Who owns Twitter’s most common words?


A screenshot from the page of @in. (Twitter)

The Twitter handle has become a keystone of modern identity, so much so that some parents have begun reserving their children’s names for them at birth. We understand these days that while the Internet frontier may look limitless, a lot of the best land has already been grabbed up.

Take @the. Or @be. Or @or, for that matter. Of the 25 most common words in the English language, only one — I — doesn’t have an associated account. And while that may amount to nothing more than a passing triviality, it is a pretty intriguing statistic — not to mention a glimpse at an earlier, weirder, more intimate Twitter, which relatively few modern users have seen. These, for instance, are the 25 most-common words:

@The: Tyler Pilgrim, joined March 2009, works at Twitter.
@Be: Nick Green, joined January 2012, has only sent four tweets — one of them about pirates.
@To: Trevor Owens, joined June 2007, CEO of Javelin.
@Of: No name listed, joined December 2008, tweets in Japanese.
@And: Anders M, joined July 2007, software engineer.
@A: Andrei Zmievski, joined March 2007, software architect.
@In: No name listed, joined August 2012, location is set as “The Bank.”
@That: “Bad Karma,” joined April 2007, follows two people — has never tweeted.
@Have: The Twitter retail start-up WhachaCha, joined March 2009, promises a summer launch.
@I: Does not exist
@It: No name listed, joined January 2011, tweets mostly about girls and in emoji.
@For: “Kazz,” joined May 2007, tweets personal ephemera roughly once every six months. (Last post, June 15: “Ouch! tooth ache…”)
@Not: “NOT,” joined March 2007, tweeted intermittently in Dutch until 2010.
@On: Kelly Pothan, joined September 2010, tweets very infrequently — mostly about Grooveshark.
@With: “With,” joined July 2007, account protected.
@He: “He,” joined April 2011, tweeted infrequently in Chinese until 2011.
@As: Adam, joined March 2007, occasionally tweets Foursquare check-ins and complaints about New Jersey Transit.
@You: A “talking hamster,” joined March 2007, tweets random silliness like “White people love cheese.”
@Do: Diamond Offshore Drilling stock quotes and news, joined December 2010, tweets regular updates on $DO stock.
@At: “Digital performer,” joined February 2007, no longer tweets.
@This: “NOT AT THIS, joined April 2013, exists solely to remind people how to use Twitter’s @-sign.
@But: Magasins BUT, joined October 2009, verified account of the French home chain BUT.
@His: “Jalyn,” joined July 2011, account protected.
@By: “Libertad,” joined March 2007, account protected.
@From: “From,” joined January 2008, has only tweeted twice: “Hi Twitter” … “from me.”

Of those, only 11 have tweeted within the past two months. Only eight use their “real names.” And only seven share information any more significant than personal status updates, check-ins and complaints — the original fluff Twitter was founded on. As that fluff was subsumed by more complex interactions, the early @this and @that just … ceased.

And in some ways, that almost looks like a case study for Twitter itself. In “Hatching Twitter,” Nick Bilton’s chronicle of the company’s early years, he describes an existential struggle within Twitter, Inc., c. 2007 and 2008: Would the platform be a repository for personal status updates, breakfast run-downs, bite-sized diary entries … or would they try to make it something a bit more transcendent — a hub for information, connection and, ultimately, social change?

Looking at Twitter.com these days — with its baby handles and its brand consultants and its #BREAKINGNEWS beamed to 255 million active users — it’s not terribly difficult to see how that particular struggle played out. But common-word handles are like a throwback to an earlier time. A time when you could just @be on Twitter — and not worry about doing anything else.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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