We Went Back in Time to 2008 and Twitter Was Strangely Pleasant There

Number candles spelling out 2008.

Nothing particularly notable happened on this day in Twitter history—and that’s what made it a good day to travel 10 years back in Twitter time and see what your feed looked like in 2008.

Andy Baio, a technologist who tweets under the name @waxpancake, fired up the time machine on Thursday by posting a link to a search that would allow any Twitter user to see what the people he or she follows were tweeting about exactly 10 years ago. Nostalgia is cheap, and 10 years is a neat if arbitrary amount of time, but the result was nevertheless a fun exercise in revisiting a past internet era. This excavation of old tweets is different than past excavations in that it happened to bring us back to 2008, a time when Twitter was that much more established than you would have found had you visited 2007 or 2006, the year Twitter was founded.

Though you could theoretically tweak this search to visit any day in Twitter history, journeying to 2008 happens to provide a stark contrast to the Twitter of 2018. First of all, if your feed is anything like mine, it probably includes a lot fewer people—mine is dominated by about a dozen, rather than the 500 or so I follow now, because they seem to be the few and proud who were active Twitter users circa May of that year. (OK, there are probably some people who have scrubbed their old tweets from the internet and don’t appear for those or other reasons, because there are only 16 tweets in my feed for the entire day of May 24, 2008. I wouldn’t base a scientific study on this search or anything.)

The content of these vintage posts is also striking, and not just because we only got 140 characters back then. This was a time before hashtags and @-replies. The norms of Twitter were very different than they are now, if they even existed at all. People posted a lot about what they were eating and going to the gym. They posted links but they looked different: They started with tinyurl and didn’t automatically shorten. They couldn’t post pictures. A bunch of people you now know to be upstanding professionals were tweeting about college exams and drinking a lot. Things were less political, at least through the window I glimpsed: Not only was it way before the 2016 presidential election was a flicker in anyone’s eye, but Obama hadn’t even sewn up the 2008 Democratic nomination yet. The No. 1 source of consternation on Twitter in 2018 wasn’t even on the service yet; he wouldn’t join until March 2009.

But among these strange relics, there’s a glimpse of the things that made many of us join Twitter and start spending so much time there in the first place. It was something genuinely new and cool, once upon a time. Live text-message-like updates! Everyone 10 years younger and not yet beaten down by society! If you’ve felt guilty about the time you’ve been spending on Twitter lately, a return to 2008 might be just the tonic you need.