It was five years ago that Jack Dorsey, a software engineer from St Louis, Missouri, posted his first message on the fast-paced communications site he and its co-founders went on to call Twitter: “Inviting coworkers”, it read. Inspired by a courier dispatch system, Twitter was conceived as a way to tell friends what you were up to. Since then, it has become a vast network of breaking news, political activism, mundane gossip, word games and, well, anything you can squeeze into 140 characters – with its users posting 140m tweets a day. Here are five of the Californian site’s most notable users:
The comedian, author and technophile took to Twitter early as an ideal forum for his bon mots. Until his discussion with fellow tweeter Jonathan Ross on a BBC television chat show in January 2009, it had largely been the preserve of geeks. “I love how Twitter confirms my all too often assaulted belief that most humans are kind, curious, knowledgeable, tolerant and funny,” he wrote at the time. Its enforced brevity tends to intensify insults and arguments, however, and Fry has quit Twitter from time to time, because there was “too much aggression and unkindness around”.
Ashton Kutcher (Mr Demi Moore) played a similar role in the US as Fry in the UK, bringing Twitter to a more mainstream audience. In April 2009 he beat news network CNN in a public duel to become the first user with 1m followers, just four months after joining. Earlier this month actor Charlie Sheen accrued more than 2m followers in a week, after being fired from his TV comedy Two and a Half Men, and said he expected to make $1m from product endorsements on the site.
This American student and blogger’s single-word tweet – “Arrested” – was heard far and wide in April 2008. Briefly detained by the Egyptian police for photographing a demonstration, his posting via mobile phone helped alert the US embassy. The story prefigured Twitter’s later role in co-ordinating and publicising anti-government protests in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt. Co-founder Biz Stone has championed its political potential and promised to protect users’ freedom of expression, although sceptics argue social networks can help repressive regimes to identify dissidents.
The geek’s geek, Robert Scoble, an American blogger, was an early adopter and vocal supporter of Twitter in 2006, before its famous break-out at the South by South West tech conference in spring 2007. A technology evangelist and “friend collector”, the arrival of Scoble – who has about 170,000 Twitter followers – on any new social media site can often strain its servers due to the scale of his network. The prolific Scoble even inspired his own metric – the “miliscoble” – of how annoying a Twitter user is to follow, ranked against his daily volume of tweets.
The wife of former British prime minister Gordon, Brown proved Twitter’s utility for getting around the mainstream media and crafting a new public persona. Newspapers were more likely to criticise Brown’s dress sense than chronicle her charitable works but, as her husband’s poll ratings fell, the former PR exec’s star rose as she tweeted the minutiae of her day.
Tim Bradshaw is the FT’s Digital Media Correspondent. He can be found tweeting at @tim
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