The Twitter revolution: 9 years and counting

The landmark moments and stunning statistics that saw the simple social network grow into an internet superpower.

Peter Iantorno March 29, 2015

Nine years. That is how long it has been since Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams came up with an idea for a simple social networking service that would go on to attract more than 500 million users worldwide and make them all billionaires.

At first, the website seemed almost like a backwards step. Facebook had just been made available to the public after building a dedicated following amongst Ivy League colleges, and that had much more functionality than the basic 140-character messages Dorsey and co. were proposing. However, something about that simple format struck a chord with the fast-moving tech consumer market, and the company experienced rapid growth.

In its first full year in operation Twitter users posted some 1.6 million tweets, by 2008 this had gone up to an astonishing 400 million per year and now, nine years after it all started, the tweets-per-year figure has reached an astonishing 200 billion - that's around 6,000 tweets sent every second.Jack Dorsey Twitter

With so many billions of tweets being sent, it would be natural to assume that they simply flash up on our screens for a brief moment before being lost into the vast expanse of the Twittersphere, never to be seen again. But that's far from the case. In fact, every tweet - from the very first sent back in 2006 by Dorsey himself, to any of the half a million or so that have been published since you started reading this article - can be found in an online archive.

While the archive in its entirety, full of the mindless ramblings of 500 million people saying whatever pops into their heads at any given moment, wouldn't make for especially engaging reading, the highlights package Twitter has released to celebrate its nine-year milestone, charting the tweets that reflect the world and its relationship with Twitter, sounds rather more appealing.

Here are the landmark moments from the past nine years, seen through the eyes of an early-adopting Twitter user:

Co-founder Jack Dorsey is the first person to send a tweet all the way back on March 22, 2006, when the service was called “Twttr.” Twitter history. Just over a year later, the hashtag was born, as early user Chris Messina proposed its use to denote people at the same live event. Twitter history. Twitter went into space in 2008, as NASA used the service to announce that its Mars Phoenix Lander had found ice on Mars. Twitter history. The following year another early user, Janis Krums, found himself at the scene as an aeroplane dramatically landed in the Hudson River. The natural reaction? Take a photo and upload it to Twitter, of course. Twitter history. 2010 saw royalty embrace the service, as Clarence House, the Prince of Wales' private office, took to Twitter to announce the engagement between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Twitter history. Sohaib Athar could have had no idea how important his tweet would become when he sent it late one night having been woken up by a hovering helicopter. Turns out he was live-tweeting the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Twitter history. The most retweeted message of 2012, US President Barack Obama sent this tweet before he appeared in public to confirm his second presidential victory. Twitter history. As the world was shocked by the Boston Marathon bombings, Twitter played a vital role for journalists, police and members of the public to connect and share information on the tragic event. Twitter history. A far less important use, yet one that clearly catches the public imagination, the most retweeted photo ever was first published by the account for the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Twitter history. The tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks saw people come together in support of the victims, and Joachim Roncin's hashtag #JeSuisCharlie became synonymous with the cause. Twitter history.

The above tweets are an example of how Twitter is useful (in the quick sharing and long-term preservation and charting of information) yet also slightly scary, as our tweets are immortalised in the complex web of wires and airwaves that make up the internet.

And the Twitter revolution is showing no signs of slowdown, as this week the company unveiled its next big project it hopes will revolutionise people's relationship with Twitter - Periscope, an app that enables Twitter users to broadcast live video to their followers.

While live broadcasting and eternal archiving erode the the notion of our privacy ever further, for better or worse, the Twitter revolution looks set to rumble on. Who would have thought that those 140 characters could have such a profound effect on the world?