Twitter anniversary #history

Jack_DorseyExtract from The PC Pioneers

On this day in 2006 Twitter was launched by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone

Jack Dorsey was raised in St Louis Missouri and took to programming from a young age.  At just fourteen he developed software for despatchers to route taxis, couriers, cycle and motorcycle messengers, pizza delivery teams and emergency services.

He qualified at Missouri University of Science and Technology and subsequently at New York University.  He then worked at DMS, a significant courier service, once again working with despatch software.

He moved to Oakland California and at the age of twenty-four formed a company to develop his own despatch software ideas.  Despatchers have to regularly ask their team ‘Where are you?’, ‘What are you doing?’ and this constant enquiring needed to be achieved by a mixture of radio or phones, and later emails or mobile texting.  He sought a way to combine texts, emails and web instant messaging to create a broad mobile and Internet-based real-time communication service.

He experimented with the RIM 850 (Research in Motion) the forerunner of the Blackberry.  But the problem was that it depended on everyone having one and at $400 a pop this was too expensive.  It was the mobile SMS (short messaging service) that took him forward when he saw that the service transcended many services and devices.

 

Dorsey later approached Evan Williams at Odeo.

In January 1999 Williamsand Meg Hourihan had co-founded Pyra Labs.  Its first product was also called Pyra and offered tools for web project management and contact management.

Pyra was the operation that first coined the term ‘blog’, a shortening of web-log, and subsequently in August 1999 it renamed its product Blogger.com, a blog publishing tool.

Blogger developed into having over a million registered bloggers, with 200 thousand of these active, but at first it had no revenue plan and the seedcorn soon ran out.  Williams negotiated an investment from Trellix and its founder Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of VisiCalc.  With this new capital he set about encompassing advertising within Blogspot and Blogger Pro, attracting an annual $35 fee in return for advanced features.

In February 2003 Blogger was sold on to Google for an undisclosed sum.  Google quickly integrated it with its other services, Picasa and Hello, to raise the bar even further with its search reach and other capabilities.

In October 2004 Williams left Google and co-founded Odeo, a new operation that developed tools for users to develop and distribute podcasts.  It drew upon capital from Charles River Ventures and others.  But Williamshimself was not committed to the notion of podcasting and as a result the business was wavering.

It was Dorsey, Williamsand Biz Stone, who had worked with Williams at both Blogger and Odeo, who took Dorsey’s notions forward to develop Twitter.

A brainstorming session was held in 2006 to see where they might take Odeo next and Williams urged Dorsey to describe his thoughts for a cross-system short messaging approach to satisfy not just the courier business but the general public too.  Initially the service was called ‘status’ or ‘stat.us’ on the basis that it told others of your current status – where you were, what you were doing.

But it was Williams who came up with the eventual name of the service by comparing the proposed traffic to the chatter between birds, short bursts of seemingly random information – hence Twitter.  Definitions vary but my preferred one is the rather English and thus suitably pompous ‘drawing room chatter’.

They realised that the word could be used as a noun or a verb and suffixes could be added. The action would be ‘twittering’; if you were getting too many messages you would be ‘twitterpated’ and so on.

Dorsey (@jack), Stone (@biz) and others took just two weeks to come up with version 0.1.

For the messaging service they came to the conclusion that use of mobile SMS was compelling as it could bridge the gap between PCs and mobiles.  SMS allowed the user 160 characters per message before it broke it into packages.

They needed therefore to have a five letter SMS code and selected ‘twttr’, apparently inspired by Flickr – though that’s six letters!  ‘twttr’ was unavailable and they soon switched from their first used code of ‘10958’, to the more memorable ‘40404’, as its US SMS short code and reinstated the vowels to make the service Twitter.

Dorsey sent the first ever web-based twitter at 9:50am on 21 March 2006. ‘just setting up my twttr’

 

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