Happy Birthday Twitter: How UK Newspapers Stumbled Into The Digital Future

So, it’s the 7th birthday of the most important development in human communication since a young Alexander Graham Bell used a piece of string to connect two plastic cups  and pondered “this gives me an idea” [citation needed]. Twitter has come from nowhere, via everyone not on Twitter thinking that everyone on Twitter just uses it so say things like “might go upstairs later”, to its current position as Most Important Thing On The Planet. And that’s just our Twitter account we’re talking about.

As one might expect from what is now the print media’s most ubiquitous online reference point, the anniversary is being covered in just about every newspaper outside of the Anglesey Examiner, but the press wasn’t always so keen to cover Twitter. Join us now, as we delve through the websites of the UK’s national press (apart from the ones with uselessly hateful search functions) so see when each first covered Twitter, and in which context.

In ascending date order, then:

[UPDATE 22 March 2013: A few of the gaps filled in below, with thanks to a couple knowledgeable readers willing to engage in the dark arts of “knowing things” and “doing research”. An extravagantly angled tip of our titfer to both James and Mike Landers for the assistance.]

The Guardian: 27 November 2006

A Comment is free piece on the acceptability of letting the internet know you’re a real-life person, dammit.

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Twitter is: “the ultimate in solipsism”.

 

[UPDATE: Reader, gentleman and walking infohub known only to us as ‘James’ writes in to inform us that The Times belong next on the list. Having deftly avoided the Great Paywall of Murdoch by using proper research database Newsbank, James reports that The Times first covered Twitter just a few weeks after the Guardian. Here’s the skinny:

“The honour for the second reference and indeed the first direct article about it goes to The Times, a two line piece in their "The Click" column in Times2... dated Tuesday 12 December 2006:

The site twitter .com, started in March 2006 as a side project of Odeo, an audio website, is based on the concept of friends and strangers answering the question, "What are you doing?" Subscribers areinvited to tell everyone that they are getting ready for work, they have "just bit into a hot chilli"...or whatever.”

Visit our lavishly furnished comments deck for the full comment from James.]

 

Financial Times: 23 March 2007

Not too much to report, given that you need to subscribe in order to read articles, but the FT are pretty quick out of the blocks, with the Tech Hub section running an article on the fledgling service.

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Twitter is: “Microblogging for the lazy.”

 

[UPDATE: It’s possible The Telegraph could be amongst the early adopters, though we’re still not sure exactly when. Reader and gentleman Mike Landers informs us (via the comments of this article, we don’t have a network of spies or anything):

“The Telegraph jumped on the bandwagon early. When I spoke to Orlowski (yeah yeah I know) in Spring 2009 he said it was an open competition between a couple of hacks at the Guardian and their Telegraph counterparts to get as many pieces about it as possible.”

Which does makes sense, with the Telegraph being one of the first – if not the very first – UK newspapers to have a renowned online operation. Though the search function on their website is still wincingly awful.]

 

The Independent: 4 April 2007

An article about Twitter, funnily enough.

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Twitter is: According to Tom Wetheredge, a ‘net user asked about the microblogging site for the article, “a perfect example of how the internet can keep us too connected."

 

The Sun: 7 September 2007

In what you could describe as either a sober report on those affected by a tragedy, or an early example into snooping into the social network accounts of victims (which would be perhaps a little unfair, no matter how much we dislike The Sun), a reference to students present at the Virginia Tech shootings using the service to express their panic as the attack was taking place.

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Twitter is: a website which “which asks contributors to tell it what they are doing”.

 

Daily Mail: 30 April 2008

A piece about how Steve Jobs is evil.

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Twitter is: A “one-line blog website”.

Later, the first article about Twitter itself appeared on 24 July 2008 (“New SMS site Twitter grows 600% in a year”), and the first time it tried to crowbar it into a manufactured ‘scandal’ was on 19 December 2008 (when Jonathan Ross – on his post-Sachsgate hiatus – used it to ‘brag’ about daring to enjoy himself).

 

 

Daily Mirror: 19 December 2008

Another slice of faux-outrage about that evil, wicked Jonathan Ross boasting about enjoying himself.

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Twitter is: a “new messaging website”, despite actually being almost three years old by that point.

 

 

Daily Star: 9 January 2009

Jonathan Ross again. Note the helpful and newsworthy revelation that Ross posts “up to 23 updates a day”. How DID he get time to literally spit in the face of every innocent man, woman and child in the UK with all that going on, eh?

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Twitter is: “currently the hottest networking site on the web.”

 

Daily Express: 14 January 2009

The newspaper, who possibly needed to explain what the internet was to its readers as late as 2008, waited until tabloid bĂȘte noir SHAMED JONATHAN WOSSY WOSS does a thing on it before mentioning Twitter.

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Twitter is: An “online […] blog”. As opposed to all those offline blogs you get. On parchment.

 

Sadly, no results from the Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard or Metro, due to aforesaid search rubbishness, though you’re all welcome to delve through their archives in search of early Twitter mentions. Google site searches by date don’t work for them, by the way, as that includes results for modern-day Twitter mentions embedded in each site’s CSS.

Meanwhile, for the four newspapers who provide useful search functions allowing for a breakdown by year, here are some charts. Everyone likes charts. Wholly non-scientific, what with each of the following including uses of the word ‘Twitter’ in the context of both the website and the noise birds makes, but interesting. Well, slightly interesting. Possibly only if you’re us.

 

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NEXT UPDATE: The last ever instances of ‘Google Plus’ in UK newspapers. Or not.

5 comments:

James said...

A quick search of newspaper database Newsbank suggests that the Guardian piece (which went online on Monday 27th November 2006 but which was actually published in the issue dated Tuesday 28th) was indeed the first published reference to the site.

Fascinating how the lexicon of language has changed since, and all hits for the word previously threw up journalists writing cliches such as "threw commentators a-twitter" or "he twittered on about this and that".

The honour for the second reference and indeed the first direct article about it goes to The Times, a two line piece in their "The Click" column in Times2... dated Tuesday December 12th 2006:

The site twitter .com, started in March 2006 as a side project of Odeo, an audio website, is based on the concept of friends and strangers answering the question, "What are you doing?" Subscribers areinvited to tell everyone that they are getting ready for work, they have "just bit into a hot chilli"...or whatever.

Meanwhile on January 1st 2007 The Guardian mentions it in the same breath as Digg and Linkedin as candidates for being bought out in the coming year.

Then there was an article in The Guardian on March 15th 2007, with an entire article "ewly asked questions: What is Twitter , and is there any reason I should care?" and which opens by mentioning that US Presidential candidate John Edwards is an early adopter and presciently ends with:

"The rapid-fire model may be superseded when internet access become ubiquitous, but right now Twitterers have found that a quick text message does the trick for them. It's even been the medium of choice for some breaking news announcements.

So will it be a useful addition to the web, or simply another MySpace-like black hole that sucks away at our free time? Nobody knows, but when the big decision does arrive, it's likely to be Twittered before it hits the rest of us."

Mike Landers said...

The Telegraph jumped on the bandwagon early. When I spoke to Orlowski (yeah yeah I know) in Spring 2009 he said it was an open competition between a couple of hacks at the Guardian and their Telegraph counterparts to get as many pieces about it as possible.

Mark Jones said...

Excellent work, James and Mike. I've added your findings to the main article above - feel free to let me know if you'd rather the comments are removed from the article proper, of if you'd like me to add a link to your Twitters or anything.

The changing usage of the terms "Twitter", "Tweet" and "Twittering" over the past few years is certainly notable. It would have been much easier to conduct said search if they'd kept the name 'Twttr' (or whatever it was), really.

Melissa said...

Nice article! Is interesting to see how quick a lot of people were to dismiss Twitter at the start...

Sam said...

Happy Birthday Twitter - can't believe it's been 7 years already :-)