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The World’s Most Precocious 6-Year-Old? Twitter Has Come A Long Way Since 2006
March 21, 2012
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It was six years ago today that Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey sent out the world's first ever tweet: "Just setting up my twttr", he wrote. Despite clocking in well below the platform's 140-character limit, even then Dorsey saw the need for typing economy, eliminating the vowels that would eventually fill out the name of his enterprise.

The world hasn't been the same since. (At least if by "the world" you mean that part of it with near-constant internet access and a connection to social media trends.) Twitter has fundamentally changed the way many people follow and exchange information, and has accelerated a news culture that the development of the internet had already radically transformed.

As we celebrate the microblog's latest milestone, we look back at some of the discussions Twitter has already started:

1. Twitter? Who Needs It?

Way back in 2009, some people still weren't buying that Twitter was something they had to care about. On the tech website ZDNet, blogger Zack Whittaker outlined the 10 things he most hated about Twitter. Among them? Perennial concerns such as non-threaded conversations and shortcut links, as well as some that look less pressing, such as the emergence of copycat sites such as Friendfeed.

2. The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

In 2010, Malcolm Gladwell, the sometimes smarty-pants in residence at The New Yorker, wrote a much-discussed essay about why social media platforms such as Twitter are insufficient when it comes to creating social change. Drawing comparisons to the very real risks that came with protest during the civil rights movement, Gladwell points out that the weak ties engendered by social media outlets such as Twitter "seldom lead to high-risk activism."

3. Then Again, Maybe It Will

Not long after Gladwell's New Yorker piece was published, popular uprisings began to spread across the Middle East in what was dubbed the "Arab Spring" movement. In less than a year, much of the region was completely transformed, and many observers cited social media as a galvanizing force. Among those were the authors of a study from the University of Washington that claimed Twitter played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring.

4. If Not The Revolution, Then At Least The Protest Will Be Tweeted

Twitter was also a major element of last year's Occupy movement, even starting as a Twitter-based experiment suggested by Vancouver magazine Adbusters. In a piece in The New York Times, writer Jennifer Preston looked at how tweets helped propel a potentially obscure rally into a major phenomenon that spread from New York's Zucotti Park to cities all around the world.

5. Twitter Has Even Affected Big-League Sports

As any basketball fan knows, the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season was disrupted by labour unrest and disagreement between players and owners. A deal was eventually reached and a truncated season tipped off in December, but not before the brave new world of social media had an impact. Writer Mitchell German took a look at the role played by Twitter in the NBA's lockout.

6. Does Twitter Even Have To Be Twitter To Have An Impact?

In China, Twitter does not exist, having been blocked by the ruling Communist Party. But that doesn't mean it isn't still affecting life in the People's Republic. There are a number of equivalent sites, known as weibo, and they have become an interesting barometer of both public opinion and official doctrine. As discussed in a recent issue of The Economist, the Chinese Twitters have presented the ruling party with both a challenge and an opportunity, giving vent to popular criticism but also allowing authorities to monitor possible dissent. The impact this will have on Chinese life has yet to be seen.

7. Everyone You Love Is On Twitter

Of course, Twitter just wouldn't be Twitter if it didn't serve as an opportunity to track the comings, goings and bizarre pronouncements of every type of celebrity imaginable, from CEOs and presidents to rappers and reality-show stars. In honour of Twitter's birthday, The Guardian has provided a run-through of some of the most notable first tweets of the last six years - starting with Dorsey's first posts through Anthony Weiner's early innocence and Kanye West's strong beginnings.

8. Twitter As Ridiculous Marketing Strategy

In celebration of Twitter's fifth birthday last year, the National Post's chief satirist Steve Murray was asked to name his top five must-follow tweeters. What followed was a celebration of the many ways that Twitter has brought us closer to the brands we love.

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