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Twitter Celebrates 5 Years and 200 Million Users

Mar 21, 2011 – 3:14 PM
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Susanna Baird Contributor

"just setting up my twttr"

Jack Dorsey typed this simple phrase, 24 characters long, on March 21, 2006, kicking off an experiment called "twttr." Users were allotted a meager 140 characters, spaces included, to "tweet" about anything they wanted.

Techies like Dorsey and co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams embraced Twitter's simple concept. Even the most loquacious users became Hemingway-esque masters of the spare, relying on an abundance of wit rather than an excess of words to convey what they were doing, thinking, eating, wearing ... whatever.

The Twitter homepage appears on a screen in Washington on September 3, 2010.
AFP / Getty Images
Tweets often focus on the mundane details of other people's lives, but Twitter has also become a crucial communication tool in times of upheaval.
The rest of the world caught on to Twitter slowly but steadily. Now every celebrity, retailer, news outlet and politician relies on the site to keep fans, customers, readers and supporters up to date.

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) most recently tweeted about "Never Say Never," a documentary about his rise to stardom.

Best Buy (@BestBuy) logged in this morning to tout presales of the Nexus S 4G and plug upcoming events celebrating the launch of Nintendo 3DS.

AOL News (@aolnews) updated readers on the situation in Libya.

President Barack Obama (@BarackObama) tweeted about his trip to Latin America.

So many famous people are tweeting that Twitter has instituted a "Verified Account" button, allowing tweeters to verify that they are the real deal (@kanyewest, @StephenAtHome, @ladygaga) and not one of often-countless imitators (@kanye_west, @StephenColbert_, @ItsJustGaGa).

Two hundred million people worldwide hold a Twitter account. They post more than 1,600 tweets every second -- 140 million tweets every day. While many an hour has been frittered away reading the everyday details of other people's lives -- several tweets on this reporter's screen bemoan the return of snow to New England -- Twitter also has been employed during times of upheaval, becoming a crucial communications tool when other means of spreading news are unavailable.

During uprisings in Moldova, Tunisia and Egypt, activists used Twitter to share plans and messages of protest. In 2009, during election upheaval in Iran, the State Department asked Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance not only so Iranians could continue to communicate with one another, but so intelligence officials could continue to gather information about what was happening.

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After the earthquake in Haiti last year, users coordinated emergency services via Twitter, and nonprofits raised funds to help the ravaged country. Twitter is playing a similar role this month as Japan reels from a March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

As it celebrates half a decade, the company is valued at anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion, though it continues to ponder the best way to turn a profit. Tech speculators are trying to guess how the microblogging service will continue to thrive and make money for the next five years.

While the experts ponder Twitter's future, its users to continue to tweet, postmodern memoirists capturing their lives on screen, one brief chapter at a time.

Celebrate Twitter's birthday at Discover.Twitter.com, introducing 16 Twitter users from various walks of life.

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