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Happy Birthday Twitter: 10 years in 140 characters

March 21, 2016

Happy Birthday!  Today marks the 10th anniversary of Twitter – arguably, the world’s favourite microblogging platform with 320m active users. Despite some recent difficulties, Twitter has had a fundamental impact on the way we take in news and live our lives.

With its mission statement: ‘To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,’ Twitter is one of the pioneers of the modern media landscape, having a truly disruptive influence on the way content and news is distributed, shared and consumed.

In this post, I’ll look back at some of the most defining moments Twitter has given us over the past decade.

March 2006 – The adventure begins

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet on 21st March 2006. On 15th July the same year, Dorsey officially launched the complete platform, built with the help of developer Florian Weber, along with co-founders Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

January 2009 – Miracle on the Hudson

On 15th January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by the later-world famous pilot Captain “Sully” Sullenberger made an unpowered emergency water landing in the Hudson River after multiple bird strikes caused both jet engines to fail. Twitter was the first to the emergency scene on this day, and Jānis Krūms’ twitpic of the plane floating on the river while passengers were evacuated became one of the most trending photos on record.

It was a significant moment which hallmarked a new era when breaking news was no longer the privilege of the news media. Twitter had indeed given people the power to create and share information as per its mission statement.

January 2011 – #ArabSpring

As well as the spread of information, one of Twitter’s most impactful contributions to the modern world is the spread of ideas. In December 2010, popular protests in Tunisia and Algeria became the first of what was to become widespread political dissidence throughout the Arab world. In this truly 21st Century revolution, social media played a key role in the spread of revolutionary feeling and also the organisation of protests, as copycat revolts broke out in Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Libya.

Twitter’s contribution can be tracked through the hashtag #ArabSpring, which first appeared in January 2011as momentum in one of the largest popular movements of the modern era was gathering pace.

November 2012 – The President has spoken

It’s potentially fair to say that Barack Obama has helped Twitter’s cause as much as it has helped his. Obama was one of the pioneering politicians in tackling the big issues using microblogging and social media, with Twitter becoming a significant medium for the Democratic candidate during his victorious 2008 Presidential Election campaign.

So, in 2012 when Obama was re-elected for his second term of presidency, it was no surprise to see the two old friends back in action. Obama’s “four more years” tweet and photograph of his embrace with the First Lady Michelle Obama broke the most popular tweet record – racking up 749,255 retweets and 306,082 favourites.

May 2013 – Twitter retirements: #thankyousiralex

Manchester United is a global sports brand, and in no small part thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the most successful football clubs of all time. So, after a 27 year tenure as manager of the club, in true ‘Fergie time’ fashion, there was still time for one more twist.

As the UK’s top football media were no doubt sniffing around for an exclusive scoop on Sir Alex’s official retirement announcement, on 8th May 2013, @MUFCOfficial, since rebranded @MU_Spokesperson, called time on Fergie’s illustrious career in less than 50 characters.

March 2014 – Oscars selfie: express yourself

Ellen DeGeneres’ tweet is still the most shared of all time – with 3,336,919 retweets and 2,128,624 favourites. The way live events are reported and content from them is shared has evolved. We’re a far cry from the days when you had to wait for the front page of the newspaper the next day to find out who stole the show at the Oscars.

However, the infamous Oscars selfie of 2014 signalled the eagerness of modern celebrities to control the distribution of their own personal brand. Why wait for photos fresh from the red carpet to be live-blogged and posted online when you can take the winning shot yourselves and tweet it to the world.

The Twitterisation of the people, business and the world

Twitter has had a profound impact on how we expect to source news, share content and keep up-to-date with live events. It has not only democratised the way information is distributed – empowering anybody with a smartphone to beat the news media to the story – but it has also helped change the way brands, sports clubs and even politicians communicate with the world.

However, despite Twitter’s revolutionary impact, its future remains uncertain. To underline the point, #RIPtwitter recently trended on the network itself – ironically, after Buzzfeed reported on rumoured changes to the timeline algorithm designed to increase user engagement.

While a hardcore group of users login every day, new user growth has stalled and the platform has failed to gain the same traction with the wider public as Facebook.  This has meant that Twitter is failing to win the business of advertisers and its share price has subsequently fallen, while ad spend and investors flock to Facebook.

In response, changes for both users and advertisers have been introduced. The algorithm change mentioned in the Buzzfeed article means the ‘best’ tweets will appear at the top of timelines, rather than the most recent. A GIF button has also recently been added.

For advertisers, ‘like for like’ targeting which will see ads directed at users that have previously engaged with brands and auto-playing videos ads at the top of timelines have both recently been made available.

It remains to be seen whether these changes will be enough for Twitter to survive, as it faces the dilemma of retaining the aspects that users love and that made it incredibly innovative when launched, while evolving to fit new consumer tastes and stay relevant.

If not, we could see new and disruptive communications platforms come along and sweep away older incumbents – just as Twitter did ten years ago.

What do you think the future of Twitter is? Leave a comment below