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TIME – How Twitter is beautiful, terrible and addictive all at once

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March 25, 2015

By John Patrick Pullen

Looking back at what Twitter has become, nine years in stock photos

Of all the apps and services I’ve ever signed up for, the only one I remember plugging my username into for the first time is Twitter. It was May 2007, and I was about to quit a job full of people I loved working with to move across the country and go it alone as a freelancer.

Still relatively new, the 140-character messaging system was originally dreamt up as a small group SMS service, and that’s how I intended to use it. I told my friends to join Twitter so that during my cross-country drive, I could regale them with my hilarious observations and updates.

No one signed up — not even my family.

Funny enough, it wasn’t for another another seven months that I made my first post on Twitter, but I’m reminded of this story with March 21, the ninth anniversary of the first ever tweet, just around the corner.

Since that time, the service has evolved in ways that few people, if anyone, could foresee — so much so that Twitter is now a company valued at more than $30 billion. But that figure doesn’t care a lick that the service was SMS-based back when I signed up, or even that it has 288 million users today. Stock market numbers only care where a company is headed, and when it comes to Twitter, that’s the most interesting thing of all.

According to company lore, the service got its first shot of what we now call “social amplification” at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in March 2007, when bloggers, coders, and techies of all stripes took the service, enticed by tweets displayed on flat-panel screens in the hallways, then a tech show’s novelty which has since become a conference stalwart.

“I thought it sounded like an atrocious waste of time — it sounded trivial and like a distraction — and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” says Marshall Kirkpatrick, then a writer for TechCrunch and a SXSW attendee who signed up for the service that month. Kirkpatrick only planned to use Twitter to gather information to make the most of his festival experience. Afterwards, he was going to shut down his account.

“Of course, it didn’t end up that way,” he says.

After SXSW, Kirkpatrick continued to use the service to break stories well before his competition by following software engineers and people working in the middle of organizations, rather than company founders and outspoken evangelists. In fact, Kirkpatrick got so adept at Twitter that even Mashable has said it learned how to use the social network to uncover stories by watching him. Yet perhaps the most remarkable thing about the stories Kirkpatrick broke — such as the launch of Google+, months before it was even announced — was that he did it all from a perch outside Silicon Valley in Portland, Ore.

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