As a platform that prides itself on offering diverse means to share news from a range of various sources (Papacharissi & de Fatima Oliveira, 2012), it is inevitable that Twitter has transformed the way individuals utilise the internet. More specifically, Twitter has “infused itself into daily life” (Walck, 2013, p. 66), mobilising change within our social, political, economic and cultural worlds.
This critical essay will provide an in-depth analysis of Twitter, exploring its rich history and development. Following this, I will explore its business model and social ecology to gain an understanding of the nature of a transformative company. Lastly, a discussion of the impact of Twitter through our social, political, economic and cultural worlds will be analysed.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a microblogging service that allows users to tweet about any topic within a 280-character limit and follow other Twitter users, creating an effective new medium of information sharing (Kwak, Lee, Park, & Moon, 2010). The concept of Twitter can be explained through the definition of the word in which Dorsey explains:
“…we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was”.
According to Twitter (2019), users are able to follow breaking news, entertainment, politics, sports and everyday interests, and then join the conversation. This, in conjunction with the functionalities of the social media platform which allow users to tweet, retweet, follow, search and hashtag, make the entity a transformative platform that has shifted the way users utilise the internet.
What is Twitter? Video: The Social Clinic
The Development of Twitter
The origins of Twitter began with an idea that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and his associates had in 2006, introducing an SMS based communication platform that was called “Twitter”. The idea of Twitter was originally formed during a brainstorming session at the now defunct company Odeo as they looked for new directions for the company to go towards. After being given the ‘go-ahead’ to develop the idea further, Dorsey was able to successfully send the first message on March 21st 2006 which said “Just setting up my twitter”, establishing the beginning of a hugely successful communication platform.
During these early development stages, the three co-founders of Twitter Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams eventually decided to buy back their company from investors in a bid to salvage the failing company.
A turning point in Twitters development was at the 2007 South by Southwest Initiative (SXSWI) conference which saw twitter usage increase from 20,000 tweets to 60,000 tweets per day. Following this event, Twitter experienced significant growth with 400,000 tweets posted per quarter which grew to 100 million tweets by 2008.
As Twitter experienced a massive growth, the company had to transform its platform to cater to user needs as well as the changing world. Some of the user-driven features Twitter created during their early stages included:
- @ Symbol: The @ symbol enables users to acknowledge other users
- Hashtags (#): Hashtags allow users to identify tweets based on the topics that are discussed
- Retweet: The Retweet features allows users to send tweets to other users without plagiarising
These innovative changes helped Twitter transform the role of the internet into a mode of communication for users.
With Twitters tagline changing in November 2009 from “What are you doing” to “What is happening?”, this echoed an internal shift for both users and researchers to consider information sharing tweets (Rodgers, 2014, p. 16) as opposed to ‘daily chatter’. Furthermore, with Twitter today increasingly being studied as a data set and anticipatory medium, this raises the question of how will Twitter evolve 10 years from now?
The Business Model
Currently, Twitter is primarily owned by two of its co-founders Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams in conjunction with several other stakeholders whom are 5% shareholders. Twitter has notoriously struggled to find a business model due to its retrofitted model (Nitins & Burgess, 2014, p. 296) however since 2015, the company has transformed its objectives and business model. The company has focused on transferring power to the user (O’Reilly, 2005) by shifting to a media-centric business model (Burgess & Bruns, 2012; van Dijck, 2011), relying on monetizing the attention of users through advertising and data licencing.
Twitter generates most of its revenue through advertising which comprises of promoting tweets, accounts and trends that are relevant to specific users via proprietary algorithms. These methods of advertising allow users to expand their customer bases whilst simultaneously leaving users more receptive to products or services being offered.
Data licencing is Twitters other main source of revenue, allowing data partners to access, search and analyse historical and real-time data on the platform. With social media data being a key aspect in the rapidly growing data market (Manovich, 2012; Steele, 2011), data licencing is becoming an increasingly effective means of revenue.
With $2.6 billion made from advertising and $424 million made from data licensing in 2018 alone, its evident that Twitters unique business model is highly successful.
Twitters Social and Internet Ecology
Twitter presents itself as a social media networking service that has a large presence in the internet industry. Twitter’s network of 330 million users whom range from generation X to Y make the entity an extremely influential platform worldwide for individuals, businesses and services. Whilst Twitter isn’t regulated by any government body, the company have steadily added documents that regulate how users can interact with its service (Pushhman, 2013; Burgess, 2013) in conjunction with self regulation that is instilled within Twitter’s multitude of users.
Twitter has launched an Official Partner Program seeking to connect marketers with trusted service providers to help companies make effective Twitter marketing programs, with some of these partner companies called Social Native, Curalate and Animoto. Additionally, the company have a range of revenue partners whom utilise the platform for advertising and data licencing purposes, some of which include Google Doubleclick Bid Manager, The Trade Desk and Criteo.
Companies such as Mastodon, Gab, Amino and Peeks are direct competitors to Twitter as they offer similar microblogging communication platforms. Additionally, major social media companies such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat are indirect competitors as they share very similar value and offerings to users.
Twitter has a range of key resource and service providers such as Brizzly, Fflick and INQ that are designed to enhance the microblogging platform, whether this is by improving functionality or making the platform more accessible on other devices.
Twitter Ecology Map
How has Twitter Mobilised Change?
Twitter has mobilised social, cultural and political change by challenging traditional forms of media and shifting these to an internet driven platform. Socially, Twitter has transformed how social movements are conducted with the introduction of hashtag activism, reshaping the way users interact. Culturally, the social media platform has challenged traditional forms of media by reshaping how news is reported in todays society. Lastly, Twitter has altered the political scene by transforming the way in which politics is conducted. These topics will be further explored below.
In a society that is constantly changing, online entity Twitter has transformed the way individuals initiate and coordinate social movements and mass protests. More specifically, the introduction of “hashtag activism” has mobilised socio-political changes in today’s society by uniting users via an internet network (Goswani, 2018). In fact, the birth of hashtag activism has encouraged participatory behaviour simply by using hashtags (#) to streamline their tweets topic or focus. This, in conjunction with the notion that “83% of all Twitter users are within five steps of interconnection” (Raines & Wellman, 2017), visually illustrates the potential impact that a single tweet can have on a platform with 330 million users.
An example of hashtag activism is the #BlackLivesMatter movement which made its first appearance on Twitter in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Soon after, the hashtag spread all over social media, becoming not only an online protest event but a social movement that collectively allowed users to share similar stories of racial injustice (Yang, 2016). This shifted the way mass protests and movements are conducted, proving that movements are just as effective on digital platforms versus a physical.
Furthermore, it is evident that Twitter has transformed the way socio-political movements are conducted on the internet, encouraging users to convey participatory behaviour through hashtag activism.
Redefining How News is Reported
Twitter has challenged traditional modes of media, creating a transformative internet platform that has redefined how news is reported. With 9 in 10 users using Twitter for news, it is clear that Twitter has emerged as “the” social media platform for news as a popular tool for journalists and news outlets to reach wide audiences (Orellana-Rodriquez, Greene & Keane, 2017). This is due to Twitter’s large offering for users, reporting on breaking news to celebrity tweets and citizen accounts, redefining the typical news outlet. Hermida (2010, p. 302) agrees with this notion, describing Twitter as an “awareness system” that helps users become are of others activities and discover trends that are under the spotlight.
The Hudson River Place Crash in 2009 helped Twitter become the social media powerhouse it is today (Langer, 2014), with the internet platform the first to break the incredible story via a Twitter user. This event was a pivotal moment for Twitter, particularly its CEO Jack Dorsey as:
“the world turned its attention to [Twitter] because we were the source of the news”. The event improved the credibility of Twitter as a news site, reinforcing that Twitter isn’t just a social media platform but an entity that has a large offering for users. Furthermore, Twitter has effectively challenged these traditional notions of news reporting, emphasising the transformative impact of the internet on mobilising cultural change.
A Shift in the Political Climate
Twitter has dramatically altered the political scene, transforming the nature in which politics is conducted. To further elaborate, the utilisation of social media within the political climate has made voters accessible to officials, dramatically changing the way in which campaigns are run (Murse, 2019).
Less than two years after its launch in 2006, politicians, candidates and political campaigns were using Twitter to connect with citizens and potential voters (Cogburn & Espinoza-Vasquez, 2011). Utilising Twitter as a platform to reach potential voters not only expands the reach of political campaigns, but allows officials to directly observe users behaviour while they engage in politics (Mcbride & Bekafigo, 2013), reinforcing the way politics is conducted. Furthermore, the platform has similarly allowed political actors and individuals to utilise the platform to spread information and express their opinions, reiterating Twitter as an entity for open communication.
The 2012 US Presidential Election was proof of Twitters presence in the political world with around 14 million tweets being sent, emphasising the inherent shift from traditional blog campaigns to social media driven campaigns. Twitter allowed live updates during the campaign, allowing citizens to participate in political discourses, reshaping the nature of politics.
Overall, Twitter has transformed the political scene by shifting the way politics is conducted, utilising its large network of users to start conversations.
In summary, Twitter has been instrumental in ushering internet transformations, guiding us into the 21st century by mobilising social, cultural and political change. More specifically, Twitter has influenced society by challenging traditional norms and replacing these with innovative and transformative notions. Socially, Twitter has changed the way individuals communicate in the form of social movements and hashtag activism, uniting individuals via an internet network. Culturally, the platform has changed the way news is reported, making way for innovative and new methods of journalism in society. Lastly, Twitter has dramatically altered the political scene by transforming how politics is conducted, but more specifically how campaigns are run. Overall, it is evident that Twitter is an internet platform that has transformed the world and the society we live in.
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