🐦 Twitter

How Twitter got its first 1000 users

Hello Folks 👋,

I know a lot of ink has been spilled over Twitter's founding but what I discovered throughout this research was that the origin of Twitter dates back to the year 2000.

At that time, Jack Dorsey started getting into a personalized blogging website Live Journal. Live Journal was (and still is) a platform for people to follow their favorite bloggers and get a customized feed based on the social graph of bloggers you follow. Jack loved it and wanted to create a similar feed but for status updates. The idea was to see an archive of someone's status updates on Instant Messaging in hopes it could translate to more lifetime interactions (if I see a group of your friends on the feed updated their status to visiting a particular location/ festival, I could call them and meet up..etc.)

To bring his idea into reality, Jack wrote a script to forward emails sent from his email to an email list of his closest friends and family (revolutionary, I know 😬). Shortly after writing the software, Jack went to the Golden Gate Park to test it and typed out a status update email that he was @ Golden Gate Park watching Bisons if any of his friends or family cared to join. No one showed up or replied...but the idea for Twitter was well planted.

Six years pass by, and Jack finds himself working as a software developer at Odeo, a podcasting company started by Noah Glass and Evan Williams. Noah and Evan had previously sold Blogger to Google. Jack was in an interesting situation at Odeo; no one at the company was a consumer of the tool, podcasting was not a life passion for any of the cofounders, and the company wasn't taking off as they hoped it gave. A room for groups within the company to come up and work on new ideas rose, and Jack capitalized on that to bring his IM status archive to life.

The timing worked; the rise of popularity of cross-platform SMS service between different mobile carriers. Together with Biz Stone and a freelance software developer in Hamburg, Germany, they could knock out V0.1 of Twttr in 2 weeks.

Acquiring customers

The Twitter product was by no measure an instant success. It took 3 months for the service to get their first 1000 customers, followed by another 3 months of slowing growth after their initial spike. It was not until 6 months of releasing the product that it started showing some resemblance of working out. Considering Twitter was a side project within Odeo I am (gratefully) surprised that they stuck with it for that long and continued investing in the project.

The first spike in user signups for Twitter came when cofounder Ev Williams wrote the blog post "Twitter is alive" on his personal blog evhead.com. Ev being the creator of blogger.com (and later Twttr and Medium) had some resemblance of online influence and his post would help attract about 150 new signups to the platform.

Two days after Ev's blog post, Om Malik, who had recently quit his job to pursue blogging full-time on his personal blog "Gigaom", wrote a post about Twttr which you can still read it here.

A day after the Om Malik's blog post, Techcrunch's cofounder Michael Arrington would write the first of many Techcrunch pieces on the service (read here).

Combined these three posts combined attracted more than 1500 new users to the service...bringing the total user base to just above 2000 after 100 days of releasing the product.

The next growth spurt

Following the publicity boost in July 2006, Twitter growth would start to decelerate for a couple of months before picking up steam towards the end of 2006 and finally get a much-needed booster in the south by southwest tech conference in March 2007 (which also happens to be when the company turned 1). As Ev explains on Quora

I got a request to answer this question, though contrary to common belief, we didn't launch Twitter at SXSW -- SXSW just chose to blow it up.

We launched it nine months before -- to a whimper. By the time SXSW 2007 rolled around, we were starting to grow finally, and it seemed like all of our users (probably in the thousands) were going to Austin that year. So, we did two things to take advantage of the emerging critical mass:

  1. We created a Twitter visualizer and negotiated with the festival to put flat panel screens in the hallways. This is something they'd never done before, but we didn't want a booth on the trade show floor because we knew hallways is where the action was. We paid $11K for this and set up the TVs ourselves. (This was about the only money Twitter's ever spent on marketing.)

  2. We created an event-specific feature, where, you could text 'join sxsw' to 40404. Then you would show up on the screens. And, if you weren't already a Twitter user, you'd automatically be following a half-dozen or so "ambassadors," who were Twitter users also at SXSW. We advertised this on the screens in the hallways. (I don't know how many people signed up this way -- my recollection is not a lot.)

I don't know the most critical factor, but networks are all about critical mass, so doubling down on the momentum seemed like a good idea. And something clicked.

Twitter as we know it

Twitter would go on to capitalize on this moment by raising their first venture money of $5.5m lead by Fred Wilson @ Union Square Venture and spin out Twitter from Odeo as a separate product. A few months later, a light earthquake would hit San Francisco and SF twitter would light up with inquiries about the quake...shining light on a new product direction that would take the service from an internet archive of status updates to a real-time newsfeed of everything that is going on in the world that we know today.

This is it for today 😉,
Ali Abouelatta