across the mountainous social media landscape and clawed itself an existence at the very top. Today, President Elects can use Twitter to cause chaos between companies and consumers- not to mention between nation and nation. How did this happen so quickly? Let’s trace the fantastic evolution of Twitter, starting at ground zero.
Twitter Time Capsule
The history of Twitter starts with a name you may not recognize: Odeo, a podcasting company. Twitter (then twtter) was dreamed up as an SMS-communications platform by Jack Dorsey, who pitched the idea to his then-employer Odeo. The project was supported by Odeo co-founder Evan Williams, and eventually would transform the company when its investors were bought out and Obvious Corporation was born in order to house it. Twitter was launched in July, 2006, but would see its biggest initial growth spurt at the 2007 South By Southwest Interactive Conference and Web 2.0 Expo. The user base exploded in such a way as to often cause the service to be over capacity- always a good sign for a newly-founded social media platform.
But why 140 characters? As mentioned before, Twitter was originally to be SMS-based. It was intended as an instant messenger for users’ phones, and 140 characters was the limit that most mobile carriers used for the protocol standard. While Twitter ended up existing as a web platform, the limit stayed on, and has since done some rather fascinating things to its enormous user base.
The Cultural Influence of Twitter
Because of the 140-character limit, users were forced to be creative with the messages they shared. Both hashtags and @ symbol linking began as user-generated tools to communicate with one another, and were later added as functions to Twitter because of their popularity. Jargon initially developed with texting was utilized on the platform because of the character limit, and new words, phrases, and slang would quickly flourish as a result.
By 2012 more than 100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day, along with more than 1.6 billion search queries. By 2013 it was one of the ten most-visited websites. By March 2016 it had more than 310 million monthly active users. By December 2016 it was influencing stock prices. The success of Twitter is undeniable, but tech professionals struggle to explain the exact formula for that success. Most agree that the real-time updates are the true draw for Twitter users.
The Value of Twitter
Twitter allows you to follow your favorite news sources, organizations, and people, and provides instant gratification concerning their whereabouts, their activities, and their priorities. For example, on the day of the 2016 presidential election, Twitter was the largest source of breaking news with 40 million Tweets sent in one day. Want to know what’s happening- anywhere? Anywhere in the world? At any time? Twitter is your answer. Your preferred celebrities, your family members, your employers- they’re all probably on Twitter, and your best bet for immediate news about them is to check that platform. 140 characters later, you may know all you need to know.
The Future of Twitter
Obviously, our President Elect understands the value of Twitter and what it means to use it effectively. It’s a sort of power, really, and wielded in the wrong hands perhaps will have astonishingly devastating consequences. It’s not so ludicrous to think that America may one day declare war with Russia- through a tweet. Or, at the very least, inform the American public that it’s doing so through a tweet. It’s easier to understand Twitter’s fantastic evolution through the lens of a news source rather than a social media platform. It is certainly social, and it is certainly media, but ultimately, for 2017, it commands a power equal to that of a global press conference. May we use it wisely and well.