Last month we wished a very happy 10th birthday to the micro-blogging social platform Twitter – or Twttr to those who have been there from the beginning.
From the first tweet sent by founder and now chief executive, Jack Dorsey, Twitter has undoubtedly played a huge part in the way we communicate in the digital age. Much of Twitter’s platform has become part of the everyday lexicon; no longer is the hashtag an oft unused button at the bottom of your phone, but now a universally selected symbol to aggregate information – from revolutions to selfies.
Probably the most important feature Twitter has brought to the public is the Trend. An ingenious consequence of the Hashtag, Trends are a quick and simple way to understand what the people around you are talking about, something that can be seen on a local, national or international level.
The real genius behind this is its breakthrough into real-time search. News and content is not delivered in an algorithm based on your profile or behaviour, but rather by the weight of mentions from users around the globe. The benefits of the feature can be seen in real life developments, breaking first on Twitter, from the serious: #JeSuisCharlie; #BlackLivesMatter; to the ridiculous: #drummondpuddlewatch; #Susanalbumparty.
Over the 10 years, it’s easy to see the impact Twitter has had on the world’s biggest news stories. Twitter was blamed for encouraging users trying to get involved with the London riots, but also for strengthening the protests leading to the eventual Arab Spring. Some users have even found themselves the subject of unfair and often visceral abuse; Jon Ronson tells the stories of these unfortunate Tweeters in his book So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, where a harmless tweet can cause a sudden and catastrophic backlash from strangers with an internet connection.
For all the tangible virtues of the platform, Twitter seems to have been sleepwalking through the last couple of years of its decade in the public eye. Its user figures, estimated to be around 18m, have stopped growing, a pattern that is replicated around the world. This has been one of the defining elements which has caused Twitter’s share price to crash, and also resulted in the return of founder Jack Dorsey in an attempt to steady the ship.
Twitter’s main problem lies in the adoption of new users. As a younger audience migrates over to more visual-based platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, Twitter has become a platform for breaking news and celebrity updates. Along with an advertising product which always seems to be slightly behind Facebook, its offering can tend to feel lacking, especially as you require very little demographic information to sign up.
With rumours of Google’s interest in acquiring the platform continuing to appear, one thing is clear, Twitter has had a very obvious and lasting effect on communication. Its ability to remain relevant to a new generation and the catalogue of advertisers looking to target them is much less certain, and may well take an unfortunate acquisition to do so.