Believe it or not, it was just 10 years ago - on 21 March 2006 - that Jack Dorsey set-up and sent the very first tweet on the new social media platform Twitter. Whilst his message was pretty simple - 'just setting up my twttr' - Dorsey effectively created the phenomenon of micro-blogging through his 140 character count. Today, tweeting is common practice, spawning some 6,000 tweets per second, 500 million tweets per day and around 200 billion tweets per year.
Twitter's 140 character limit was based on the standard length of an 'old' text message using original mobile phones. In China, because Chinese characters are words in themselves, a tweet is actually 140 words long but the effect is the same: messaging which is succinct and immediate as people share their as-live experiences across a medium that remains free to use. It's now easier in many ways to keep in touch with someone via Twitter than other messaging platforms like email or text but in many ways, it is still very much in its infancy in terms of the evolution of communication in civilised society. Given its brief history, it's quite possible that in 10-15 years' time, the social networks we use today - Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram - may not look or be used like they are today.
Interestingly, the 10th anniversary of Twitter coincides with the 10th anniversary of the academic discipline of Web Science, established by the University of Southampton and MIT to study the evolution of the web, how it impacts on our lives and how we impact on it. Through Web Science, my colleagues and I around the world are asking questions about how we currently use Twitter and how we may wish to use it in future. We're trying to gain an understanding of all the good things we use Twitter for as well as all of the bad because of the importance we now place on social media in our daily lives.
So over the last decade, what has Twitter given us and how has it really changed the world?
1. Twitter is now the "go to" source for breaking news. From acts of war to air crashes to celebrity gossip - Twitter gets there first. Official government response to such events increasingly takes the same route rather than rely on the more traditional press release.
2. Hashtags have fundamentally changed how we access and manage information, for example to harness support for a cause. Free tools such as Twitter are particularly important for charities or social enterprises operating on very limited budgets. Major successes include #icebucketchallenge and #nomakeupselfie which raised millions of pounds for charity as people took to Twitter and other social media to encourage donations by sharing photos or video of their own embarrassment. #Brexit is a current example that will be interesting to track over the next few months in the lead up to the EU referendum.
3. Real time public messaging ups the ante for customer service, in a very broad sense of the term. Twitter provides significant collective value to users of real time information about weather, traffic conditions or train delays. Brands can make or break on how well (or badly!) they respond to a crisis. "Always on" short messaging services such as Twitter offer the potential to transform traditional business processes and the timescales associated with them. For example, live video of a major product launch event can be broadcast through Periscope and queries addressed via Twitter while the event is still taking place.
4. On a professional basis, Twitter has transformed the ways in which we connect, communicate and collaborate in terms of both teaching and research. It allows us to keep up to date with our subjects, follow events remotely that we often cannot attend in person, and engage with others to build global networks. It is also an increasingly important tool in recruitment, for both employers and potential employees to demonstrate their credentials.
5. The basic 140 character limit on Twitter may seem restrictive to get a message across, but the scope of a single tweet can be hugely extended by including other media. The power of images or video embedded within a tweet is now well established, but what about emoji? Any doubt about the growing popularity of emoji as a global language can be removed with a quick glance at the Emoji Tracker which provides a real time leaderboard of the most popular symbols tweeted. What is the most popular emoji to be used around the world via Twitter? It's the 'face with tears of joy' which has been shared over 1.1billion times - and rising - since the Emoji Tracker was switched on in July 2013.