Could you summarize the past year for Twitter in 140 characters or less? No, and neither can the short-message broadcaster, which is why on Tuesday it launched a Year on Twitter retrospective site.
The site, at 2012.twitter.com, provides an overview of what has become a major -- if succinct -- broadcasting platform that now affects consumer trends, businesses, politics and media coverage.
While Twitter was certainly gaining credibility in previous years, one could argue that 2012 was the year it definitely became a major, widely recognized network. Its 2012 summary site, consequently, is equivalent to those year-end specials or long wrap-up articles that have long adorned TV networks or newspapers about this time of year.
In a Golden Tweets section on the site, the service displays a now-famous photo of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in a hug, accompanied by the phrase "Four More Years." As befits Twitter's stature in the culture, Obama tweeted this image and message prior to actually taking the stage in Chicago for his first public appearance following his victory. It only took a few hours for the communication to become the most retweeted tweet ever -- more than 810,000 retweets in over 200 countries.
In second place for retweeted communication in 2012, although only a quarter of Obama's volume, was Justin Bieber's "RIP Avalanna. i love you." It featured a photo of the pop singer with 6-year-old Avalanna Routh, whom Bieber had become close to and who died in September from a rare form of brain cancer.
Subjects of top Twitter conversations in 2012 included the Summer Olympics, which generated more than 150 million tweets, with a peak of more than 100,000 tweets per minute during the closing ceremonies. The U.S. election led to 31 million tweets on Election Day, and the first debate, the MTV Video Music Awards, the Super Bowl, Hurricane Sandy and the death of Whitney Houston also generated tweet storms.
There were some conversational peaks on Twitter that may not be reflected in other mainstream media in the U.S. For instance, a Japanese anime movie called Summer Wars was broadcast in that country in July, and thousands of fans tweeted the same line -- "Please!" -- at the same time as a character said it in the film, in a kind of live event.
'Cemented Its Role' in 2012
An Only on Twitter section highlights events that the company said featured its service, such as the live updates from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab as the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, or the tweet stream of images from the International Space Station as Sandy moved across the East Coast of the U.S.
A Trends section highlights topics that represented spikes in Twitter conversations, New Voices covers high-profile Twitter users -- including the Pope -- who joined in 2012, and Your Year on Twitter allows each user to see a summary of his or her own Twitter year through a collaboration with Vizify.com.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said it's "become de rigeur to be on Twitter." In fact, she said, "if you're a high-tech professional and you're not on Twitter, either you're already an icon or you're not happening -- and you're invisible."
DiDio said that, while Twitter had been building its brand and presence prior to 2012, this past year was when it "cemented its role," and most people realized it wasn't a social media flash-in-the-pan like MySpace.