Today, we take Twitter for granted, even as other options vie for their time in the sun. This week in tech history, Jack Dorsey sent the very first Tweet, unknowingly setting in motion one of the world’s most utilized and engaging social media platforms.
(THE FRONTIER THEME PLAYS)
This isn’t about you, Suge.
<Laugh>. Frodo’s like, looking like a Sarah McLachlan commercial staring out the door. (Abbey: Oh <laugh>.) I had to lock him in, because there is some kind of critter that has created a nest somewhere in the yard.
And one thing about Frodo is, he is a digger. He’s gonna dig, (Abbey: Yeah.) and I don’t have time today to give him a bath. So he’s, he’s preemptively in timeout.
I bought one of those MudBusters. I haven’t had to use it yet. (Faith: What’s that?) It’s like a plastic cup that has this silicone thing with a bunch of nubbins on it, so when your dog’s paws get muddy, you just kind of put it in there, and it like, scrapes all of the mud out of their paws.
My dad said it worked great for their dog. The other day, Ellie came in, and just between every one of her fingers was like, a giant clump of grass and mud.
Oh my god. Okay, tell me how it goes if your dogs revolt, ‘cause Frodo’s very particular about his little toes <laugh>.
I think Ellie will be okay. I won’t try it on Suge. He’s very particular about his feet, given that he only has three. He’s like, “Don’t touch them.” <Laugh>.
I have to take some responsibility here, because Frodo, he’s like, a very clean dog. He hates being dirty, but to be clean, he needs a human who has opposable thumbs to make grooming appointments for him at regular intervals, which I do not do. So right now, his paws look like little Grinch feet. They are like, if anyone who has a long-haired dog knows, it’s ridiculous. How is this something that dogs have just evolved to…long-haired dogs like, in the wild? Surely that’s not great. Anyway. Okay, Abbey, first of all, I name drop you all the time on the podcast, particularly on the “This Week in Tech History” episodes, ‘cause I’m like, “Oh, Abbey says this. Abbey says that,” and I realize that if somebody isn’t like, a voracious listener of the Frontier podcast and has listened back to your staff interviews, they might not know who you are. So this is Abbey, you guys. Abbey’s our content manager <laugh>. (Abbey: Hello.) She’s the mastermind behind literally everything we do from a content perspective. So, this is Abbey.
So it was fun to like, write an episode I knew I was gonna be on,
I know. Yeah, this is gonna be good. We should probably put some kind of disclaimer at the top of episodes like, we’re not historians, and a lot of what we say is probably incorrect. So just bring your sense of humor guys. (Abbey: Yup.) Bring it along for the ride, which is probably required for today, (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES IN) because today’s historical event is Jack Dorsey sending the first tweet. (Abbey: Yes.) This happened in 2006, March 21st, in fact. So Jack Dorsey was a member of the team behind Odeo, which employed tools that enabled users to create, record, and share podcasts with a simple Adobe Flash-based interface. Do you know if Odeo still exists?
Great. Figured not, but whatever. But Jack Dorsey was working on a little side project, that his idea was to share short messages with a group of people via SMS, and Jack was the primary designer of the project. The code name was very classic for early 2000s, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) Twitter with no vowels <laugh>. Oh man. Who was, someone on Lenny’s Podcast was like, “You can tell,” I think it was April Dunford actually, she’s like, “You can tell the era that a company was named, based on the naming trend they followed,” and this is spot-on early 2000s, no vowels. (Abbey: Yes.) So this code name, the first official tweet that he sent, again, this is on March 21st, 2006, was sent at 9:50 a.m., denoting that he was “just setting up my twttr,” with no vowels. The public release followed in July and saw Twitter spinoff into its own company, which found its first major success and buy-in at the 2007 edition of South by Southwest. Just a king-maker, that conference.
Right? (Faith: <Laugh>.) Like, I feel like that was just like, a symbol of like, everything that was happening at that time in tech, where they were like, “Yes, the place to do this is South by Southwest.” Yes.
KPIX news anchor, via 2006 news clip (04:34):
There is a new service, and supposedly, it is the next big thing. It’s a name you can’t forget; it’s called “Twitter.” So what makes Twitter so different?
KPIX news reporter, via 2006 news clip (04:44):
Dana, it’s an incredibly strange thing. There’s a series of questions that are generated by this, and the first is, is it possible that making a cell phone call could soon become a thing of the past? And is it possible that the ever popular MySpace, even blogging, are slowly being eaten by this thing called a “Twitter?” Well, you are about to learn what a Twitter is, and you’re also about to learn how it’s slowly worming its way into a presidential campaign.
Robert Scoble, via 2006 KPIX news clip (05:11):
It’s stupid and lame and small.
KPIX news reporter (05:12):
Yet master blogger, Robert Scoble, can’t keep his fingertips off. (NEWS CLIP AUDIO FADES OUT)
Obviously, today, Twitter needs no introduction. It is ubiquitous, and it’s used for everything from sharing videos of an angry emu named Emmanuel Todd Lopez. I didn’t pre-read that part, Abbey. That’s funny. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) <Laugh>. It’s a large-scale organization for uprising against nefarious government entities. True. And while it’s going through a bit of a time right now, it’s clear that any platform that hopes to overtake it has a lot of catching up to do. Speaking of lately, let’s not forget that in 2021, crypto entrepreneur, Sina Estavi, bought Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first ever tweet as an NFT for $2.9 million. I did forget that, actually. (Abbey: <Laugh>. Oh, let’s not.) Turns out, NFTs don’t have <laugh>, they don’t have quite the same weight behind them as originally thought, and when he tried to sell it for $48 million, just a year later, damn, the top bid was $280. What?! <Laugh>.
Oh boy. I should have bought it.
Damn. It sounds like Elon could have gotten a great deal on it. L-O-L. That’s gold, Abbey. Okay. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) So, let’s get into it <laugh>. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES OUT)
I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help it.
Abbey, what was the first tweet you ever sent?
So I had Twitter forever. I’m like, very much a lurker. (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) The first tweet I ever sent was actually at a CSS dev conference in New Orleans in like, 2017, because everyone was using it to like, people were like, “Oh, where are we meeting up after the conference?” And they were like, “I’ll put it on Twitter.” I was like, “That’s” (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) “certainly interesting.” (Faith: Yeah.) I mean that was like, right after I started doing software development. So I still had like, a ton of things to learn about like, the culture of it, but everybody was using Twitter to communicate. So my first tweet was at a dev conference.
That’s a total thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve had several handles on Twitter. I had like, college-Faith handle where I was just like, sending out fire tweet after fire tweet, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) just funny as hell, making observations (Abbey: Yeah?) about life of a kid in a liberal arts school in upstate New York. That Twitter has died long ago. I then got a Twitter to use when I moved to Nashville. I moved here for Teach for America, so I was teaching eighth graders, and part of like, our teacher training was like, you should use Twitter in your classroom. So I had like, a Miss Benson’s class Twitter, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) and I’m pretty sure my first tweet, from what was supposed to be my like, professional teaching Twitter, was just tweeting at an ice cream, like a gelato store in Nashville, asking them if they were open <laugh>. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) I don’t know how I ended up working in tech. Clearly, I could have just Googled it, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) but needless to say that went unanswered.
You’re like, “Let’s ask on Twitter. Maybe that way, someone will just send me the answer. I have to do no further work.”
Precisely, yes. (Abbey: Yeah.) Because naturally the person scooping the ice cream is also the person running their social media. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) Yeah, didn’t get a response, and I was like, Twitter doesn’t work. So I took a long hiatus, and then obviously got back to it with Gun. Good memory. So I think every, it’s kinda like Facebook where like, everybody experiences seasons of adoption, or lack thereof. (Abbey: Yeah.) I always forget that it’s been around for so long, too, because I feel like the platform, itself, has had a lot of seasons, in terms of purpose and how people use it.
Absolutely. I went through like, my longest season appears to be just retweeting a bunch of stuff.
And then I would like, I found out very quickly that like, arguing in the Twittersphere is not something I should do, because I get (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) too angry at people. I’m like, “Why don’t they understand?” Well, it’s the Internet. (Faith: Mm-Hmm.<affirmative>.) Nobody needs to understand, yeah.
I, too, had a season of being a retweet queen, and it usually corresponds with like, the level of apathy, or lack thereof, I have towards politics. And when I’m not apathetic, I am very fired up, and so you’ll see spikes in my Twitter usage when I like, wake up a little bit every couple years or so. (Abbey: Yeah.) I feel like, obviously over the last three months, Twitter has been dominating the news cycle, but I feel like it’s kind of always been a thing like, “Oh, this is happening on Twitter. I saw this on Twitter.” What are some of the most memorable Twitter news cycle moments that come to mind for you?
My favorite, most recent one is like, after Elon Musk bought Twitter, and you could get verified, you get your blue check, (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) and someone from, was it Eli Lilly? (Faith: Yeah.) Someone pretended to be a pharmaceutical company and said that insulin was free, and (Faith: Yeah.) the end result is that they just announced that they’re capping it at $35, which they should have anyway. (Faith: Right.) To me, it was just like, oh, that was real chaotic good.
<Laugh>. Yeah. I feel like there’s so many phrases in my daily vernacular that there’s so many layers of abstraction now, but if I really dig into like, why do I say this? Like, where does this phrase come from? (Abbey: <Laugh>.) It’s either from the movie Bridesmaids, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) or it’s <laugh> (Abbey: Yes.) from Twitter. I was thinking of one, I mean, I probably said it yesterday, which is “delete your account,”(Abbey: <Laugh>.) which is like, just go home, we’re done here. Like, come on, you’ve lost. And we all know who tweeted, “delete your account.” Just like, any time I think that there has been, either like, a brand or a public figure who just throws caution to the wind and uses Twitter like a 13-year-old, has been my favorite.
You know who I follow that is so random and I love? Do you remember the band, Eve 6?
<Snap>. Fire Twitter account <laugh>.
So sarcastic, so like, self-deprecating at times. Like, highly recommend it.
Interesting. Okay. That’s my other favorite thing is like, people who are low-key good on Twitter. (Abbey: Yeah.) That you would never expect. It’s like, “Have you followed, you know, this random actor’s daughter’s dog walker? Because, you know, they’re Twitter famous.” It’s like, no, of course I don’t, but <laugh> I’ll add it to my diet.
There’s another one that I like, I can’t remember the name of the account, but it’s this Sikh guy who lives like, really far up in northern Canada, (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) where it’s just like, cold and snowy all the time, and he dances.
Oh my god.
He like, goes outside and does all these like, traditional Sikh dances in the snow, and it’s just like, filled to the brim with joy. Like, so you could have, you could be having a bad day and watch this guy dance, and it’s just like, look at this. He’s just so happy.
It’s interesting, because I feel like we were hacking our way, we were using Twitter to hack so many things that now exist, right? Like, that guy that you’re describing, probably the platform for him is TikTok, right? But I love that Twitter was just, it was what’s available. (Abbey: Yeah.) When I think about the place that Twitter has had in our historical narrative since its founding, obviously the Arab Spring happened in 2012, and that was what, how many years after the first tweet was sent? Six years. (Abbey: God.) And since then, we’ve seen Twitter be used, you know, for a whole slew of political movements and social movements. (Abbey: Yeah.) Could that have happened on any other platform? Like, we had Facebook, we had Instagram, we had Yelp, <laugh> or like Four Square.
I feel like the basis of those was around like, sharing whole stories, (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>.) or like, the basis of Facebook is like, you’re sharing a story about something that’s happening to you, or you’re initiating a longer conversation where people have the space to have the space to comment and go back and forth with like, larger chunks of information. Instagram is about like, sharing this picture of a moment in time, and Twitter is like, Twitter is what is this instant.
It’s what’s happening now.
Yeah <laugh>. I should use that as a tagline <laugh>.
The life cycle of a tweet is so short, because there are so many of them, and you know, up until, I can’t remember what year it was, but it was a lot longer ago than I thought. Like, it might have been like, 2007, that they changed the character count (Faith: From…) from 140 to 280.
Oh, I feel like it was 140 forever; I’d be very surprised if it was 2007, but…
I thought so, too. Regardless, it gives you a limited amount of space. It really forces people to condense thoughts, to use their words very carefully, which I don’t think you see in other social media platforms. (Faith: Mmm <affirmative>, yeah.) I think that’s kinda its power.
I won’t pretend to know any of the intricacies of the algorithms on various social platforms, but I think what’s interesting about Twitter, at least what I used to see on my timeline, was actually very little of people that I actually followed, because I didn’t really follow people on Twitter. And I feel like the perspective available, just like, scrolling a Twitter timeline was very different than what you could get on like a Facebook or an Instagram, and I think that served political and social movements that were kind of born on Twitter really well, you know?
Yeah. I find a lot of stuff, because it’s something that someone I do follow has liked. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) You know, there’s good and bad to that, where part of it is like, if you’re looking down the same silos, then you’re kind of reinforcing what you already thought by continuing to read things that agree with that point. But you can also follow accounts that like, I’m specifically thinking of like, The Lincoln Project, you know, where (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) it is a Republican-based organization, but they follow and share things from accounts that are Republican, that are kind of like, right-leaning, (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) and to see that, like I don’t think I need to tell anybody that I’m left-leaning. (Faith: <Laugh>.) I feel like it’s…
If you’re listening to the audio version, (Abbey: Yeah.) hop over to Youtube.
I have hot pink hair with like, a neon green side rattail. (Faith: <Laugh>.) You know, it still allows you to kind of start diving into that and say, you know, “What is happening on the other side of this conversation?” And there’s never a lack of information out there, if you choose to seek it. (Faith: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.) Especially somewhere like Twitter. Everyone has an opinion on Twitter.
<Laugh>. It’s very true. I mean, obviously, the story for the last few months has been like “hashtag goodbye Twitter.” “We’re moving off Twitter.” There’s been some drama-llama that we do not need to elaborate on, because surely everyone listening has read probably more than their fair share (Abbey: Yeah.) about it. But what’s interesting is, you know, there’s plenty of platforms that are kind of vying to be the preferred Twitter alternative, but it’s not evident, yet, who the front runner’s going to be. And Twitter’s still busy. There is, people still be tweetin’.
People still be tweetin’, and I almost feel like the drama-rama that’s been surrounding it has been kind of fueling that. Where it’s like, okay, well where else are you gonna find the most up-to-date information about what is happening with this product (Faith: Yes.) than right on the product?
Yeah. Everybody likes to be in the thick of the drama, but what would it take, if somebody’s going to replace Twitter, what needs to be true about the platform? Does it just have to be like a “control+C,” “control+V” of Twitter?
How do you replace Twitter? I don’t know. (Faith: I know. I think…) I’m trying to think of like, a recent social platform where it’s like, how did Snapchat become Snapchat when there were technically other options? (Faith: Yeah.) You know, like Instagram shorts, and Vine, and…
Yeah. Oh my god. R.I.P., Vine.
Snapchat became something bigger than all of those.
That doesn’t make any sense to me, and we’re gonna need another episode so I can figure that out. But I think the thing about Twitter is, at least in my 2023 perspective, is the algorithm and the chance of virality is, for me, the thing that’s sticky. ‘Cause I love seeing just like a random funny tweet from some person who has like 10 followers and just like had a tweet blow up, (Abbey: Yeah.) you know, and it’s the same reason why TikTok is so addicting. I mean, depending on your algorithm, maybe your algorithm is really like, sad and a bummer. My algorithm is the happiest place in the world; it’s like, just random, hilarious, joyful videos, and I love it. (Abbey: Yeah.) But they’re people that I do not know and will never know in my real life, and they’re also people who are not like, verified. I don’t know, comics. They are just random people and–
They’re just random people with a TikTok account who did something funny that hit.
Exactly. Yeah, and somehow like, people were able to see it, and the algorithm drove that engagement, and anyway, all that to say, I think like, the feature that would have to be replicated is that piece. Like, how can me, little Faith Benson in Nashville, Tennessee, with, you know, a kind of boring tech job, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) like, find a random tweet from this girl in Nebraska who, you know, said something funny about her coffee maker this morning? (Abbey: <Laugh>.) I think that’s the thing. That’s the thing that’s like, sticky for, at least, people like me.
Yeah. Because if you look at like, I don’t think that there is inherently anything worse about something like Mastodon, but it’s like, the way that Mastodon is set up, is so that you’re engaging in a particular space about a particular shared set of whatever, maybe it’s tech, maybe it’s cats, but you can likely only go as viral as like, that space allows for.
Right. Right, which is very different than kind of a random, but delightful, selection of random tweets that, at least I used to get. These days, my algorithm sucks, so…
My algorithm has had some stuff come up lately that I’m like, “Why would you think I want to read that?” <Laugh>.
Yeah, it’s weird. It feels…whatever. It is what it is. (Abbey: Yeah.) I’m sure everybody can probably agree. Well, I’m interested to see what happens in this space this year. I can’t say that I’m terribly in need of yet another social media platform that inevitably I will use and then discard.
I feel too old to adapt <laugh>.
Yeah. It’s that, and it’s also like, I wanna figure out how to help people spend less time on screens, and I wanna spend less time on screens. So it just doesn’t, (Abbey: Yeah.) it doesn’t feel like an exciting problem space to me, in the way that it did 10 or 15 years ago, when we were connecting the world, (Abbey: Yeah.) and we were fueling important social movements. It just…it feels different now. So we’ll see.
And I think like, how many things came out of, you know, that era of tech, too, that were so like, you know, novel, new, exciting. (Faith: Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.) Look how we can connect the world, and now we’re like, “Woof.”
No thanks! <Laugh>.
We connected the world, and there’s a lot of scary things happening out there <laugh>.
I’m just gonna go meet my neighbors. (Abbey: <Laugh>.) I think I can scratch (Abbey: Yeah.) that community. It’s just fine <laugh>.
(THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) Yeah. Yeah. We’ll see. You know I am interested to see where it goes over the next year, (Faith: Yeah.) especially given all the change that’s happened in the last couple years.
Same. Okay, the first thing I’m gonna do when we hang up is go see how much this NFT is selling for now, because I feel like we have to buy it <laugh>.
At least, you know, I think that’s a good PR move, for sure.
It’s great. I’ll ask Teja if we can put it on the bricks.
Thanks for listening to the Frontier podcast, powered by Gun.io. We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week. (THE FRONTIER THEME STOPS)
I have to imagine it gets very matted.
He doesn’t, weirdly.
I mean, in the wild.
In the wild, yes. For sure.
We had a little dog who was mostly hairless when we first adopted him, and it turns out that he was like, some sort of very hairy dog.
So like, he was eight pounds, and had hair that was like, this long. (Faith: Yikes.) So it would get caught in everything, ‘cause he was just a gross little animal.
All right, I feel guilty. I feel adequately guilty enough to go ahead and spend my quarterly $100 on my dog’s haircut, (Abbey: <Laugh>.) when I spend like, $30 on my own haircut once a year <laugh>.
(DOG BARKING) Probably. What is this dog barking about?
(DOG CONTINUES TO BARK) You probably have a squirrel in your yard. You should really take care of that. They’re dangerous.
That’s Ellie’s job. She’s the squirrel hunter.