140 characters. With that limit, Twitter distilled human interaction down to just a few short words that were communicated in real time.
Every social media platform has its niche. YouTube is focused on video. Instagram highlights photos. Facebook is an interactive yearbook. Twitter is a real time conversation. That 140 character limit doubled in 2017 to 280 characters, making the real time conversations a little meatier.
What makes Twitter so unique is that it is a barrage of information, constantly updated by users and always relevant. Twitter moves at the speed of words.
Podcasts to Tweets
Podcasting company Odeo birthed Twitter when some of its board members got together to brainstorm ideas about how to communicate more effectively and efficiently. Jack Dorsey is still the CEO of Twitter, and he was an undergraduate student at New York University when he sat in on that first session in 2006.
The shortcodes that formed the foundation of Twitter also inspired its name. To twitter means to have an explosion of communication that is virulent but not necessarily important, like a bird that’s suddenly chirping. That view of communication would go on to shape Twitter as a medium for communication.
Twitter’s growth was explosive from the very beginning. It reached 20,000 followers in less than eighteen months, fueled by a marketing trick at the SXSW festival. The company placed a series of huge screens around the festival that broadcast Twitter in real time. The immediacy of that communication spiked usage on the site from twenty thousand tweets per day to sixty thousand tweets per day.
By 2010, Twitter users were sending fifty million tweets every day. Growth slowed around 2015, however the company continued to expand with buyouts of other platforms. Twitter owns Vine, MoPub, and Periscope. There are over three hundred million active users on Twitter.
Though it’s nowhere close to the social media juggernaut that Facebook is, Twitter continues to grow its user base. Thanks to high profile users like Justin Bieber and Rihanna, not to mention Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the company remains culturally relevant.
There has been a great deal of controversy swirling around Twitter, particularly in the area of censorship.
Harassment is a major problem for Twitter, in the areas of direct messaging and on the public feed of the service. Twitter was also embroiled in the Wikileaks scandal of 2010, and the company was subpoenaed by the United States Department of Justice. There has been a longstanding accusation against the company that it does not do enough to censor hate speech, something that Twitter has been slow to act on. In 2018, it finally stepped in and shut down more than one hundred and fifty thousand accounts that were connected with terrorist groups.
Despite its huge numbers of users, Twitter was slow to turn a profit. This was a major issue for the company from the outset. Whereas platforms like Facebook and Instagram had incredible success with seamlessly integrating advertisements into the feeds of users, Twitter struggled all along to replicate that profit model. The company saw significant losses throughout its fiscal reporting.
To keep going, Twitter has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital. The company went public in 2013 and was at the time valued at thirty-one billion dollars.
Twitter, like other massive tech companies, represents a revolution in both how people interact and how people think of finances. Though the company continues to experience financial losses, it keeps moving forward and appealing to massive numbers of users.