So, I’m sitting here writing about a decade of Twitter and wondering how old I am and how on earth that happened.
I’ve got the radio on through my iPhone, and they’ve just been reading out tweets from listeners. The discarded Metro newspaper has an entire column devoted to aggregating tweets, and half of the stories making the celebrity news are a rehash from tweets found the previous day. The billboard on the station platform I’ve just passed has a whacking great hashtag on it. A hashtag. Nobody outside of programmers and developers had even heard of a hashtag prior to Twitter’s arrival. To top it all, I’m stopping every five minutes or so to scroll through my own Twitter feed, in case there is something I’ve missed in the last 300 seconds.
Twitter had a cultural impact on our lives nobody might have expected on first appearance. It was arguably the first platform which merely tweaked something to succeed. Blogging existed, but micro-blogging not so much. Instantaneous comment and reaction suddenly trumped the pre-planned and overly orchestrated. A new era was about to kick off.
When I came across it, I remember asking a friend who was prolific on the platform what the deal was and how people used it. He explained how this little club who were loving it at that time had this thing called Follow Friday, where you got to see who was worth following. He told me what a hashtag was, and how on Twitter people used it to surmise or reinforce their point. He talked about a ‘fail whale’, and spent time telling me what ‘RT’ was.
It felt good to have a few unsaid rules. I wanted to get into this club and it suddenly occurred to me there was a huge amount of information I could take which was useful for work too. I was running a digital agency called Holler at the time, but I never had time to trawl blogs like I should. The early days of Twitter suddenly provided me with an opportunity to read up quickly on everything that mattered. All life was here, all willing to share their own thoughts as much as they would share news on their breakfast.
An additional layer was one which added some glitz and glamour but in a new and very personal way. Some celebrities were on here too. Comedy writers, presenters, musicians. All of a sudden, you could follow these people who were previously out of reach.
Jonathan Ross was arguably one of the first, and most high-profile, users and most of us in the club in those early years would follow him – not because we were particularly a fan, but mostly because it was rare for people with his public profile to be there at all. Ross started talking about Twitter on his TV and radio shows. Our underground scene was beginning to feel like the world was waking up to it – it reminded me of new eras of music and the ascent to the mainstream.
I was instrumental in bringing brands to Twitter, and we would jump on every opportunity to exploit the channel in new ways. Perhaps the climax of our work came when we worked alongside AMV on Mercedes-Benz’s ‘You Drive’ campaign. The entire ad was actually controlled from an audience on Twitter live on a Saturday night, so you could tweet the direction you wanted the ad to go.
News has also changed because of the Twitter agility factor and our demand on the world of celebrity has also altered. Celebrities need to engage fans in an ever-present manner.
Arguably, the rise of constant partial attention was never in greater focus than with Twitter on your smartphone. It led naturally to mobile-first thinking and what will be the dominance of messaging clients and Snapchat over the next two years.
Twitter is being eternally questioned as to its true worth – struggling to break out further beyond its huge audience and user base. Facebook has been savvy with its high-profile purchases, as each one opens up a new route to future success. But Twitter has already made its mark on culture, it doesn’t have to prove more.
Twitter is still one of the platforms I check first when I wake up, and it is the way I consume my news most days. I suspect it will change in the coming years to adapt to our evolving demands, behaviours and needs. But it was part of something which altered the fabric of modern society and which informed the way we act at any point on any given day. Entities which create such a seismic shift on this planet are few and far between, so let’s allow ourselves to be nostalgic and applaud the decade that Twitter has helped shape.
James Kirkham is head of Copa90 at Bigballs Media. He tweets @spoonybear