On Twitter's 5th Birthday, Revisiting the First Tweet Ever Sent

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Happy birthday, Twitter! The microblogging service, which now serves as a platform for about 140 million tweets per day (fitting, as all tweets must come in at 140 characters or less), was born five years ago today when co-founder Jack Dorsey sent out the first message. (Back then, the service was know as Twttr.)

In 2006, when this message was sent out, Twitter was just a handful of people who spent their days programming and dreaming up applications for the service. Today, the company employs about 400 and signs up more than 450,000 new users every day.

Jack Dorsey has since left the company to work on another start-up which has the potential to revolutionize an industry. Square, described as a "service that allows any individual or small business to easily accept payment by credit card," in a recent profile of Dorsey in Vanity Fair, can turn anyone into a merchant, "[j]ust as Twitter made anyone a broadcaster or pundit or diarist."

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His obsession with cities--and with programming--never abated. By early 2006, having dropped out of N.Y.U. and bouncing between jobs, he found himself working for a San Francisco software start-up called Odeo, which was going nowhere. One day he proposed an idea to his boss based on a notion that Dorsey had been noodling over for years. He was fascinated by the haiku of taxicab communication--the way drivers and dispatchers succinctly convey locations by radio. Dorsey suggested that his company create a service that would allow anyone to write a line or two about himself, using a cell phone's keypad, and then send that message to anyone who wanted to receive it. The short text alert, for him, was a way to add a missing human element to the digital picture of a pulsing, populated city.

Odeo's Evan Williams embraced the idea, and named the 29-year-old Dorsey the founding C.E.O. of a new company, Twitter. The rest has become a peculiarly prominent part of Internet history. Twitter, celebrating its fifth anniversary, is now one of the signature social platforms of our day, drawing 200 million users. Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all reportedly been vying to buy the company for more than $8 billion. And Twitter is so central to modern culture that when popular uprisings swept through the Middle East this year many of the protesters coordinated their movements by tweeting. Indeed, Dorsey's invention is helping transform communication and political life across the globe.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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