Happy birthday Twitter - here are my top tweets
I’d like to say happy birthday to an old friend - although when I say “old” we’ve only known each other for four years. During that time, the way I run my working life and communicate with friends, contacts, family and the wider world has been transformed. I’m talking about Twitter, which was born five years ago today.
Whenever I’ve written about the micro-blogging service (and is that really a good definition any more?) there have been plenty of complaints from those who think Twitter is a) a waste of time, b) not a proper subject for this blog, c) believe it will be gone as soon as the next fad comes along.
But I think that the business founded in San Francisco in 2006 has really proved over recent weeks that it is part of a profound change in the way we communicate. So I’ve selected a few tweets which tell the story of Twitter as I’ve experienced it.
This first one will do nothing to change the minds of those who think Twitter is a waste of time. It is my very first tweet in May 2007: “Watching The Apprentice”. Why on earth would you be interested? But things could only get better.
Never mind 140 characters - this is a one word tweet: “Arrested”. It was sent by James Buck, an American student who was covering an anti-government demonstration in Egypt when he was arrested. The tweet alerted his friends in the United States and Egypt as to what had happened - and was an early sign of how powerful a tool Twitter could be.
I noticed this tweet from the Californian blogger Robert Scoble as I woke up one morning in May 2008. He had spotted a tweet from a Chinese blogger about an earthquake and was off to check the US Geological Survey website. I turned on the radio but the massive earthquake had not yet made the news. It was the first sign that Twitter might be the place to see breaking news.
Janis Krums was on a New York ferry when an aircraft landed in the Hudson River. He took out his phone, snapped a picture and uploaded it to Twitter. It was the first image of an extraordinary event, and proved that Twitter could be about more than just 140 character trivia.
Now this was trivial - Stephen Fry got stuck in a lift and told the world, as this memorable Twitpic shows. But the British actor and writer was among the first celebrities to spot the potential of Twitter as a means of communicating directly with fans, rather than through the traditional media. Despite falling out of love with Twitter on several occasions and going quiet for days on end, he now has an audience of 2.3 million followers. Other celebrities looked - and learned.
This tweet is no longer online, having been removed by the police. In January 2010 Paul Chambers, frustrated to find his travel plans disrupted by snow, tweeted this: “Robin Hood airport is closed..You’ve got a week and a bit to get your **** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.” The police and the airport did not see the funny side. Mr Chambers was arrested, fined and lost his job.
He was one among many, including politicians, sports stars, and even the odd BBC executive, to discover that careless tweeting could prove costly. But his case also showed that the Twitter community would rally around a member in their hour of need. After his conviction, thousands repeated his tweet, using the hashtag #iamspartacus.
During the UK general election of 2010, the political classes suddenly decided that Twitter was the place to be. This tweet by William Hague signalled that the Conservatives’ coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats were back on, after hours when it looked as though they had stalled. It was Twitter, not 24-hour news channels, that was first with this news.
On Friday 11 March I woke up at 0630 - and did what I always do first, checked Twitter. I spotted this tweet, with news of an earthquake in Japan and a tsunami warning. This time, when I turned on the radio, news was beginning to filter through of the terrible events, although at that stage it was not the lead story. But within an hour Twitter was overflowing with information and pictures from Japan and mainstream news organisations, where checking social networks is now second nature, were reflecting what they saw there.
So, yes, Twitter is still full of trivia and celebrity gossip, and sure, it does need to prove it can be a sustainable business. But if it were to vanish tomorrow, I would be among the millions seeking out another way to communicate and share news at lightning speed.