There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the words “twitter” and “tweet” both meant something along the lines of “to utter successive chirping noises.” Ten years ago, few would have expected that these two words would soon take on entirely new meanings and be on the tip of an entire generation’s tongues – but that’s exactly what happened.
Twitter.com was launched in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, who decided on the site’s now-famous name after finding the word “twitter” while searching for synonyms for the word “twitch.” Dorsey says he wanted the service’s name to capture “the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket.”
The site is based around users sending out “tweets,” messages of up to 140 characters, which appear on the user’s profile page and are also sent out to his or her subscribers, or “followers.” Users can publish and receive these messages through Twitter’s web site, by text messages from cell phones, or by other external applications for computers or smart phones.
While not currently as trendy among teenagers as MySpace or Facebook, Twitter’s popularity has slowly but steadily begun to spill into the hallways of Fairmont. Senior Mia Maddox uses Twitter, but she doesn’t take the service quite as seriously as others.
“I know it’s pointless, but the small idea that someone could read over some lame comment I said about my day, and then start to follow me, seems fascinating,” said Maddox, whose favorite Twitter users to follow are Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, creators of the comedy television series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Celebrities flock to Twitter
Many celebrities have taken to Twitter in the past few years, using it to communicate with the public on an easy and large-scale basis. From President Barack Obama boosting his presidential campaign, to Miley Cyrus dishing out music recommendations, celebrities communicating with the masses has become one of Twitter’s most popular uses.
In February, movie director Kevin Smith was asked to exit a Southwest Airlines flight before takeoff due to a “safety risk” resulting from his weight. He had purchased two seats in accordance to the airline’s “customers of size” policy, but then chose to board an earlier flight instead, which had only a single open seat. Smith, who boasts more than a million and a half followers on Twitter, immediately lashed out at Southwest Airlines, directing multiple unhappy tweets at the airline’s own Twitter account. “Dear @SouthwestAir – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?” said Smith’s first tweet regarding the incident.
Southwest Airlines addressed Smith’s concerns in a timely fashion – through Twitter. He turned down their offer to give him a $100 coupon as compensation with a dissatisfied, profanity-laced tweet.
Smith was able to board a later flight, during which he posted a picture of himself after being seated along with a tweet saying, “Hey @SouthwestAir look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!”
Twitter as a launch pad
Twitter isn’t just used by celebrities to update the masses on their personal lives, however. As several events have proved, Twitter can act as a springboard for much greater things.
On Feb.12, 2009, more than 200 cities across the globe took part in the first international Twestival. The event gathered Twitter users in big cities to raise money for charity:water, an nonprofit organization providing developing countries with clean and safe water sources. The event raised $250,000, all of which went to charity:water’s projects, and in April 2009, the first Twestival-funded well was drilled in Ethiopia. Those attending the Twestival in Cleveland raised $1,440, and Twitter users in Columbus contributed $60.
In June 2009, the official results of the Iranian presidential election sparked huge controversy and allegations of fraud in the volatile nation. Iranians began protesting immediately, but the government suppressed many forms of protest, including certain online mediums of communication. The Iranian government did not suppress Twitter, however – and protesters flocked to it.
Twitter’s high accessibility through mobile devices, its speed and ease of use, and its price – free – made it a convenient and popular choice for suppressed protesters. Outraged Iranians broadcasted their anger at being censored by the government, and they also relayed news of the violence taking place in their country to the rest of the world, in real time. While it was impossible to confirm the absolute truth of many of these tweets, they were some of the only instances of citizen communication during this unstable time period in Iran, making Twitter a much more valuable tool than most people ever imagined it would be.
The future of Twitter
In our fast-paced world, many popular technologies and Internet phenomena quickly turn into fads and then fade into oblivion. It’s unclear as of yet whether Twitter will join these ranks or not, but many are hopeful for the future of Twitter.
TIME.com published an article in 2009 titled “10 Ways Twitter Will Change American Business,” written by 24/7 Wall St. The article examines the possibilities for businesses, both local and national, to utilize the simple model of Twitter to reach out to potential customers. Already, companies including Whole Foods, Dell, Jet Blue and Starbucks have stepped into the Twitter universe.
Maddox also thinks Twitter’s popularity will last, mostly due to its simplicity. “It isn’t asking much for you to do but write what you think in under 140 characters,” she said.
The new definition of “tweet” may not be in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary quite yet, but with words like “frenemy,” “reggaetron” and “staycation” finding official recognition in 2009, it’s only a matter of time.