Philosophically there is no more arbitrary milestone than the passage of time, each year we celebrate the passing of another year, see what I mean? That’s why Twitter’s second five-year anniversary milestone of 350 billion tweets delivered and 600K users signing up daily falls a little flat (Twitter celebrated its “first” five year anniversary — commemorating when the first tweets were sent — back in March).
The torrent of tech announcement posts about INSERT COMPANY HERE hitting 100K users or downloads or “shares” or tiddlywinks or badges is perpetual enough that all tech news sort of blends into a river of user numbers and APPLE VS. GOOGLE VS. TWITTER. Sigh.
It is amazing to think that Twitter launched publicly five years ago today. When Mike Arrington first wrote, “Odeo releases Twitter” in 2006 he had no idea that one day the TechCrunch Twitter account would be nearing a 2 million-follower distribution channel and that he himself would reach 82K. Very few would have predicted that the SMS notifications system with no vowel in its name would turn into a seven billion dollar company employing 500 people. “If this was a new startup, a one or two person shop, I’d give it a thumbs up for innovation and good execution on a simple but viral idea,” Mike wrote at the time.
Mike’s Twttr launch post is striking in its simplicity, at 327 words it’s sort of like the blogger version of the calm before the storm. The social network (?) microblogging platform(?) new form of mass media (?) has been the subject of incessant free press throughout its upward trajectory.
There was a period of time after its breakout at SXSW 2007 where everywhere you’d look you’d see an “… On Twitter” headline: “Man Proposes To Wife … On Twitter.” “Woman Gives Birth… On Twitter.” “Shaquille O’Neal … On Twitter” “Man Tweets From Space … On Twitter.” “Bronx Zoo Cobra … On Twitter.” At this point it’s news if something doesn’t happen “… On Twitter.”
So why can’t we shut up about it? In a sense Twitter is a mirror for life and human connection. There is a unique feeling one gets watching the flood of tweets from strangers pour in for the #iranelection, #WorldCup, #WWDC or any microhashtag on Twitter. A crucial part of my morning ritual is catching up with news on Twitter watching the quips made by friends pour in on equal footing with commentary made by media luminaries.
Thus I’ve been asking people all morning (on Twitter) about what Twitter, a service built essentially to communicate spurts of human activity, means to them. I’ve gotten back so much information it is tough and kind of meta to process, kind of like Twitter itself.
A sampling of important Twitter moments I’ve heard so far, in more or less chronological order:
When Apple released iTunes podcasting (because it forced Odeo to pivot), March 2006: the first tweet, July 2006: we cover Twttr, Twttr becomes Twitter, March 2007: it’s the breakout hit of SXSW, the fail whale supplants the fail cat, the #hashtag is invented, a plane is Twitpic’d landing in the Hudson river, CNN and Ashton’s race to a million followers, Oprah joins, the co-founders play musical chairs, Twitter buying mobile client Atebits (signaling the end of friendly developer ecosystem relations), #new Twitter, more downtime, the Iran riots, the time Twitter was hacked and so on and so forth.
The most striking thing is that most Twitter users have their own unique list of moments that cemented Twitter’s importance (for those that can tolerate slideshows Business Insider has a really good one here).
If you suspend disbelief on what percentage are spambots, Twitter has 200 million users whose #1 Twitter milestone is “Just setting up my Twttr” or the day they set up and account.
The company hopes by the end of 2013 to have 1 billion users (more than Facebook) in addition to $1.5 billion in revenue and an over 5,000 person staff. Just typing out that sort of ambition is sort of painful when the service still shows me that I’m following people who I’m not and is all over the place with regards to a steady revenue stream. For what it’s worth I’d pay Twitter $10 bucks a month just to archive and thread my DMs.
In fact, I think there’s many that would do the same and today we’re all wishing Silicon Valley’s charismatic but sort of flakey friend a very happy second fifth birthday; Because honestly we’re all rooting for them.