Tweet History

The condensed social media site has been around for five long years

As a landmark, media-changing first salvo, it doesn't quite pack the same urgency or drama as "Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you!"

But the first tweet – "inviting coworkers," sent by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey five years ago Monday, and 130 years, 11 days after telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell's plea to his assistant – carries a resonance all its own.

Twitter quickly extended an open invitation to the world to post to everything from celebrity silliness (see the collected tweets of Kanye West and Charlie Sheen) to news profound and mundane to tweets credited with helping galvanize political movements.

The microblogging service is reflection of a media and popular culture where the meaningful and frivolous mingle – Japan and Barry Manilow were among Twitter’s trending topics last week – and where the audience decides what’s worth sharing.

The 140-character tweet limit – a throwback to the brevity demanded by the telegraph, the precursor to Mr. Bell's lasting, chattier invention – is a sign of the speed and concision demanded by our times.

Dorsey's initial message begat what has become 140 million tweets a day, with Twitter showing unforeseen growth and staying power amid a rapidly shifting media landscape.

So the fifth anniversary of Twitter offers an opportunity to look back and ahead, all in real-time. Amid all the recent stories about the benchmark, we'll admit we're getting the biggest kick out of a parody video that traces the pseudo history of Twitter, Ken Burns style – complete with sepia images and a folksy soundtrack, ala “The Civil War.”

The mildly NSFW video, posted on Funny or Die, features tweets by Bow Wow and Sarah Palin, re-enacted with faux gravitas, as well as appearances by Soulja Boy and Perez Hilton. "What we do know for sure is that Ashton Kutcher invented Twitter in the year 2006," one T. Wheaton, professor of Tweetology, declares of the site’s origins.

The gentle mockery can’t mask the video’s grudging testament to Twitter’s place in the popular culture. Take a look below and decide whether this is a video worth tweeting about:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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