As Twitter prepares to float on the stock market, now is the time to ask where the service is headed, and how it will shape how we converse and think.
By Tom Chatfield
One day, a user of Twitter decided to do something no else had tried before. It was November 2006, eight months after Twitter’s launch. At the time, almost all people on “micro-blogging” website were broadcasting their tweets to anybody and everybody.
Instead, Robert S Anderson directed his tweet at one person, by using his keyboard’s “at” symbol. He typed: “@buzz you broke your thumb and you’re still twittering?”
Hardly profound, but it was a moment of clarity. While Twitter’s founders had created a service that allowed people to type, search and follow other users, it was unclear how it would actually be used.
Anderson’s tweet provided the first of several answers. Among other things, Twitter was a messaging service, within which replying to and addressing others was a key feature. It was a vehicle for conversation.
Today, seven years on from its launch, Twitter is poised to debut on the stock market. With shares likely to begin trading in November, current talk is all about valuations, revenues and losses.
More intriguing, though, is a larger question: what does the future hold for a medium that has helped define the digital etiquettes of the last half-decade?
Assuming it endures, what might Twitter look like a decade from now?