Saturday, March 19, 2011

Twitter, a five-year-old changing the world


At five years old, Twitter is just starting to change the world.
Co-founder Jack Dorsey fired off the first tweet on March 21, 2006. It read "just setting up my twttr." It was Dorsey who proposed the idea for Twitter while working with Biz Stone and Evan Williams at podcasting company Odeo.
Since then, Twitter has been embraced as a forum for sharing anything from a favorite lunch spot to violations of civil rights and calls for revolution.
"As much fun as we were having, there was always, I think, in the back of our heads the idea of the potential of something important coming from it," Stone said of the startup's formative days.
"Even if we didn't say it out loud and talk about it," the co-founder said in an interview. "Because we were just getting started and we really had no place saying anything like that."
Williams, Dorsey, and Stone thought it would be fun to build a service that lets people use text messaging to share thoughts, insights and news with the masses.
San Francisco-based Twitter won the hearts of trendsetters after officially coming out at the South By South West technology festival in Texas in 2007.
"South By South West was the real eye-opener to the fact that we had, quite possibly, created a new way for people to communicate that was real time, sort of agnostic with regard to device and potentially transformative in the way people self-organize," Stone said.
"And everything that happened around the world that Twitter found its way into was really just yet another eye-opening display of the potential."
Initially scoffed at by some as a platform for telling the world what one had for breakfast, Twitter has become respected as a lifeline during disasters such as the earthquake in Japan and an organizing tool for champions of democracy.
Stone believed it vital for Twitter to remain a politically neutral technology platform focused on fostering open communication.
He saw the use of Twitter by those out to overthrow oppressive regimes in the Middle East as proof that given the right tools, people will stand for good.
"One of the things I told our team early on was that if Twitter is to be a triumph, it is not necessarily to be a triumph of technology but a triumph of humanity," Stone said.
"If we are successful it is not going to be because of our algorithms and our machines, it is going to be what people end up doing with this tool that defines us and makes us a success or not."
More than 200 million people use Twitter, firing off more than 140 million text messages of 140 characters or less daily. The length limit was set to fit the maximum allowed in text messages sent using mobile phones.

Here are some facts about the San Francisco-based startup:

  • Dorsey's first tweet, sent on March 21, 2006, read: "just setting up my twttr"
  • Twitter has more than 200 million registered users sending more than 140 million tweets a day
  • Last year, Twitter users sent 25 billion tweets and the company added more than 100 million new registered accounts
  • Pop star Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) has the most Twitter followers with 8.78 million followed by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) with 8.13 million, Britney Spears (@britneyspears) with 7.12 million, Barack Obama (@barackobama) with 6.97 million and Kim Kardashian (@kimkardashian) with 6.73 million
  • Actor Charlie Sheen (@charliesheen) was the fastest to one million followers, picking them up in just 24 hours
  • The hashtag (#) feature on Twitter which groups tweets by subject debuted in August 2007, proposed by a user
  • In October 2009, Google and Microsoft began integrating tweets into their search products
  • Twitter has "370-plus" employees and is adding workers almost weekly
  • Twitter is based in San Francisco, with additional employees in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington
  • Twitter was incorporated in April 2007; it was co-founded by Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey -- @biz, @ev and @jack
  • The initial Twitter logo was created by Stone, a former graphic designer
  • Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo is a former improvisational comedian



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