Innovation

Podcast: Learning to fly - a decade on Twitter

On this week's podcast our team remembers the early days of Twitter, how Apple helped Twitter take off, and the business impact of social media's most important and controversial network.

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This summer Twitter marks its 10-year anniversary. On this episode of TechRepublic's Business Technology Weekly podcast, hosts @DanPatterson, @BillDetwiler, and @JasonHiner are joined by @LaughingSquid's @ScottBeale to swap stories about the early days of Twitter and how the influential social network changed technology, business, and culture forever.

"What the F***"

My first Tweet took flight July 24th, 2006, at 5:51 pm. The Tweet was broadcast using the SMS shortcode 40404. Moments later my Samsung candybar phone buzzed. Though Twitter lacked much of the basic functionality and connective social sinew we take for granted today, a friend in San Francisco saw my post and wanted to talk.

Like many early Twitter users, I discovered the service because I was a heavy user of Odeo, a podcast hosting service and directory founded by Evan Williams. @Ev, a prescient pioneer of several Web 2.0 startups, created early web publishing platform Blogger.com and sold the company to Google in 2003. Many podcast producers and consumers were heavy Odeo users because the site helped users discover and listen to early hit programs. Though the company faltered when Apple introduced podcast support with iTunes 4.9, Odeo was instrumental in helping the podcasts become a mainstream phenomenon.

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iTunes 4.9, the podcast update. Image: Apple

The success of Apple's iTunes podcast update, and the failure of Odeo, helped launch Twitter, one of the most successful, genre-defining social media services of all time. When podcast producers logged in to Odeo a friendly bar popped on the screen and stated something like, "The Odeo team has created something new, a site that lets you connect and communicate with friends. We're calling it Twttr and you can access it on your phone by sending a text message to the short code 40404."

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An early Tweet. Image: Twitter/Dan Patterson

Initially, many podcasters thought Twitter might be a great tool to send updates to friends and show subscribers. The service was very simple and emphasized mobile interaction. The web interface presented a simple timeline, and most updates were short, pecked out on a tiny dumb-phone keyboard.

SEE: Seven ways to build brand awareness into your digital strategy (Tech Pro Research report)

Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster all existed prior to Twitter, but Twitter's open network and mobile-centric strategy were remarkably effective at connecting people with mutual interests. Though Twitter later embraced basic features such as search, @ replies, hashtags, and retweets, these services were first developed and introduced by early adopters, hungry to connect with other like-minded Twitter users all over the world.

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The 'Fail Whale.' Image: Twitter

For many years Twitter had no native mobile application, and the web interface crashed constantly. When Twitter went public in 2013 the company limited API access, but in the early years the company encouraged developers to build feature-rich, unique applications. Though today the company sells Tweet data, open API access to the service was critical to Twitter's rapid growth.

Twitter's tumultuous backstory, growth, influence, and role in the social media ecosystem is well-documented. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all boast larger networks and are more profitable. Twitter's leadership has shuffled several times in the past decade, and the product has been stagnant for years. Twitter still struggles to generate significant revenue, and the stock is down.

And yet Twitter is a powerful and influential social network. Journalists, celebrities, business leaders, and curious voyeurs use the service to post breaking news, memes, and gossip. When the service started, the term "social media" did not exist. Today, all culture is online and connected by social services. In spite of the company's failures and foibles, Twitter's hegemony is undeniable, and the service remains the beating heart of the social web.

Produced by Amy Talbot, Bill Detwiler, Jason Hiner, and Dan Patterson.

We appreciate your feedback and support! Contact us here: podcast [at] techrepublic [dot] com, and (646) 389-5404.

TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research publish a number of free and useful business technology newsletters. Each week we spotlight a newsletter that summarizes the week's most interesting stories. The Innovation newsletter is focused on news about social media, big data, and cutting edge web tech developments.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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