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Ten Years on Twitter

Sifting through a decade of 140-character moments.

I didn’t understand Twitter at first. A service that would constantly update me via SMS about the minutiae of my friends’ activities? Uh, no thanks? Using it via its website was less intrusive and slightly more appealing, but the whole thing still seemed to me like a really disorganized and fairly pointless chat room. Nevertheless, most of my friends in the web design community had joined by late 2006, and the service dominated SXSW Interactive in March of 2007 to a degree that made me wonder what I was missing.

It took another several months, a slow change in perspective, and a confluence of technologies to finally get me onboard. A TidBITS article by a recent Twitter convert was the straw that broke the camel’s back, offering a persuasive argument that Twitter was more than just a repository for what people had for lunch, and showing me how I could use a combination of Twitterrific and Growl to stay on top of things at my own pace. But that wouldn’t have been convincing on its own—if my Twitter feed was going to be about my life in real time, tethering the experience to a desktop computer wouldn’t do. As luck would have it, the recent release of the iPhone was a massive leap forward that made mobile connectivity viable for me in a way that no prior device could, and it prompted many developers to create mobile web apps (and, later, native apps) that made Twitter easy and fun to use on the go. I started off with Hahlo before moving on to Twitterrific, Tweetie, and Tweetbot (which I still use today).

My original username was @cowpiesurprise, which was the handle I used for most online services at the time. It originated in the late ’90s during my tenure at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Allentown, PA, surrounded by farmland. After guests finished their meal, my go-to joke was that the dessert special was the “cow pie surprise.” Somehow, my tips didn’t suffer.

Anyway, given my talent for using scatological humor to sell desserts, I wish I could say @cowpiesurprise’s first tweet was even a little bit clever. Alas:

And with that, I was off to the races, tweeting several times a day about things both consequential and (more often) not. Among many other things, there were rants…

…there were puns…

…there was insomnia…

…and there was a chronic, irate preoccupation with car alarms.

Past, present, future

Twitter is supposed to be all about what’s happening right now, and its model gives users good reason to think of their tweets as ephemeral and disposable. I won’t say I’m entirely immune to that sentiment, but regular readers of this site will be unsurprised to learn that I’m more interested in Twitter as an archive, as a collection of bite-sized dispatches from events in our lives that run the gamut from mundane to sublime, which can be recombined in various ways to tell a uniquely affecting story…

…and Twitter’s low bar of 140 characters has been a boon to documenting significant moments whose emotional details might have otherwise slipped away.

Ten more years?

I still look at Twitter multiple times most days, but I don’t tweet quite as much as I used to. I’m wary of social media’s overbearing attention economy, and critical of Twitter’s failure to manage its ugly growing pains, from the proliferation of misinformation and abusive trolls to, incredibly, the actual threat of nuclear war. I don’t know how the positive experiences I’ve had with Twitter stack up against the harm it’s caused, and I don’t know if I’ll be writing another post like this ten years from now, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity to collect these thousands of tiny moments over the last decade, and to have this milestone to reflect on them.