The 9 Most Historic Twitter Moments, In Honor Of Its 10th Birthday
Today is the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Twitter online, the 140-character phenomenon that would become a social media stalwart, fuel the careers of the Kardashians, and change the face of viral information. But it all could have been so different. The originators of the idea were meant to be doing something else, conceived of Twitter as something entirely different, and its beginnings as a short-form way to express your thoughts about your day have blossomed into a political, economic, and celebrity force of nature. But what have been the real game-changing moments along the way?
It's hard to imagine a life now where the word "tweeting" sound faintly ridiculous for humans, rather than a normal part of the day for many people. As of 2016, Twitter averages 310 million average active users a month; that's slightly less than the entire population of the United States. It's an insanely popular service worldwide, with another service along the same lines, Weibo, utterly dominating the Asian markets. Clearly, we all really like trying to express our thoughts pithily and in hashtag format, but many of us, unfortunately, won't contribute to the overall shape or power of the medium. Some, however, will get lucky.
Here are nine of the most powerful, historic moments in the history of Twitter. Here's to another completely crazy 10 years.
1. 2006: The First Tweet
If you want an interesting read, Business Insider's report into the slightly bizarre beginnings of Twitter (in its original form, Twttr) is worth a few minutes, if only because it's completely improbable. The first tweet was sent by one of the idea's originators, Jack Dorsey, in March 2006, but its original conception was as a way of sending short text messages to a vast group of people. And the people who worked on it were actually meant to be designing a podcast platform; but several of them rapidly got far more excited about "Twttr," and the project, in the words of one of the originators, "went sideways." Things snowballed, and it launched officially in July 2006.
2. 2007: Retweets, @s, And Hashtags Added
The now-seminal parts of Twitter's operations were actually brainstorms by the original team, and the hilarious part is that we can actually trace many of them back to their original tweets. The "@" came about in November 2006, while the hashtag was born in August 2007 and proceeded to become one of the most defining (and possibly annoying) buzzwords of the millennial era.
3. 2009: The Hudson River Tweets
In 2009, a new area of potential opened to followers of the "microblogging platform": on-the-ground news and communication, powered by local observation rather than traditional news networks. News of the famous crash of a plane into the Hudson River first broke on Twitter, within seconds of it happening. Several tweets about the situation went properly viral and crashed the site's servers, making many realize for the first time that 140 characters could be used in extremely pertinent ways.
4. 2010: The First Tweet From Space
In 2010, NASA sent out a hilariously phrased press release in which it delighted in the fact that it was "extending the world wide web into space." What they actually meant was that Expedition 22 Flight Engineer T.J. Creamer was giving the first live-tweet experience from aboard the International Space Station, a part of the job that was honed to perfection by the British astronaut Tim Peake and his Twitter feed in 2015-2016. These days, if you go to space, you're expected to know how to handle a hashtag.
5. 2011: The Arab Spring
One of the finest moments for Twitter's political awakening, in terms of global reach, was probably the Arab Spring in 2011, particularly the Egyptian revolution; Twitter became a way of spreading information, raising awareness, communicating with the outside world, and rallying protestors. Unfortunately, Twitter alone couldn't make a better world for everyone. Crackdowns on social media, including Twitter, are now a standard part of totalitarian government, according to WIRED this year, and terrorist groups are much cannier about incorporating tweets into their general "strategy." Things are, in many ways, less innocent than they were then.
6. 2012: Obama Breaks Retweet Record
On Nov. 7, 2012, Obama won re-election, and promptly broke the internet — or at least managed to break a Twitter record, which is fitting for a modern president. His campaign tweet to announce his victory, "Four more years," complete with a picture of him hugging Michelle, rapidly became the most-retweeted image of all time. The political cred of Twitter was here to stay.
7. 2014: Ellen's Oscars Tweet
If anybody really confirmed that the celebrity universe had really embraced Twitter as a format, it was the fact that Ellen Degeneres managed to take one of the world's starriest selfies at the 2014 Oscars and managed to break the retweet record within an hour. We're still wondering what Angelina Jolie thought she was doing by waving at the phone, though.
8. 2013: Twitter Alerts Introduced
Mashable ranked this up with the Pope joining Twitter as one of the seminal moments of the medium, and we have to agree with them. Twitter Alerts were designed, in the words of the organization itself, to spread "important and accurate information from credible organizations during emergencies, natural disasters or moments when other communications services aren’t accessible." It's now been spread to the U.K. and Japan, and if you sign up for the service you get emergency notifications in severe circumstances. Lately, though, it's been used for more benign things; London's travel network teamed up with Twitter in June this year to launch automatic alerts about delays and travel problems.
9. 2015-2016: #BlackLivesMatter
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has had huge momentum across many parts of the media, from traditional formats to more modern ones; but it's on Twitter where the hashtag has really seen the idea develop and spread. From activists like DeRay Mckesson to viral tweets and videos from Vine, Twitter's 6-second video service, it gained so much thunderous attention that Twitter itself featured some of the movement's seminal moments in its Best of 2015 retrospective, and (tragically) will likely feature more of it at the end of this year. As #SayHerName and other hashtags became relevant political commentary; it was Twitter's new angry, powerful coming of age.