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Celebrity & Revolution: Twitter at Five

As Twitter celebrates its fifth birthday this week, we take a wider look at the social network that is transforming the way we write and live.

Literature through the ages has taken all of us on a fantastic journey of discovery and imagination starting with biblical scripts to the legendary works of William Shakespeare, followed by Charles Dickens and then JK Rowling and now in the 21st century we have the tweet. 140 characters to say who, what, why, when and how….or, as often happens with Twitter updates, none of the above.

Informing his fellow founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone that Twitter was live and ready to go, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet – ‘just setting up my twttr’ at 8.50 pm on 21st March 2006, which was then copied by Stone and Williams.

It may not be as rich and colourful as some of Shakespeare’s work but Twitter has revolutionised the way we communicate, seek news and share information or gossip.

The internet has revolutionised the way we communicate and social revolutions that were born online have been taken to the streets as shown by the conflict in the Middle East. No longer can regimes crush the opinions and thoughts of the people. Thanks to social networking sites such as Twitter, ideas and views can spread like wildfire to the rest of the world within minutes. The people’s newswire has become a platform for anyone with a voice and a thought.

Started by just three people from San Francisco California, in 2006 there are now over 200 million Twitter users worldwide and users range from some of the planet’s most powerful people and celebrities to people’s grandparents and children, as well as, we’re sure a few household pets!

Originally named ‘Twttr’, the social networking site was created as a side project for the team working at San Francisco web firm Odeo. Based on a text message concept, the Twitter team decided to limit character space to 140 so it could fit along with your user name in a SMS message. Now having reached 1 billion tweets a week and an average of 460,000 new accounts created everyday, Twitter has become a symbol of communication in the 21st century.

Illustrating the power of the internet as a communication tool, even politicians have jumped on the social media bandwagon. Recently, Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions during a tour of the Middle East via YouTube. This was the first time a sitting Prime Minister responded directly to an ongoing world crisis via the video website. Even US President Barack Obama uses it to communicate on a daily basis, just last week he advertised to the world via Twitter his White House St Patricks Day party.

Not only has the internet and social communication changed the world and the way we respond to world events but how we interact with each other. The most personal things can be broadcast to the world via social networking tools as shown by Twitter user Max Kiesler. On 20th March 2008, Max Kiesler proposed to Emily Chang in 140 characters. One status later and the couple were officially engaged. The intimate and personal moment was shared by thousands.

Another extraordinary tweet comes from out of space. Breaking news was sent via Twitter when the Mars Phoenix Lander discovered ice on Mars in 2008. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory team posted updates of the Phoenix Lander on its mission to find water on the planet Mars.

Celebrity Tweets

Hollywood star Charlie Sheen has only recently turned his attention to Twitter, too, setting the world record for the fastest person to reach 1 million Twitter followers. The Guinness World Records gave the official word as the troubled actor signed up on 1st March and within 24 hours had more than a million followers. He gained his first 100,000 followers before even posting a single tweet. This is the first time the social networking site has been recognised by the World Record organisation.

Taking the social revolution everywhere you go, Smartphones and internet phones play a huge role in keeping Tweets up-to-date. Twitter has seen a 182% increase in the number of mobile users over the past year.

Social media’s role in rapidly distributing globally-significant news is now commonplace.When Michael Jackson died on 25th June 2009, 456 tweets were sent out per second, sparking the world’s largest online tribute message board. Twitter also had a huge impact on the Egyptian Revolution and to show this a book is now being published made up entirely from tweets. The 160 page book called Tweets from Tahrir is out on 21st April.

From births to deaths, record breakers and revolutionary makers what do you think will set Twitter tongues wagging over the next 5 years?