Twitter Might Have Been Named 'Friendstalker'

In 2006, the service's founders weren't sure what to call their new product. Some errant text messages solved their problem. 

Let us now take a moment to give thanks that Twitter was not named "Friendstalker." Or, for that matter, "Smssy." Or, for that matter, "Throbber." (Throbber?!)

It was 2006. Odeo, the podcasting service that would evolve into Twitter, was deep in the process of pivoting. The members of the Odeo team had invented the short-form, SMS-based messaging service that would go on to make (some of) them billionaires. Twitter, at that point, existed. Except that it didn't, fully: Its creators had no idea what to call their invention. 

In his book Hatching Twitter, an exploration of the early days of the messaging service, New York Times reporter Nick Bilton tells the story of Twitter becoming "Twitter." The name was, like many decisions the Odeo team would make together, the subject of much debate

The small group immersed in the new project had been throwing around name ideas for a couple of days, though they couldn't agree on something that worked. Jack suggested the name Status, which others said was "too engineer sounding." Biz suggested Smssy. "Cute, but no." Ev had come up with Friendstalker, which was instantly nixed as sure to drive away anyone who wasn't 18 years old, male, and very single. 

Noah Glass, a developer and "the forgotten co-founder of Twitter," made it his mission to come up with a name that would be illustrative and engaging and not already claimed by another startup. Glass spent nearly a week consumed with the naming question, Bilton notes, "burrowed in the back of the office," skipping lunches with coworkers, "searching for a word that made sense."

And then ... he found the answer.

When he arrived at his apartment on Wednesday night, he again sat flipping through the dictionary. But his thoughts kept getting interrupted by text messages, which would trigger a loud dinging noise on his mobile phone. Frustrated by the intrusion, he reached over and flipped the switch to silent, causing his cell phone to vibrate slightly on the table. Noah stopped what he was doing and started at the phone, then picked it back up again and held it in his hand as he flipped it on and off, watching it quietly shake. Vibrate, he thought, and quickly looked up the word in the dictionary. "Shake, quiver, or throb; move back and forth rapidly." This immediately got Noah excited.

(Throb! Imagine a world with everything from friendly communications to political revolutions aided by throbs sent through the messaging service Throbber!)

Glass wasn't there yet, thankfully for us all, but he was close. He kept thinking, associating. He put his science knowledge to use. He connected technology to biology. And then: 

His vibrating phone led him to think of the brain impulses that cause a muscle to twitch. "Twitch!" No, that would never work, he thought. So he continued flipping through the two's in the dictionary. Twister. Twist tie. Twit. Twitch. Twitcher. Twitchy. Twite. And then, there it was. 

Yep: Twitter. "The light, chirping sound made by certain birds." He kept reading: "A similar sound, especially light, tremulous speech or laughter." And also: "Agitation or excitement; flutter." Glass dashed off an email to Ev Williams. "What are your thoughts on the domain name twitter?" he asked. He then suggested a tagline that would match the name: "A whole new level of connection. Or something like that."

Hatching Twitter via Gizmodo

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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