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7 Things You Didn’t Know About Twitter

That small blue bird has a few big secrets.


The 140-character limit is no accident

Twitter’s limit on characters per tweet isn’t arbitrary. In 1985, as part of his work for the Global System for Mobile Communications, engineer Friedhelm Hillebrand reportedly typed out random sentences and blurbs on a piece of paper and calculated that they were generally fewer than 160 characters. His team then used that as the standard length for texts. When Twitter first launched in 2006, a year before the smarter iPhone, its founders apparently chose to adhere to the standard, lopping off 20 characters to fit a username.

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Twitter didn’t invent the #hashtag

Use of the hashtag (#) to categorize content dates back to 1988 and users communicating on Internet Relay Chat clients (IRC), which were like old-school chatrooms. It wasn’t until 2007 that bloggers first suggested hashtags as a way to group tweets, and the idea quickly caught on.

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It’s possible (though difficult) to tweet anonymously

That’s because each tweet is packed with metadata that shows your name, an identifier that’s unique to your account, where the tweet came from, what time it was tweeted, and more. To truly go anonymous, you’d have to create a separate account through a proxy internet connection, mask your IP address, switch off Twitter’s geolocation feature, and other tricky stuff.

You can try to game “verified” status

Being “verified” on Twitter helps the service crack down on phony accounts. (You can see all of the verified accounts here.) That blue check next to your handle has also turned into a mark of prestige for those who consider themselves social-media cool. How can you get it? Besides being Beyoncé, recommended techniques include making friends at Twitter (if you can), spending $15,000 on advertising (ditto), and following the @Verified account and crossing your fingers. You can always just compose a Grammy-winning album.

It’s used (and, abused) by terrorist groups

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has developed an Arab-language app that collects personal information from its users, then tweets ISIS-approved messaging from their Twitter accounts. The Atlantic reports that these tweets, which have numbered up to 40,000 in total on a single day, are “spaced out to avoid triggering Twitter’s spam-detection algorithms.”

Screenshot by Damon Beres

It doesn’t always get along with other platforms

Twitter and Instagram, the popular social platform and app that allows users to share photographs in a feed, used to work well together: You could Instagram a pic and export it to Twitter, where it would show up. That stopped in 2012, possible because Instagram wanted to focus on its own “awesome Web presence,” in the words of co-founder Kevin Systrom—but more likely, because Twitter rival Facebook bought Insta for $1 billion, cooling relations between the companies.

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It’s a lesson in taking a break

It’s possible to waste a whole lot of time on Twitter, but consider this: The idea for the social platform reportedly came up when the founding group paid a visit to a playground in San Francisco and started chatting on top of a slide. So there you have it: Inspiration really can come from anywhere.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest