Ten Years on Twitter

Ten years ago today:


Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. User #12,028 (back when they were still sequential).

If memory serves, Jeremy Keith was the first to suggest I join Twitter. Jeremy and I had met for the first time at SXSW in 2005 and became fast friends. That was the same year I met Andy Budd, Richard Rutter, Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Shaun Inman, Leslie Jensen (pre-Inman), Jason Santa Maria, Rob Weychert, Stuart Langridge, Andrew (née Andy “Malarkey”) Clarke, Jon Hicks, Tantek Çelik, Glenda Sims, and so many more amazing (and influential) web designers. We became quite the posse and dutifully packed the mezzanine of the Hampton Inn each and every morning before the conference started and generally pal-ed around throughout the week. Then we all returned to our respective locales and prepared to do it all over again the next year.

As I mentioned, I think Jeremy was the first to suggest I try out the burgeoning service our friends Biz and Ev had come up with. We all knew Ev from Blogger and he & Biz had worked together on Odeo (a podcasting service that was way before its time) too. Together, under the moniker “Obvious Corp.”, they had just rolled out a new messaging service called “Twttr” (because who needs vowels). It later spun out of Obvious Corp. as “Twitter”.

Twitter filled a very interesting niche for me back in those days, but I didn’t really notice how much until we all returned to SXSW in 2007. When we had regrouped in 2006, we had spent a lot of time catching up on the developments in our lives that had taken place in the intervening year (at least those we hadn’t blogged about). 2007, however, was different.

By the time SXSW rolled around in March of that year, we’d all been actively using Twitter for nearly six months. And because so few people were on Twitter at the time and we all followed each other, it was quite easy to keep up-to-date with what was going on in everyones’ lives. Twitter created this sort of ambient awareness of everything important that was going on with the folks in the group. So when we returned to Austin in March of 2007, we didn’t spend any time catching up on the events of the intervening year because we didn’t need to. We already knew and were able to pick right up as though we hadn’t missed a beat. It was a pretty amazing feeling and played a big part in my falling in love with Twitter.

That love affair continued for years. My relationships with my friends deepened and our collective relationship with Twitter deepened. I don’t think anything illustrates that more than my good friends Stephanie and Greg getting engaged via the service (yes, they were the first):

https://twitter.com/garazi/statuses/765929392 conversation=‘none’

https://twitter.com/stefsull/statuses/765930175 conversation=‘none’

In the past decade, Twitter has changed dramatically. Most of us, with the exception of Brian, moved away from tweeting in the third person. Here’s my transition (circa 2012… I tweeted for nearly 6 years in the third person!):

Ideas we played with, like Chris’ suggestion that we add tagging to our tweets, “d” messages, at-mentions, and Retweets (later, RTs) changed from things we did as a matter of necessity while using the service to integral pieces of “Twitter the Platform”.

In the past decade, the culture of Twitter has also changed. When we were starting out, there was this great feeling of solidarity, togetherness. Twitter was a huge public commons where we were all friendly and respectful, even when we disagreed. In the intervening years (the last few perhaps even moreso), however, Twitter has become this wedge that seems to be driving our society apart. The decisive, bile-and-hatred fueled posts, rampant bigotry, threats of violence, and gross intolerance has become such a downer that each year I pull back a little more. I don’t browse the public stream anymore; I can’t deal with it. I have reduced the number of people I follow and have become more dependent on lists and tools like Tweetbot and TweetDeck to help me identify the shallows of Twitter I’m interested in wading into. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter still manages to prove its value every now and again. It can absolutely be a force for good, but like so many things that work well in their ideal state, us messy humans have come along and fucked it all up.

In the past decade, Twitter itself has also fundamentally changed. I remember being gobsmacked when I visited the service’s ginormous San Francisco headquarters last year and saw the massive number of people working there. It made me pine for the days when I used to duck out of Adaptive Path’s SoMa office two grab lunch with the 12 (!) people who were running Twitter at the time. Twitter looks all grown up, but to me it still seems like it’s going through a painful adolescence, unsure of what it wants to be. I hope it can find its way, but I’m uncertain if our relationship will survive that.

Ten years in, I am still in love with Twitter, but I’m unsure if that love is for the service it has become or if it’s simply a manifestation of my nostalgia. I guess time will tell.

Jeremy Keith also recently celebrated his first decade on Twitter. You should definitely read his thoughts & recollections too.