#HappyBirthday! Twitter and 7 years of transformation

Twitter goes from inane to tweets from popes, presidents and natural disaster survivors

Seven years ago today, Twitter was born when the first tweet was sent out.

And, oh, what changes seven years can bring.

"I see the Twitter we know today as much more of a communications medium than when it was initially launched -- when tweeting was viewed as an information vacuum, something used by lazy bloggers to announce the contents of their blue plate special," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis. "Today, such inanity continues, of course, but via search, hashtags and following, we rely on Twitter to stay informed on world events, keep up with brands and people, and reach out for help in times of distress."

That, he added, is a pretty diverse set of crucial communication capabilities - all within 140 characters at a time.

Twitter today has more than 200 million active users, who are sending out more than 400 million tweets every day, wrote Karen Wickre, Twitter's editorial director, in a blog post.

Through the last seven years, Twitter has gone through a dramatic transformation. When it first started out, people tweeted more about their favorite sandwich than about world politics or social injustice.

That's no longer the case.

During last year's U.S. presidential race, Twitter became a key player, helping the different campaign camps get out their messages and amass volunteers. It also enabled voters to support their favorite candidates, get information about voting and encourage others to get out and vote.

Like a few other social networks, Twitter has become a lifeline during natural disasters, like tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes.

In the last few weeks, Pope Benedict XVI used Twitter to say good-bye to his more than 1.6 million Twitter followers. And earlier this week, his successor, Pope Francis, used Twitter to greet his nearly 2 million followers.

"Twitter is so young and so new, yet so vital to the way we communicate and share information," said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst. "It has gone through enormous changes in a few short years. During the last five years, we have seen it used in very creative ways no one imagined."

He pointed out that Twitter is able to make people feel connected to celebrities, politicians and world leaders.

The big question is what comes next for the social network?

"Well, when Twitter introduced Vine this January with the idea of letting users share short, looping videos, I felt as though we were seeing a bit of a rebirth with the introduction of a new, seemingly inane service that might grow into something vital," said Shimmin. "I feel that Twitter, as a communications utility rather than a social destination site like Facebook, will evolve in line with market and cultural demand."

And Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Twitter`s biggest challenge may be maintaining its simplicity and speed while adding sticky and money-making services.

"Consumers like Twitter because it`s simple, fast and pervasive. If Twitter gets complicated and slow, [it] becomes just another Facebook and we don't need two," he said. "I expect Twitter to build into a very streamlined version of Facebook, adding many more forms of media to share."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "#HappyBirthday! Twitter and 7 years of transformation" was originally published by Computerworld.

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