140 Characters #abouttwitter


Twitter: a social networking tool that, for most of us, seemed to have come out of thin air. Some see it as a useful networking tool, some use it to connect with friends, others use it to find their news, and then there are also those who see it as useless. Where did twitter come from? And why have so many people jumped on this bandwagon? What’s the future of twitter look like?

Twitter came about in around 2006 when members of the podcasting company Odeo, Inc. decided to reinvent the company in order to be able to compete with Apple. A brainstorming session began during which one member described a service that uses text messages to tell small groups what you are doing. The first version of this concept was created on March 21, 2006 and was entirely web-based. They started out with the name Twttr (inspired by flickr). Many conflicts arose in the early versions as “private” accounts became necessary and clear terminology had not yet been created.

Twtter Beta was released which allowed the company members to invite a slightly larger circle of friends excluding any large companies (besides a few trusted people at Google). Meanwhile, Odeo was struggling to stay afloat and had to fire six of those working on twitter because they failed to see the value of the system. Soon after this transition for those involved, Twttr.com launched to the public. Each partner became a PR advocate for the site, trying to get as many friends and family members involved.

Around this time, the group acquired Twitter.com and decided to use this time to re-brand. This is when the character limit came into play because most SMS messages at the time would only carry 160 characters, so the company decided to use a limit of 140 characters so they could also fit in the username in front of the message. Just in time for SxSW, a new Flash-based visualizer was created which made the site more accessible and visual such as we would see it today. Thus twitter was born.

Twitter has transformed from simply a messaging service to a science, an art, and a life-saving device.

JHU students view a map of the US with information gathered from twitter about allergies.

At John’s Hopkins University, Michael J. Paul and Mark Dredze analyzed two billion Tweets for information about health. They have been using tweets to track patterns in illnesses which nearly line up with scientific health charts. They had to, using an algorithm, teach the computer to recognize when people were talking about real health concerns or just using health related terms in other ways (such as “Bieber Fever”).

Screenshot of The Listening Machine during finals week.

Screenshot of The Listening Machine during finals week.

Daniel Jones, Peter Gregson, and Britten Sinfonia used their own algorithm to transform country-wide tweets into music. This device captures the moods and opinions of each tweet and transforms it into musical notes. For instance, when a famous musician died, the music was sad and slow because there were so many solemn tweets. This device serves to create a sense of community in the twitter sphere because it’s no longer just one person speaking; it’s a culmination of the emotions of an entire country. Check out The Listening Machine to hear the tunes of our lives.

Not only can twitter be used for social, scientific, and artistic purposes, but it can in fact SAVE YOUR LIFE. No, this isn’t a metaphor. I mean it has literally saved lives. There’s a story of a man in South Africa who got car jacked and was thrown into the trunk of his vehicle. He texted his girlfriend who posted it on twitter which eventually got to the police who set up a road block, captured the crooks, and released the victim completely unscathed.

I found another story of a man who discovered that he had kidney disease. He tweeted “sh*t, I need a kidney” (excuse my French). Soon enough, 19 people replied to find out if they could be a match. Eventually, an acquaintance of his named Scott was able to give him a kidney.

So, whether you are a twerd (twitter nerd, NOT twilight nerd) or a tw00b like me, hopefully you’ve learned a little bit from this post. What ways have you seen twitter change the world? Comment below!

For a more complete history, check out 140 Characters.