140 Things You Don’t Know About Twitter

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On March 21, 2006, a simple messaging service was born with a five-word tweet.

Fast forward eight years.

Tweets now move billions of dollars in the stock market, have delivered play-by-play of the killing of the FBI’s most wanted terrorist and allow planet Earth to communicate directly with humans and machines residing in outer space.

In honor of the 140-character limit per post on Twitter, here are 140 things you didn’t know about the service.

  1. Twitter almost never came to be. In 2006, there was a company called Odeo, which helped individuals publish audio. With a lack of growth and investors souring, the company pivoted and decided to conduct a hackathon one day. This brain-storming competition led to the birth of Twitter.

2. This was Twitter’s first ever homepage.

3. Twitter was created on a playground. Founding team member Dom Sagolla says the group went on the top of a slide at a playground in South Park, a small neighborhood in San Francisco, and Jack Dorsey discussed an “idea so simple that you don’t even think about it—you just write.” This moment of inspiration has turned into a multibillion-dollar company.

4. When Twitter began, everyone’s first tweet was automated. It published, “Just setting up my twttr.” Co-founder Dorsey sent the first tweet—beating Biz Stone by a minute—on March 21, 2006, at 4:50 p.m. PT. It now has more than 20,000 retweets.

5. The user with the most followers is Katy Perry; the singer has 50 million followers.

6. HootSuite, a social media management company, follows nearly 1.5 million accounts, the second most of any user. @ArabicBest is in the lead; the profile shows it follows 2.4 million accounts.

7. Who has tweeted the most? That honor belongs to @Yougakduan_00, a girl from Japan, who posted a mind-boggling 36,402,262 tweets before Twitter suspended her account, likely because of the excessive tweeting.

8. The most followed brand is YouTube with 40 million followers.

9. The official name of Twitter’s bird is Larry. Yes, his name is Larry Bird. The iconic little fellow—seen in Twitter’s logo shown in TV commercials, print ads and practically every website—was named after Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird.

10. Why choose to name the bird after a basketball star who played in Boston? It may have to do with Twitter co-founder Stone growing up in Massachusetts.

11. Twitter didn’t create retweets, replies, hashtags, a mobile app or social ads—it was created by users and developers in its ecosystem. Those features were later supported by Twitter, according to marketing site 140 Proof. Unfortunately for the inventors, they didn’t receiving a slice of the company when it went public in November 2013.

12. Cashtags—ticker symbols accompanied by a dollar sign, like $GE—are used by Wall Street tweeters and those interested in tracking news around stocks.

13. From 2008 to 2010, Twitter had a “guy with a pager” to help keep the site online. “It sucked,” writes John Adams, a member of the company’s security team, on Quora. The pager rotated between three and four people, Adams says.

14. Twitter’s Fail Whale—used during periods of Twitter.com downtime in the site’s early years—was created by Yiying Lu, an artist who originally made the design for a birthday e-card. Twitter found it on a stock photo site and added it to theirs. Sadly, the Beluga whale is no longer featured when the site goes down.

15. The Fail Whale was adored by thousands of Twitter users. Some made cakes showcasing the whale, others sported permanent tattoos. One fan even created a fictitious beer.

16. Twitter was almost called Twitch. Before finalizing on the name, the team looked at the Oxford English Dictionary. “We found the word Twitter,” Dorsey says. “And Twitter means a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds. And we were like, that describes exactly what we’re doing here.”

17. When the founding team was building the product, it called it “Jitter” at one point. It was a “terrible” name, Dorsey says.

18. The founding team was nervous about using Twitter as the company name “because in certain cultures it could be demeaning,” Dorsey explains. “For example, Twit is not necessarily associated with the best things.” It took two months or so for the team to get used to the name.

19. Once the name Twitter was decided on, the crew realized phones were such a big part of what it was doing, and that meant Twitter needed a five-letter “short code” for folks to send messages on a mobile device. “So [we] took out all the vowels and then it could be twttr,” Dorsey says. Unfortunately, the short code was already taken by Teen People. The vowels were then added back.

20. Twitter paid a “minuscule” amount for Twitter.com, Dorsey says. Before Twitter purchased the domain in 2006 from someone else, there was nothing going on at the page.

21. Twitter didn’t want to refer to posts on its site as “tweets.” After insisting on “status update” for some time, the company caved and used “tweets” after users insisted on the term. “I thought it was a little bit too cute for such a serious utility,” Dorsey says.

22. The length of the messages users send on Twitter has gotten shorter over the last five years, researchers say. Do people have less time on their hands with the growing number of social media services and users or does new Twitter jargon allow users to keep it concise? You decide.

23. Ending a tweet with an empty hashtag is called a hangtag, and it’s Twitter’s version of the mic drop, the team at Medium declared recently.

24. Dorsey was reportedly brokenhearted when Instagram was sold to Facebook for $1 billion in cash and stock in April 2012. Less than a year later, Twitter scooped up Vine, the video-sharing app, for $30 million.

25. Dorsey hasn’t posted to his Instagram account ever since Facebook acquired the service.

26. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom (@Kevin) hasn’t written a tweet since August 2012.

27. Why was Twitter’s video-sharing app named Vine? A source says it’s short for Vignette, which is defined as “a short impressionistic scene.” Vignette is also the name of a photo filter offered by the signature Twitter app.

28. Vine limits its videos to six seconds, but Twitter user Will Smidlein once figured out how to upload a three-minute music video to a single Vine clip. On the same day Twitter released Vine on Android, Smidlein (@ws) exploited a hole in the video app’s coding that allowed him to share the ever-viral “Rickroll” YouTube video in its entirety. The bug was later patched, but not before Smidlein says he “ruined some poor engineer’s day.”

29. Vine’s logo connects the “V” and “I” in its name in the same way a vine loops and wraps itself around a tree.

30. If you turn Vine’s logo upside down, it displays the maximum number of seconds your video can be: 6.

31. While most social networks’ most followed users are superstars in the real world, Vine’s most followed users are a dozen of your everyday folks. One such Vine star is Nicholas Megalis, who was the first user to post a clip that hit 1,000,000 likes.

32. Because Vine didn’t give users basic editing tools at the start, some Viners spent hours on a single six-second clip. Top Vine user Meagan Cignoli says she spent five hours and three shirts on this video.

33. Twitter announced its IPO via a tweet, naturally. At 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 12, 2013, @Twitter posted: “We’ve confidentially submitted an S-1 to the SEC for a planned IPO. This Tweet does not constitute an offer of any securities for sale.” The tweet now has more than 14,000 retweets.

34. Twitter’s stock symbol is TWTR. Some investors thought it was TWTRQ, which belongs to Tweeter’s Home Entertainment, a penny stock. The confusion led to TWTRQ jumping as much as 2,200 percent on Oct. 4, 2013. The stock gave back all of its gains within a couple of days, and the company changed the symbol to THEGQ.

35. Twitter, the company, recommends following three accounts for information on its stock: @DickC, @Twitter and @TwitterIR.


Image credit: CC by Andreas Eldh

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About the author: Eli Langer

Eli Langer is a producer for CNBC’s social media team, helping maintain the company’s social platforms and writing about the growing world of social media for CNBC.com.

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