When Mallory Nelson joined Twitter in 2009, it wasn't to keep up with her friends or to track the latest updates from the social media platform's hordes of celebrity users. It was to get away from her mother, who recently had joined Facebook and forced her daughter to "friend" her.
But to Nelson and many others who converted to Twitter from social media platforms like Friendster or Myspace, the site's per-post limit of 140 characters — letters, numbers or symbols — seemed overly restrictive at first. Ten years after its public launch on July 15, 2006, however, Twitter's emphasis on brief, in-the-moment communication and rapidly updating newsfeeds has dramatically changed online content sharing, says Nelson, now 26 and the director of social media at GreenPages Interactive, a Chattanooga-based marketing company.
"It kind of developed a new thing where people aren't willing to read a paragraph or two paragraphs," she says. "They're looking for shorter messages. They want to get to the meat and know what you're trying to say in fewer characters and then move on. That changed the way people spoke and posted."
With 310 million active monthly users, Twitter is the world's fourth most-popular social media site after Facebook (1.6 billion monthly users), YouTube (1 billion users) and Instagram (400 million users), according to CNN Money.
Twitter now ranks as one of the internet's 10 most-visited sites, according to web traffic data from Alexa.com, but it was conceived in a form only slightly less humble than a doodle on a cocktail napkin.
On March 24, 2006, Twitter founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey posted a picture to his Flickr account of a sheet of lined notebook paper bearing a concept sketch for a website he called "Stat.us." The idea, Dorsey wrote in the Flickr post, was to create a platform similar to blogging/social media site LiveJournal but which was "more 'live' Real-time, up-to-date, from the road."
Three days before Dorsey's Flickr post, he saw his dream realized when he wrote the first message on Twttr — the company would rebrand itself as "Twitter" a few months later — during a testing period prior to the site's debut. His update, "Just setting up my twttr," was hardly world-shaking, but it represented six years worth of ambition and mental percolation.
"I'm happy this idea has taken root; I hope it thrives," Dorsey wrote on Flickr. "Some things are worth the wait."
Thrive it did.
In March 2007, Twitter feeds were displayed on TVs throughout the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. According to news reports at the time, message load on the site tripled during the conference, where it won the Blog category in the event's annual Web Awards. Within a year of its public debut, Twitter had more than 100,000 users.
Since its launch, Twitter has expanded onto several complimentary, subsidiary platforms, including micro-video looping service Vine, which it launched in 2013, and live-event streaming service Periscope, which it acquired in 2015.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is quick to draw his Twitter account when he wants to make a statement or fire off an opinion, and President Barack Obama is the most-followed politician on the platform. Even Pope Francis has an account, albeit one with less than one-eighth as many followers as Justin Bieber.
In the early days of Twitter, Chattanoogan Jon F. Moss was torn between using it to share his personal musings or to promote his business. Ultimately, he ended up creating two accounts, but he remembers those initial days of Twitter as being defined by a sense of community and utilizing the platform for interpersonal communication.
"It was an exciting time because you used to walk around town and people would say, 'Hey, you're Jon Moss. I follow you on Twitter,'" laughs Moss, the founder of ChattanoogaEats.com and marketing and media consultant Moss Media Labs.
"It was cool to make those connections. That used to happen almost every day," he says.
Moss, also the founder of Social Media Club Chattanooga, has been on Twitter since February 2009, four months after its users sent the site's 1 billionth tweet. By August 2013, Twitter was handling 1 billion tweets every two days, according to company statistics.
These days, Moss says, Chattanooga's Twitter use seems dominated less by friendly chatter and more by businesses leveraging it to expand their brand and target their customers.
"I wouldn't say [the sense of community] is no longer the case, but it doesn't happen as often," he says. "People don't seem to be listening as much as they used to, but I'll say this: I wouldn't necessarily give up on Twitter. It's still a valuable platform."
Precisely because its format is so different from the uninhibited posting on other services, tech writers and early adopters like Nelson and Moss were unsure how to use Twitter or even how to classify it when they first signed up. Was it a blogging site or did the character limit make it akin to internet-based group texting? What kinds of content was suitable to post? What was the point?
"While some people call it microblogging or moblogging, I like to think of Twitter simply as blogging for regular people," wrote Time magazine's Anita Hamilton in a March 2007 column.
"Twitter targets the same crowd that digs My- Space and, frankly, that site is getting stale," Hamilton added. "We cyberjunkies need a new thrill, and what better than a service that combines social networking, blogging and texting?"
Some critics, however, were bearish about Twitter's prospects, suggesting that users would tire of micro-posts that distilled social media into a constantly updating series of status updates lacking substance.
"Sending tweets broadcasts 'I am alive!' Reading tweets satisfies the craving of many people to know the smallest details of the lives of those they love," wrote New York Times reporter Jason Pontin in an April 2007 column.
"But whether those twin impulses are universal enough to make Twitter really popular and whether the service can be made into a sustainable business, are quite unknown," Pontin added. "I'm skeptical."
While Twitter's star has continued to rise for the better part of its first decade, there have been signs recently of a slackening in its popularity.
In February, Twitter announced that, in the last quarter of 2015, it had an active user base of 305 million, down 2 million from the previous quarter. Currently, Twitter's stock is selling at about $18 a share, down from a high of $69 in the months after the company became publicly traded in November 2013.
Despite this slowing of its growth, Twitter users say they're confident the site will persist. There will continue to be a desire for real-time, bite-sized news, Moss says, whether that's Academy Award announcements, sharing NASA mission results or a friend's thoughts on an internet meme.
"To me, it's the quickest, fastest way to get information," he says. "I certainly hope it survives. I think it would be a loss if it went belly up."
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
1. Katy Perry (@katyperry) — 90 million followers
2. Justin Biever (@justinbieber) — 83.8 million followers
3. Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) — 78.9 million followers
4. Barack Obama (@BarackObama) — 75.8 million followers
5. Rihanna (@rihanna) — 62.1 million followers
6. Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) — 60.8 million followers
7. Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) — 60.6 million followers
8. Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) — 55.6 million followers
9. Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) — 46.2 million followers
10. Britney Spears (@britneyspears) — 46.1 million followers
310 million Active users on Twitter each month
9 Twitter’s rank on Alexa.com’s list of the most-visited sites on the internet
3,800 People employed by Twitter
208 Number of Twitter accounts followed by the average user
567 Average Tweets sent by male users
610 Average Tweets sent by female users
170 Average number of minutes Twitter users spend on the platform each month
4 Time, in hours, it took for Caitlyn Jenner to gain 1 million followers
$69 All-time high price per share of Twitter stock
$14 All-time low stock price
$18.08 Stock price as of July 10
New to Twitter? You’ll find that a decade of limiting posts to 140 characters or less has lead to the evolution of a sometimes cryptic shorthand. Here are some common terms to know:
* Hashtag — The use of the “#” symbol before a word in a tweet to categorize the post and make it easier to find in a search
* Mention/“At” — Referencing someone in a tweet using the “@” followed by their user name
* Handle — Another word for a user’s name
* Timeline — The feed of all content posted by a user’s followers as a constantly self-updating list on their Twitter account
* Follow — To subscribe to someone’s Twitter account, ensuring that their posts will appear in your timeline
* Twitter canoe — A tweet thread that grows to mention so many users the available character count diminishes to a point where no actual conversation can take place
* DM — Short for “direct message,” a private post between users that won’t appear on either party’s timeline
* RT — Short for “retweet,” where a user reposts a tweet by someone else. Retweets are tracked and can quantify a post’s popularity.
* MT — Short for “modified tweet,” used to indicate that a retweet of another post was shortened to ensure it met the character limit while including new information
* Trending — A hashtag that is used frequently enough across the platform to qualify as one of the most popular subjects on Twitter at the time
* #FF — Short for “Follow Friday,” a long-standing Twitter tradition of promoting accounts you enjoy by using “#ff” before their user name to encourage others to follow them
* TFTF — Short for “Thanks for the follow”
* HT or H/T — Short for “heard through” or “hat tip” to give credit or show approval to another user when tweeting about something
* #MM — Short for “Music Monday,” a hashtag used primarily on Mondays to point other users toward songs or artists you enjoy
* TMB — Short for “Tweet me back”
* SMH — Short for “Shaking my head,” used to indicate disbelief
* OH — Short for “overheard”
* July 2000: Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey conceives of an idea for a web-based platform built around real-time status updates
* March 21, 2006: Dorsey sends his first tweet on a pre-launch version of the service saying, “Just setting up my twttr.”
* July 15, 2006: Twitter launched to the public. In the entire day, 224 tweets are sent.
* April 2007: Twitter breaks away from its parent corporation to establish itself as a separate company, Twitter, Inc.
* August 2007: Twitter introduces the use of hashtags (# topics)
* January 2009: A picture posted on Twitter of the US Airways plane crash into New York City’s Hudson River, pre-empts traditional TV and print sources for the first time
* May 22, 2009: One billionth tweet posted
* April 2010: Twitter provides an archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress
* January 2011: Twitter users in Egypt document and spread news of the Arab Spring revolution in a celebrated example of citizen journalism
* September 2011: Twitter has 100 million monthly active users
* January 2013: Twitter launches its micro-looping-video platform Vine
* August 2013: 500 million tweets sent every day
* October 2013: Nielsen begins measuring TV shows’ impact through chatter on Twitter
* November 2013: Twitter files its initial public offering
* March 2015: Twitter acquires live video streaming service Periscope
Can’t remember the first post you sent off into the Twittersphere? No worries. Twitter has you covered. Go to discover.twitter.com, enter your user name and bask in your secret shame (or revel in the glory of your wit).
Chattanooga’s top Twitter accounts
1. Little Debbie (@LittleDebbie) — 166,000 followers
2. WTVC-TM NewsChannel 9 (@newschannelnine) — 70,300 followers
3. WRCB-TV Channel 3 (@WRCB) — 68,200 followers
4. Chattanooga Times Free Press (@TimesFreePress) — 54,400 followers
5. Chattanooga (@chattanoogafun) — 45,200 followers
6. Chattanooga Lookouts (@ChattLookouts) — 26,100 followers
7. Shaun Inman (@shauninman) — 25,800 followers
8. WUSY-FM Chattanooga (@US101) — 23,200 followers
9. Tennessee Aquarium (@TNAquarium) — 23,100 followers
10. News 12 Now (@wdefnews12) — 19,000 followers