The microblogging service has since wracked up an estimated 200 million users sending some 65 million tweets per day worldwide -- and, says NPR's Terry Gross, "it has been used by heads of state, astronauts in outer space and protesters in Iran, Egypt and Tunisia trying to disseminate information after news media crackdowns in their respective countries."
Earlier this week, Gross interviewed Twitter co-founder Biz Stone about the rapid growth of the social network, the short history of Twitter in activism and efforts by some governments to censor usage. "Twitter has managed to find its way into almost every political uprising around the world," Stone told Gross. "...The Internet and social media are making the world a smaller place," he added, helping to synchronize thought and action globally.
Here's an excerpt of that February 16th interview; the full podcast is below:
TERRY GROSS: What were the first indications you saw that Twitter was being used as an organizing tool in Egypt?
BIZ STONE: Well, actually, Twitter's use in Egypt goes back to something that happened in 2008 that we heard about after the fact and we were just sort of chilled by -- and that was this photojournalism student named James Buck, who had traveled from U.C.-Berkeley to Egypt specifically to photograph protests. And he wanted to get great photos in Egypt.
And so he went out there on his own, and he kept missing all of the protests that were organized. And so he asked some of his Egyptian friends that he met there: How is that you guys are, you know, suddenly organizing these protests so quickly and so efficiently? And they said: Oh, we're using this tool called Twitter.
And, you know, James was from the Bay Area, hadn't even heard of it, and he's hearing about it in Egypt. And so he gets on Twitter, and he's suddenly plugged into this network. And so he's able to make it to these protests, and there he is, taking these great photos.
And suddenly, he notices something is up. He told us later, a lot of Egyptian police have mustaches, and the mustache quotient in the crowd went up significantly, which got him worried. And he suddenly said something doesn't seem quite right.
And he was grabbed, arrested by Egyptian police, thrown in the back of a car, really starting to freak out. He's this young guy, realized they hadn't taken his mobile phone from him yet and that he was on Twitter.
And so he sent out a tweet, and it was a one-word tweet, and the word was "arrested." Within about three hours, what happened was his friends back home in California knew the situation that he was in, they had been following his other tweets. They knew it wasn't - that it was serious, that it wasn't a joke.
His friends called the dean. The dean called a lawyer. The lawyer called the consulate, and within a few hours, James sent out another tweet that was also one word, and that was simply "freed."
And when we heard about this story and that Twitter was being used in Egypt in 2008 to organize these protests, that was one of the early, eye-opening experiences for us, that made us realize this was not just something in the Bay Area for, you know, technical geeks to fool around with and to find out what each other's up to, but a global communications system that could be used for almost anything and everything.
(Photograph of Biz Stone, top, by Joi Ito)