Social media moves fast and all of the platforms have changed and evolved to push forward and stay up to date. Twitter is one of the largest social media platforms and has to had change. Originally started by Jack Dorsey as an SMS mobile phone-based platform Twitter, took only a few weeks to develop from pitch to launch. The idea was to be able to create a messaging platform that friends could use to communicate both with each other and on a wider scale using text like messages.
The very first Tweet was tweeted by Jack Dorsey from his @Jack account on March 21st, 2006. From its fairly humble beginnings, Twitter now has approximately 500 million tweets a day (it peaked in August 2014 with a 661 million tweets per day) and @Jack has over 4 million followers. Twitter grew fast in the early days taking 2 years to reach 1 billion tweets and only another year to reach 5 billion tweets.
When Twitter was created, most mobile carriers restricted text messages to just 140 characters so Twitter had the same and this feature has remained (albeit with some recent modifications). The 140 character limit lead to the evolution of one of the most unique Twitter features – it’s very own language. Driven largely by the lower number of characters, but also by the need to message fast Twitter’s jargon evolved fairly quickly.
Just like it’s language, many aspects of Twitter’s evolution have been driven by user innovation. @usernames is a functionality that was first created by users as a way of alerting others to a conversation and the function was then added by Twitter natively. The use of Hashtags was the same and both are not only an integral part of the Twitter framework but also dictate how we use it.
Twitter has made some key changes to how it works over the last 11 years including the mobile app in 2010 and promoted tweets the same year. Despite changing, however, Twitter has struggled to grow, gradually losing users and usage dropped as low as 300 million tweets a day at the start of 2016. This need for growth, particularly as Twitter is yet to make a profit, has pushed several key changes in the last 18 months. One of the most radical was the change to the Twitter character limit which no longer includes @usernames, images or links. Other more recent changes including the reordering of Tweets in your timeline, the addition of polls, the change of stars (favourites) to hearts (likes) have all made subtle differences.
Twitter is often accused of not keeping up with the other social media platforms which have innovated and evolved quicker. In some ways, however, Twitter have been the ones pushing forward particularly with their purchases of Vine and Periscope. When they purchased Vine it presented the only real alternative to YouTube and Periscope was one of the first live platforms. What they failed to do, however, was integrate them quickly enough. Other platforms saw how successful they were and integrated them first recognizing that users preferred to stay in their chosen platform if they could. It took Twitter much longer to make the changes it needed to. Vine has now effectively disappeared and whilst Periscope is still going strong the other platforms all have a native live function.
So, where next for Twitter? In April 2016, Twitter changed their category on iTunes from “social networking” to “News”. Couple this with Moments, Twitter’s news curation, and it suggests that Twitter could be gradually repositioning itself. But will it be enough to make the difference that Twitter really needs?