A Look Back At 12 Months Of Twitter (Part One)

Twittercism celebrates its first birthday today. It’s been a fun time, and if you’ll excuse the self-indulgence, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some of the key posts and themes – as well as the goofs and misfires – of the past 12 months.

It also functions nicely as a timeline of the change and development within Twitter over this period.

This is part one of two posts.

(Note: this is a very long post. If you want the tldr version, it’s ‘stuff happened’).

February 2009

The very first post on Twittercism asked whether Stephen Fry, who at the time was the third most popular user on the network behind Barack Obama and the then unofficial CNN Breaking News account, would ever be caught by any other bonafide celebrities.

The incident that would come to be know as, "Do you remember that time when Stephen Fry got trapped in a lift?"The incident that would come to be known as, “Do you
remember that time when Stephen Fry got trapped in a lift?”

Well, yes. A year later, and despite adding over a million followers, Fry has dropped to a relatively lowly 151 on the network. He’s still enormously popular, but as Twitter itself gained significance and started to attract more A-list celebrities it was always going to be difficult for Stephen to compete with the bigger American names.

Just 24 hours later, and I published the first of many posts that suggested improvements Twitter should make to the platform. It both amuses and concerns me that none of these ten suggestions have ever materialised on the network. Some, including a way to edit published tweets, a vastly-improved direct message system, threaded tweets and filters are verging on scandalous in their absence.

Only the long-touted premium Twitter seems a distinct possibility in the near term, although Biz Stone was promising this as far back as August 2009.

Lily AllenThe Darker Side of Twitter looked at the spat between Twitter stalwarts Lily Allen and Perez Hilton, and a moderately unpleasant exchange Demi Moore had with a member of the (shudder) public. I speculated that this was simply the beginning of these kinds of exchanges, and how many celebrities, unaccustomed as they are to real interactions with real people, would increasingly struggle on the network. This has proved somewhat prophetic, with high-profile casualties such as Trent Reznor, Miley Cyrus and even Lily Allen herself.

I’d like to highlight this section:

“Can you imagine Tom Cruise on Twitter? I mean, surely, it will never happen, and even if it did one assumes it would be handled by a PR team.”

Tom Cruise is now on Twitter, and his account is managed by a PR team.

This ‘celebrities who are failing at Twitter’ theme would become a constant on Twittercism.

My Twitter 101 tutorials are amongst the most popular articles on this blog. It all started with a three-part series in February entitled, “So You Don’t Get Twitter?“, which came in three parts (one, two and three). Twelve months later, I propose that it’s actually quite tragic that so much of it is still relevant.

March 2009

The problem of parody and spoof accounts for celebrities and brands was taken to extremes when Twitter suspended the fake but highly-amusing Christopher Walken account.

Christopher Walken. Kinda.

Almost a year later, and fraud is still an issue on the network, and it’s a situation that’s not helped by Twitter’s hit-and-miss approach to suspension.

March would also see Twitter move from replies to mentions on Twitter.com, which was a significant step as it ensured that any mention of your username would make its way to your mentions inbox, not just tweets that began with your username as previously.

This was where we saw my first gripe at Twitter’s ill-advised suggested user list, which would go on to become another major theme on Twittercism.

I also speculated on the value of breaching the one million followers mark.

Also this month:

April 2009

April opened with breaking news about TARDIS Tweet, a service that gave you the opportunity to back-date tweets to any point in your timeline. It was an April Fool, but quite a few people took it at face value.

Twitter was turned on its head by two cross-site scripting (XSS) exploits in April – Stalkdaily and the more-aggressive Mikeyy. While they spread rapidly and caused a fair bit of panic, both turned out to be ultimately harmless, and I provided tips for protecting yourself from similar hacks in the future.

This month also saw the release of Seesmic Desktop, which I proposed might be a TweetDeck-killer. This was perhaps a little optimistic, but Seesmic would remain my Twitter client of choice up until just a few weeks ago.

cnnbrkI speculated that @cnnbrk would be the first Twitter account to break the one million follower mark. Not only would I be completely wrong (Ashton Kutcher won the highly-publicised race to the top) but we would later learn that CNN Breaking News wasn’t actually under the control of CNN at all, at least not until later that month.

I suggested that replies on Twitter were far more damaging (and potentially libellous) than direct messages. Why? Because they’re very, very public.

When Twitter’s retweet feature came under attack from several notable bloggers, I felt obliged to come to its defense. I also shared ways that you could add your own retweet button to Twitter.com.

Twitter 101 went live on April 29th.

Also this month:

May 2009

The cast of Lost, with the Twitter co-founders, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey

I had a minor spat with respected SeoBook.com blogger Aaron Wall, and suggested that public exchanges like this didn’t actually do much for one’s image, particularly when assumptions are made.

Twitter made a major change to the way the users could configure the kinds of replies they saw on the network, reducing everybody to the default setting which meant you could now only see the replies of the people you are following. This was already my preferred choice, but many veterans of the service reacted with some outrage, and the #fixreplies hashtag trended for several days.

Twitter claimed to ‘learn a lot‘ from the incident, but this was clearly not the case.

This led me to wonder if Twitter was just like the TV series Lost, and whether they were making it up as they went along.

I wrote an article that looked at all the people who worked at Twitter and the responsibilities that they each had.

Rumours of a Twitter TV show that involved the public tracking celebrities was immediately dismissed when Ashton, Demi and Alyssa reacted in horror.

Twitter also announced plans to add location-based data to every tweet. 62% of my readers were fine with this, just as long as they could opt out.

Also this month:

June 2009

With their lousy PR skills and inability to clean up irritating bugs, I proposed that Twitter was ‘doing a Facebook‘. Indeed, this month had a strong theme regarding mounting problems on Twitter and the company’s inability to solve them.

I highlighted a problem that many Twitter users were having with random and massive unfollowing, notably the band Moonalice.

In June, I suddenly realised that my tweets were absent from Twitter search, and I was one of thousands and thousands of users suffering the same problem. This is still a major issue today.

Questions, questions, questions...I pointed out the absurdity in how difficult it was to submit a help ticket to Twitter. Not that it really matters, as the majority are ignored or closed following an automated response.

Your reputation is critical in social media. Why, then, does Twitter mostly turn a blind eye to abuse?

I exposed the mounting problem of ‘Twitter train‘-type marketing scams.

In one of my favourite articles, I stated that anonymity on the internet needs to end. There are some important exceptions, but in my experience most of the time anonymity turns regular people into douchebags, particularly in comments areas.

I pointed out that a block on Twitter isn’t actually a block at all. I also polled my readers for the reasons why they blocked other profiles.

iJustineWhen internet celebrity Justine Ezarik (aka iJustine) was dropped from the suggested user list, the immediate impact it made on her follower rate exposed the benefits (and lucrative rewards) for everybody who is lucky enough to be granted a spot on the SUL.

The net result of all of these issues? 63% of my readers rated Twitter’s technical support as ‘terrible’. (Only 12% rate it between good and excellent.)

Also this month:

July 2009

The main theme in July was network optimisation and relevance. It was around this time that I stopped auto-following on Twitter, and things have looked up ever since.

I noted that 25 accounts now had more than one million followers.

$$Twitter, meantime, began what might be a futile process to trademark the use of the word ‘Twitter’, as well as the more widely-used ‘tweet’, and has been trying to take command of ‘retweet‘ since August.

I asked my readers if they would pay for better features on Twitter – only 27% said they would.

Next, my reasons on why everybody needs a follow policy on Twitter, which is another personal favourite post.

I encouraged readers not to be afraid to unfollow others.

This month, Twitter began what would become periodic mass-removals of spammers. This first time, I lost 7% of my followers.

Do you have real relationships, or phony followers?

Also this month:

Congratulations if you made it all the way down to here without skipping (and now you know why I broke this into two pieces). Coming up next: part two.