Could Twitter Have Worked in 1999?

For many years the Internet has brought us ideas and services that we wish we had thought of first. ?Most technologists wish they could go back in time and hit big with online auctions, classifieds, blogging software, and social networking. ?Microblogging (ie. Twitter) is the latest and greatest of these facepalming ideas because it’s so damn simple.

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But would Twitter have worked ten years ago?

The two components to this question are the technical feasibility and user feasibility. ?Were the computers fast enough for a worldwide application handling millions of messages per day in real time? ?Were people ready for a public, messy communication tool?

Technology:
Did we have the technology for Twitter in 1999? ?The fail whales of the past few years indicate we may not have had equipment and system software powerful enough for a monster like Twitter. ?Were there any applications of that size in 1999?

To me, the only comparable 20th century, many-to-many application was eBay. ?The web and the Internet ?itself were enormous systems handling many-to-many relationships, but its architecture was distributed world wide to share the load.

Users:
What did the Internet look like? ?Google had just arrived, Internet Explorer had achieved dominant market share, eBay seemed like the best Internet business, blogs were in their infancy, message boards and usenet were extremely popular, and mainstream communication was dominated by email and instant messaging. ?So much time and effort went into making sure messaging was private and secure, I think it would have been a big stretch to think people would have been ok with mostly public messaging. ?In fact, I think the only way public messaging could have caught on was through the emergent behavior we saw on friendster?testimonials?and myspace wall posts, which were the precursors to twitter. ? Message boards were obviously public in 1999, but we hadn’t yet grown tired of the trolls, spammers, flamers, creationists, and over-reacting moderators. ?For many of us Twitter reclaimed that energy and spirit the web had before these problems got unbearable.

This is what my site looked like in 1999.  Ouch.

This is what my site looked like in 1999. Ouch.

So in my opinion, we may or may not have been technically ready for Twitter, but the users definitely weren’t ready. ?We needed to be shown over and over again that email, chat, ?and message boards all kind of sucked once they got to a certain size. ?Twitter made it truly mass communication?usable?again and it works despite its negatives, but only because we know the alternatives are worse.

Follow me on twitter: ?http://twitter.com/bengarvey