Much more detail on the History of Twitter, and a few predictions thrown in there for good measure.
“We’re all learning still how this thing is unfolding, and our role in it.”
Thanks to Bo Bennet for reaching out via Twitter for this, I really enjoyed it.
When Twitter was hatched, it was called “twttr”. Jack Dorsey, coding up the very first working version of the site, sent the first recorded message at 12:50pm PDT:
This message was written by @Jack’s system automatically by all users upon signup, and this practice lasted for a while. His second message was:
This is where Twitter’s story begins. @Jack invited us by pointing to the internal twttr.com server. Productivity around the office dropped precipitously as we each used it and debated its merits. There were doubters. My wife is probably the earliest Twitter-hater. @Blaine wouldn’t even try it for a while.
I can safely say that each of us knew deep down that we had something special, though. Love it or hate it, Twitter was alive and we all had to deal with it. We all slowly got used to being in constant contact with each other, and eventually established our own frequencies.
Three years later, the spectrum of voices is ever-widening. We raise our collective glasses to Jack and the rest of the old Odeo crew for creating Twitter and the current team for keeping her afloat.
“So say we all!”
If you’re in San Francisco, please join us at the 21st Amendment starting at noon tomorrow, March 21st, 2009 for a few beers and tales of yore.
Update: Westwood One Radio was in attendance, and filed this report.
Twitter was born about three years ago, when @Jack, @Biz, @Noah, @Crystal, @Jeremy, @Adam, @TonyStubblebine, @Ev, me (@Dom), @Rabble, @RayReadyRay, @Florian, @TimRoberts, and @Blaine worked at a podcasting company called Odeo, Inc. in South Park, San Francisco. The company had just contributed a major chunk of code to Rails 1.0 and had just shipped Odeo Studio, but we were facing tremendous competition from Apple and other heavyweights. Our board was not feeling optimistic, and we were forced to reinvent ourselves.
“Rebooting” or reinventing the company started with a daylong brainstorming session where we broke up into teams to talk about our best ideas. I was lucky enough to be in @Jack’s group, where he first described a service that uses SMS to tell small groups what you are doing. We happened to be on top of the slide on the north end of South Park. It was sunny and brisk. We were eating Mexican food. His idea made us stop eating and start talking.
I remember that @Jack’s first use case was city-related: telling people that the club he’s at is happening. “I want to have a dispatch service that connects us on our phones using text.” His idea was to make it so simple that you don’t even think about what you’re doing, you just type something and send it. Typing something on your phone in those days meant you were probably messing with T9 text input, unless you were sporting a relatively rare smartphone. Even so, everyone in our group got the idea instantly and wanted it.
Later, each group presented their ideas, and a few of them were selected for prototyping. Demos ensued. @Jack’s idea rose to the top as a combination of status-type ideas. @Jack, @Biz, and @Florian were assigned to build version 0.1, managed by @Noah. The rest of the company focused on maintaining Odeo.com, so that if this new thing flopped we’d have something to fall back upon.
The first version of @Jack’s idea was entirely web-based. It was created on March 21st, 2006. My first substantive message is #38:
We struggled with a codename and a product name. “It’s FriendStalker!” joked @Crystal, our most prolific user. The userbase was limited entirely to the company and our immediate family. No one from a major company of any kind was allowed in. For months, we were in Top Secret Alpha because of competing products like the now-defunkt Dodgeball. The original product name / codename “twttr” was inspired by Flickr and the fact that American SMS shortcodes are five characters. We prototyped with “10958” as our shortcode. (We later changed to “40404” for ease of use and memorability.) @Florian was commuting from Germany, so in order to operate with him we secured a “long code”, or a full 10-digit phone number linked to a small-potatoes gateway. Twttr probably had about 50 users in the 10958 days.
I was following everyone on the system. We had an admin page where you could see every user. As Head of Quality for the company, it seemed like my duty to watch for opinions or issues from our users. This caused confusion, though, when family members of our team were suddenly being followed by a seemingly random person. Thus, Private Accounts were born. @Jack and @Florian created a means for users to mark themselves private, and we admins had the ability to tell who wanted to be private so we’d know not to follow them. Actual, real privacy with secure protection came a bit later. I’d say there were about 100 users when Private was invented.
The interaction model and the visual metaphor for the service were constantly in flux. The meaning of being someone’s “Friend” versus “Following” someone changed regularly. At that point, you could either get all SMS messages or get none. There was no Twictionary back then; data in the system were referred to as “posts” or just “messages”. The lack of clear terminology led to some pretty spirited debates leading up to the Spring of 2006.
We launched Twttr Beta on @Ev’s birthday. We could now invite a slightly larger circle of friends, but still excluding any large companies (with a few trusted exceptions within places like Google). I’ll never forget the family-friendly feeling of that day. We all knew that we were going to change the world with this thing that no one else understood. That day stands out in memory as the deep breath before a baby’s first cry.
Meanwhile, Odeo and the corporate board were at a tension point. Not only was the value of Twttr difficult to describe, the relevance of Odeo was declining monthly. Drastic cuts were recommended. One day in early May 2006, @Ev let four of us go: @Adam, @TonyStubblebine, me, and @Rabble. @Noah and @TimRoberts would later be asked to leave as well. It was a tough decision and huge shock to each of us. We all handled it differently. Looking back on it, I think Twitter allowed us to stay connected when we might not have otherwise been. After all, we weren’t even public with the site yet, so each of us continued to add value just by using it with each other.
During this transition, Twttr.com launched to the public. Still, very few people understood its value. At the time most people were paying per SMS message, and so wouldn’t Twttr run up our bills? Also, how were we supposed to use this thing and who cares what I’m doing? Each one of us original users became a kind of personal evangelist for Twttr, trying to get our coworkers and friends to use it. At this point, Obvious Corp was born as an incubator with Twttr as its sole project.
@Jack was still just an engineer, and the service was only a few months old when the group acquired Twitter.com and re-branded. Back then, we had no character limit on our system. Messages longer than 160 characters (the common SMS carrier limit) were split into multiple texts and delivered (somewhat) sequentially. There were other bugs, and a mounting SMS bill. The team decided to place a limit on the number of characters that would go out via SMS for each post. 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 wrote something which inspired me to get started on this project: “One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters.“
Just in time for SxSW, @RayReadyRay rigged a very sweet Flash-based visualizer that ended up on display on the halls of the conference. I wasn’t working there, but I used to visit regularly to see how our baby was doing. I happened to be at the office in SF when the visualizer went live on site in Austin. I remember finding a bug just before showtime, as @Biz and @Jeremy talked over the phone. Everything miraculously fell into place by the time people filtered out of the sessions to see their comments floating along the hallway screens. Boom #1: Twitter won an award in the Blog category, and @Jack thanked everyone in 140 characters.
MTV Music Awards: Boom #2.
Apple WWDC 2007, and then TV, and then print and pretty soon Cable news: Boom #3.
@Jack became the CEO of a newly spun-off Twitter, Inc. during the Boom Times. People still didn’t quite “get it” but at least some people had heard about it. The team created permalinks and RSS feeds. @Blaine pushed for IM integration. Each major feature added tremendous gains in users, and in usage per user. Still small by social networking standards, Twitter delivered something immediate and vital that no other service could attain.
For a lot of people, the entire API launch was really the time when Twitter first left the nest. But that is another story, for another time.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy following me: http://twitter.com/dom
Update: An expanded form of this History is now available as the Introduction to “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form”.
Make the most of your messages on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
The advent of Twitter and other social networking sites, as well as the popularity of text messaging, have made short-form communication an everyday reality. But expressing yourself clearly in short bursts-particularly in the 140-character limit of Twitter-takes special writing skill.
In 140 Characters, Twitter co-creator Dom Sagolla covers all the basics of great short-form writing, including the importance of communicating with simplicity, honesty, and humor. For marketers and business owners, social media is an increasingly important avenue for promoting a business-this is the first writing guide specifically dedicated to communicating with the succinctness and clarity that the Internet age demands.
- Covers basic grammar rules for short-form writing
- The equivalent of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for today’s social media-driven marketing messages
- Helps you develop your own unique short-form writing style
140 Characters is a much-needed guide to the kind of communication that can make or break a reputation online.
Get your copy of “140 Characters” today from these fine booksellers:
Welcome to 140 Characters, the hub of our combined efforts to write, edit, publish and distribute a book about Twitter. Updates on our work, excerpts from the book and exclusive short form content will be published here by Dom & Adam. We’re not alone though. When we say, “our combined efforts” we’re talking about the community as well. Every tweet is a contribution to this book. The Book on Twitter has been created by you and is a collection of information collected by Adam and Dom over the last 3 years using Twitter, tens of thousands of tweets. Thank you for visiting and we are pleased to have you here. Subscribe to the RSS feed and stick around. This is going to be a wild ride!
Hi. My name is Adam Jackson. I was born in Central Florida in 1986. In my 22 years on this planet, I’ve driven a tractor trailer professionally, operated a tractor, acted as The Assistant Manager at an Apple Store, Configured my high school’s wireless network and LAN infrastructure, worked on enterprise server systems for SMBs and dabbled in photography / graphic design. I moved to San Francisco in June of 2008 and began my career as a social media marketer. I’ve broadcasted my life 24/7 from a webcam on my head and sent 31,500 tweets to Twitter in just 18 months. My passion for Twitter is from the heart. The service has changed the way I live life and has enabled many opportunities for me. 31 thousand tweets has allowed for some amazing exploration on how the human mind thinks and responds to small bits of text. I’ve mastered the tweet and I want to share that with you. Twitter is a service that can work for you in many ways but my contribution to the book should help answer some questions and help you get started.
Hi. My name is Dom Sagolla, age 34. I’ve been writing since before the advent of blogs over at Dom.net. I was working at Odeo with Jack when he invented Twitter and got to help it grow. Being user number 9 on a system of millions of real people has been an incredible experience that I want to share with everyone. I believe that Twitter represents the world’s fastest, easiest way to produce hypertext, on top of an ubiquitous platform who’s power is yet untapped. Also, I’m pretty fanatical about grammar and style so this book should be the perfect outlet for me.
We’re really excited to announce this project today — it’s been a long time coming. Thanks for joining us!